Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Hard Hitting Rotary Interview with Santa

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Santa Clause (alias Kris Kringle) taking a moment to answer some critically important questions about Rotary in the North Pole.  

Let’s be clear.  Rotary is a non-religious organization.  So I hope nothing in this post will be taken the wrong way by my loyal Ready, Fire, Aim readers.  But I ask you, what would you do if you had the chance to interview the real life, authentic, one and only Santa Clause, and ask him the kind of hard-hitting, tough, journalistic questions that you’ve come to expect from your intrepid RFA reporter?  You guessed it.  You get more of the best Rotary education, entertainment, and insights….anywhere. (with all due respect to Rotarian Magazine…which actually doesn’t do a bad job either.)

Before we dive into the interview, I think we need to put this “is Santa real” question to bed.  Of course, Hollywood has answered this for us in a bunch of movies, none better than the original Miracle on 34th Street.  This three time Academy Award winning flick proved, without a doubt, that Santa exists, proven by no less than a highly respected government agency, the United State Post Office.  Here is a short clip from one of my favorite scenes from the movie, where  Fred Gaily, played by John Payne, has Christmas cards delivered to the courtroom  proving without a doubt that Santa is ….well….Santa.  And yes…Edward Gwenn as Kris Kringle was amazing.

With all due respect to the 1947 version of Santa, I was lucky enough to run into the authentic 2014 version of Santa at the Columba Mall.  Turns out that this is a very busy time of year for the old elf, but he took some time to answer some very important questions about Rotary before dashing out to hear little children tell him what they want for Christmas.  So enjoy Santa as he gives you some insights into Rotary at the North Pole that I absolutely guarantee that you’ve never heard before.

Four Way Test…check.  Extend a club at the North Pole…..check.  International Traveling and Hosting Fellowship….check.  I’m guessing I’m off the naughty list.  (I will make sure Mrs. Solow sees this post.)

At this time of the year its pretty easy to see the connection between Rotary, service, peace, and love.  It’s a pretty powerful cocktail if you ask me, and one that we can all be proud of. My thanks to Rotarian, Phil Komornik, of the Rotary Club of Columbia Patuxent, for arranging this interview with Santa, even if it was in the storeroom behind the Service Desk at the Mall.  And my thanks to everyone else who has allowed me to pester them for interviews over the past year.

This last clip is dedicated to everyone who takes their time to play Santa at this time of year.  And in particular, this one Santa I know at Columbia Mall who tells me he has had similar experiences this year delighting children with his limited use of sign language. Right back atcha, Phil.  Ho! Ho! Ho!  Here’s Richard Attenborough in the 1994 version of Miracle on 34th Street.

Best wishes, dear readers, for a safe, peaceful, and happy Holiday Season.

 

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“Just tell me where to write the check.”

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This quote is from ex-Rotarian, Bobby A., who was famous for listening to the details of some new and exciting service project, and then rolling his eyes and saying, “just tell me where to write the check.”  Bobby always got a laugh when he delivered this line, but now that I think of it, I guess its no surprise that Bobby is now an “ex” Rotarian.  The picture above is not of Bobby A.  It is Bill Murray as Phil in the movie, Groundhog Day.  Further explanation to follow.

Not that there is anything wrong with writing checks, mind you.  Last evening I bumped into an old friend of mine who worked with the broker dealer I dealt with back in the day.  He is now running his own non-profit and wanted to set up a lunch with me to pitch why Rotary should fund his non-profit.  I told him he could buy me lunch but what I was really looking for was a service project for Rotarians where they personally connect with people in need.  I didn’t want to engage Rotarians in just another exercise in writing a check.  He looked at me in horror.  His organization desperately needs the money.  It reminded me that non-profits in our communities depend on our generosity and the checks we write have real meaning to the organizations we fund.

I thought, in light of the holiday season, I would share this clip of Scrooge uttering some of the most contemptible but memorable lines ever written about turning down an opportunity to write a check to help others.  ….  “Tell me spirit – are these the shadows of things that must be, or the shadow of things that MIGHT be?”  They can remake this all they want to…the 1951 version is the best.  Alistair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge?  Priceless.

