ROTARY CLUBS HELP COMMUNITIES GO 'ROUND
by Kirby Lindsay
This column was originally published in the North Seattle Herald-Outlook on April 15, 2009
“There is a very fast flowing river of commerce going by every business,” Howard Gutknecht observed. He believes Rotary club membership can help business people find ways to capture those customers, as they build support networks within their community.
Rotary has clubs in 100 countries, and 1.2 million Rotarians world-wide. Rotary began in 1904 in Chicago, with those first Rotary meetings, according to Gutknecht, held at a regular rotation of member businesses, allowing each host to put their business, or non-profit, on display.
The Rotary Club of Seattle (also called Seattle 4) began in 1909. Members from this club eventually started other clubs around the area, including Rainier Rotary in the 1960s. Now renamed the Rainier Valley Rotary, Gutknecht joined this club in 2008 to help revitalize it, and through the combined efforts of the members, to support the neighborhood.
“A small club is often community based,” Jean Withers, another Rotarian, observed, “we know the businesses, the people and the issues. We know what projects will really help.”
This July, Withers will begin her term as president of the Rotary Club of Fremont (also called the Fremont Fun Club), begun in 2000. Withers looks forward to her upcoming volunteer term. She described it as, “a wonderful 52 weeks of herding cats.”
What They Do
Traditionally Rotary clubs have one membership meeting a week, featuring a speaker or program. At four meetings a month, or more, members get to know one another, and build quality, high-integrity, supportive relationships together.
Additionally, members will gather to package food for the food bank, committee work or a project at a local school. I met Rainier Valley Rotary members at a special screening of Slumdog Millionaire at Columbia City Cinema. This event served dual purposes – an increase of community exposure for the cinema and building fellowship among club members.
Withers helped organize the Center of the Universe Rock-Paper-Scissors World Championships for the Fremont Rotary last January. Beyond raising nearly $1000 for FamilyWorks food bank, Withers recruited potential club members from among participants. As she sees it, Rock-Paper-Scissors “gives them a taste of us, and the fact that we’re fun all the time!”
“We do have energy,” Withers explained of the Fremont Club. On the second Tuesday of each month, before their meeting, attendees gather early to assemble sandwiches for the homeless at Compass Center. Annually, the club assembles 3,000 sandwiches. This small club, of about 20 members, also raised $2,800 for scholarships for Mexican students at a party last December. These fundraisers take place, according to Withers, “in a rowdy, fun atmosphere.”
“The economic pump needs to be primed in the Rainier Valley,” Gutknecht acknowledged, and Rainier Valley Rotary has organized an Economic Bootstrapping event for April 18, to focus on prosperity and enterprise development.
Held at the Rainier Valley Community Center from Noon to 5 p.m., and open to all, Gutknecht described the event as “an information clearing house.” This “open meeting” will have a program built on the spot around the concerns and goals of attendees. Tickets cost $12 in advance or $15 at the door, with walk-ins welcome. Order tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/59191.
How/Why To Join
Membership in Rotary, Gutknecht described as “very informal.” Anyone can attend a meeting. In March, the Rainier Valley club had 6 members signed up, but regular meeting attendance far exceeds that number.
Attendees may hesitate to join, according to Gutknecht, due to an upfront commitment, of time and money, required by Rotary. “Anyone who feels knit to the principals,” will be invited, Gutknecht explained, and must have a member who will vouch for their character. Rotary attracts people of integrity, he believes, and “I have a hard time saying there is that high a standard out there elsewhere.”
Through Rotary meetings and projects, Withers allowed, “you do get to know each other well – what someone’s values are.” No formal, rigorous examination is required to join; rather a rigorous standard of service, Gutknecht said - feeding the homeless and other projects “doing a lot of heavy lifting” -means “people who are self-serving aren’t interested in joining.”
As Withers sees it, “business ethics is going to be a big issue in 2009,” and ‘Is it truth?’ is one of the four tenets of Rotary. “If there were people that were unethical, they would have come in and gone out real fast,” Withers stated, “to unethical people, ethical people are pretty boring.”
Gutknecht originally joined Rotary in 1999. He now lives in Rainier Valley and claims he joined this club for purely selfish motives. “I am a property owner in Rainier Valley,” he explained, “and if buildings get boarded up, I am affected – and if the neighborhood thrives, I benefit.”
“It is likely, because you are a Rotarian, your business will do better in hard times,” Withers opined. She joined the University District Rotary club in 1988, and “in all my years, Rotarians never let you down.”
To learn more about Rotary, attend a meeting. Rainier Valley Rotary meets every Tuesday, at 7:30 a.m., at Tutta Bella (4918 Rainier Avenue South) in Columbia City. The Rotary Club of Fremont also meets every Tuesday, at 5:30 p.m., at Hale’s Ales Brewery (4301 Leary Way N.W.)
- "Fremont Rotary Acknowledges Past, Present and Future"
- by Kirby Lindsay, Oct 30, 2009
- "(more) Fun Comes To Fremont"
- by Kirby Lindsay, Aug 11, 1999
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.