White House honours Women Rotarians

Women Rotarians along with Rotary dignitaries at the White House.
Women Rotarians along with Rotary dignitaries at the White House.

I had the privilege to participate in Rotary Day at Washington DC on October 7. Senior Rotary leaders had gathered at the White House to honour 10 women for their service projects. The event was attended by members of the US President Barack Obama’s senior staff. President Gary Huang and Corinna, President Elect K.R. Ravindran and Vanathy and several senior leaders attended this memorable event. Several Rotary projects were presented here hoping for greater government partnerships and support.

“This is recognition of the great work that they do and it also serves as a great vehicle to inspire others to do similar kinds of things,” said Rotary General Secretary John Hewko. “And we’re doing a better job of sharing our story with the non-Rotary world.” The 10 women honoured were from US Rotary clubs but their projects touch lives across the globe.

Carolyn Jones ­related a moving story of a child sold in Russia for a bottle of vodka, and vowed to use her recognition as a stepping stone to save more lives.

Carolyn Jones, of Anchorage, Alaska, has served numerous times as a Rotary volunteer in Russia, three times as a preschool teacher for developmentally delayed children in orphanages. During her presentation she related a moving story of a child sold in Russia for a bottle of vodka, and vowed to use her recognition as a stepping stone to save more lives.

Jacqueline Parsons, a licensed professional counselor from San Antonio, Texas, works on projects in her community and abroad, ­including the FLAG (Fitness, ­Literacy, ­Attendance and Grades) programme, which provides ­incentives to students to go to school, giving them bikes, sports equipment and other items.

Ginger Vann from Baker, ­Louisiana, co-ordinates ­tutoring for at-risk students. With the help of her club, she has ­renovated an ­uninhabitable school ­building, and worked with tutors to reach 50 ­students each day. She’s also ­passionate about workforce ­development in Baker, where well-paying craftsman jobs often go unfilled. “We just don’t have enough craft workers, people who are ­certified to do the jobs,” she said.

RI President Gary Huang and RI Director P.T. Prabhakar at the White House.
RI President Gary Huang and RI Director P.T. Prabhakar at the White House.

Michelle Candland, from San Diego, California, works with ­Monarch High, an alternative school designed for homeless ­children. “Right now there are over 1.3 ­million homeless kids on the streets in ­America. That’s more than there are Rotarians around the world; 20,000 of those kids are in San Diego alone,” said Candland.

“How can a child focus on school if their tummies are growling, their shoes don’t fit, and they don’t even know where they are going to be sleeping the next day,” she asked, calling for communities to work together to solve such problem.

Others honoured were Bernadette Blackstock, Marion Bunch, Carol ­Butler, Elizabeth Usovicz, Deepa ­Willingham and Jane Winning.

Incredible experience: Jane Winning helped the cleft surgery of a 65-year old man who said: ‘I can kiss my wife for the first time.’ You don’t get to share such experiences everyday.

Winning, a registered nurse from Chowchilla, California, has provided immunisation and conducted health exams in Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador, and Guatemala. She’s also worked with Rotaplast International to provide free cleft lip and palate reconstructive surgery to those who cannot afford it.

“A 65-year old gentleman said ‘I can kiss my wife for the first time.’ These are incredible experiences you don’t get to share every day.”

Butler, also from Anchorage, highlighted two projects. The first is a statewide suicide prevention plan. According to Butler, Alaska has the highest rate of suicide per capita in the nation. The public awareness plan educates Rotary members and Alaska residents to recognise the warning signs of someone in crisis. She also talked about her club’s partnership with the Alaska Mission of Mercy, a collective of dentists, staff and other volunteers who provide free dental ­services throughout the state.

“Dental care is a gateway to good health,” says Butler. “There’s an increasing problem nationwide with people seeking dental care in emergency rooms.”

Usovicz, of Shawnee Mission, Kansas, has worked on service ­projects in Missouri as well as abroad. In Malawi, she helped to reduce the rate of malaria deaths by 65 percent to 70 percent in less than a year by ­supplying the community with ­mosquito bed-nets.

Willingham, of Solvang, ­California, is the founder and chair of Promise of Assurance to Children Everywhere (PACE), an organisation that educates girls and their mothers, and works to prevent child ­trafficking and early marriage in India.

Bunch, of Atlanta, Georgia, is the CEO of Rotarians for Family Health and AIDS Prevention. She has received numerous awards on behalf of her work for AIDS, and considers herself a mother who ­represents the face of AIDS because she started her work after losing her son to the disease in 1994. “Because of that one single tragedy, my life’s journey changed dramatically from a very engaged business woman to a warrior on AIDS and advocate of human rights,” Bunch said.

As a result of her leadership, in April some 3,43,660 people received health care, medical checkups and counseling from 8,150 Rotary ­volunteers during Rotary Family Health Days across Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa.

Like Bunch, Blackstock, of Franklinville, New Jersey, has turned her love of service into a career, ­launching the People for People Foundation, which assists families struggling with financial hardships. To date, the Foundation has helped some 10,000 families with food, clothing, rent, utilities, medications and other life necessities.

“Our combined mission today is not only to provide small grants but to serve as advocates for our ­families and provide life-skill training and ­mentoring and case management where needed.”

The event in D.C. was also an opportunity for the honourees to share ideas with each other. “There are some resources still available to expand and improve projects even amongst the women here,” Jones said.

“Listening to the ladies, I was in awe,” said Vann. “I was thinking what if all 10 of us got together on one ­project. That would be amazing. We’re talking and it’s exciting to be a part of that conversation.”

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