Still, I am beginning to think that one of the real problems we face in Rotary is that our members do not have a culture of service, even though we claim we do.  As important as fund raising can be, writing checks just doesn’t do it.  Stuffing backpacks, stocking pantry shelves, and other similar activities don’t really do it either.  They are activities that don’t involve writing checks, but they don’t involve being face to face with the people you serve, either.  What’s needed are those service projects where you can personally connect with people who need our help.  I’m becoming convinced that those encounters are the most fulfilling, the most engaging, and the most likely to help recruit new Rotarians, and the most likely to help retain current Rotarians.

Time out for a clip from one of my all-time favorite movies, Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray relives Groundhog Day over and over and eventually is redeemed by embracing service and becoming a great guy.  He also finds love with the beautiful Andie MacDowell, as Rita.  Note to Rotarians: Please do not expect to find love with Andie MacDowell by embracing community service.

Interestingly, one of the most popular service projects in our District is the dictionary project.  The dictionary project is an effort to give every third grader in a local school system a dictionary where club members go to the schools, distribute the dictionaries at a school assembly, and get to explain a little about Rotary to the kids.  Why is the dictionary project so popular?  I suspect that it’s not because third graders need a dictionary, even though a surprising number don’t have access to dictionary.com and the dictionary itself is a valuable educational tool.  Nope, I suspect the project is so popular because it puts our members directly in touch with a bunch of third graders who are happy to learn about Rotary and whose excitement about receiving our dictionaries is contagious.  Anyone who has had the experience of talking with the kids is touched by it.  It matters to them.  Anyone still talking about selling their fourth fundraiser ticket?

Check writing clubs tend to describe their club service in the context of the club’s fundraising activities.  In may cases, clubs with signature events raise the majority of their funds at one event, held in one day or one evening.  For some clubs this is an “all hands on deck” event where every club member is involved and the planning takes weeks or months.  But for many other clubs, far fewer members are actually engaged in doing the work.  And even though big money is raised for charity, the question becomes what do club members do the rest of the year?  When a club member says their favorite day of the Rotary year is the day they give out the checks to charities, my antenna goes up and I immediately wonder what other service projects the club is doing?  Can planning and executing a fund raiser and giving out the funds ever come close to the feeling you get when someone you’ve helped thanks you for caring about them?  I’m beginning to wonder.

What if every club became expert at developing and organizing creative “hands on” projects that get Rotarians face to face with real people?  Feed the hungry at a local homeless shelter and then actually take the time to talk to them and learn their stories.  Visit sick people at the hospital or at a facility for the elderly.  Start a mentoring program in your club.  Ask every non-profit you fund if there is an opportunity for your members to volunteer in a way that allows them to develop a relationship with those they are serving. If you are looking for some good ideas, check with your local Interact or Rotaract Club.  They typically don’t have any money to start with so they are amazingly creative with their projects.  Learn from them…or partner with them.

I suspect that the “culture of service” we develop in our Rotary clubs is one of the most important boxes to check for a successful, happy, energized, growing, and relevant club that means something important to our community.  Not that writing the checks isn’t important, because it’s critical for the charities we support.  But why not take another look at what kind of service projects your club does?  If they don’t involve getting to know the people you serve, even if its just for a little while, then maybe it’s time to gather the wagons and come up with a few new idea.

What are some of your club’s best “hands on” AND “face to face” service projects?  Let us know.

 

TO RECEIVE NOTIFICATIONS OF NEW POSTS TO THE READY, FIRE, AIM, ROTARY BLOG, CLICK ON THE SUBSCRIBE BUTTON TO THE RIGHT OF THE BLOG TEXT.  FOLLOW KEN SOLOW ON TWITTER AT @KENNETHRSOLOW.  PLEASE “LIKE” THE DISTRICT 7620 FACEBOOK PAGE.

 

“Throwin a Train Wreck” – Or, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”

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Lately I’ve been contemplating the consequences of being a change agent in Rotary.  For the past decade I have taught our President-Elects the mantra, “If it ain’t broke….break it!” Meaning, Rotary Club Presidents take on the unique role of looking at their club differently from their peers, even though they are “of” their club.  It’s quite a challenge to separate yourself from your friends and fellow Rotarians to actively look for the flaws in your club with the goal of improving it, especially if you love your Rotary club.  I like to say that one of the hardest jobs for a Club President is “to love your club a little less.”  It’s not an easy thing to do, especially when all you know about Rotary you learned in your club.

Of course, the consequences of trying to improve your club, or your District, can be really good, or really bad, especially when you consider that no one is usually begging you to change the status quo.  To put it delicately, some Rotarians love the way we’ve done things in the past more than life itself, and if you make a change you are likely to (to put it indelicately) piss someone off.  That is why being a change agent in a Rotary club takes vision, character, skill, and above all….COURAGE.  Unfortunately for me,  this morning I’m feeling like I may be lacking a little in all of the above.

As befitting my mood, here’s a video by someone called Ruby Gloom that is absolutely, amazingly, dark.  How fun!  If you are a club or District Leader and are inclined to view the glass as half empty this morning, then check this out.

If you want to do further research into Ruby Gloom videos ( I didn’t) you might want to check out other titles like Grounded in Gloomsville, I’ll be Home for Misery, and Misery Loves Company.  Oh come on.  I can’t keep publishing “Shake It Off” videos by Taylor Swift and keep my credentials as your hard hitting Ready, Fire, Aim reporter.

So what is causing so much angst this morning?  District 7620 has participated in the Chesapeake PETS for several years now.  For remedial readers, PETS stands for President Elect Training Seminars.  Chesapeake PETS is a major event where four Rotary districts send their soon-to-be club leaders to be trained.  In the past, in our District, we have billed clubs for the registration cost of PETS and our District Secretary, the long-suffering, highly skilled, not to mention beautiful, Sherry Whitworth, (not that I’m sucking up or anything) collects the money and registers all the participants for PETS.  This is an incredible waste of her time and apparently across the country almost no other  District handles PETS registration in this way.  Instead, clubs and club President-Elects go directly to the PETS website and register themselves.  For other Districts this system works well as PEs are expected to handle this detail like the club leader they will soon be.  It made sense to me that this year our District will do the same.  Our PEs will also be asked, for the first time, to handle their own PETS registration.

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?  (cue Train wreck song again.)

To answer my own question, here is a recently received mail from someone much smarter than me with more institutional knowledge of what has gone on in the past in District 7620:

“Wow, I thought that lesson had been painfully learned.  When tried before the confusion was legendary,  chasing unpaid, no shows, late (but my Club paid, and on and on), as previous chairs could attest.  As an SAA previously charged with rounding up no pays, I await this decision with FEAR in my heart.”

Oh My!  Steady, Ken.  Steady.  We can do this.

Here’s the good news.  This Chesapeake PETS will be great.  Well run.  Interesting.  Informative.  Necessary.  So to finish this post on a positive note, not withstanding all of the whining and handwringing, here are two people you really should meet.  First up is Eric Grubb, long standing Chair of the Chesapeake PETS, and next up is Mary Nagle, Co-Chair of the District 7620 training team.  They both are committed to making this a fantastic event.

 

What do you think?  Was changing our registration procedure for this year’s PETS a good idea?  Let us know.

YOU CAN SUBSCRIBE TO THE READY, FIRE, AIM ROTARY BLOG AND RECEIVE NOTIFICATIONS OF NEW POSTS BY EMAIL.  SIMPLY CLICK ON THE SUBSCRIBE BUTTON TO  THE RIGHT OF THE BLOG TEXT.  YOU CAN FOLLOW KEN SOLOW ON TWITTER AT @KENNETHRSOLOW.  PLEASE “LIKE” THE DISTRICT 7620 FACEBOOK PAGE.

When a Fundraiser is Not About the Food

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L-R: Event organizers Past President, Mary Cain, and Club Service Chair, Beth Thomas, happily celebrating another successful fundraiser.

One of the best things about being on the District Leadership Team is the food.  Most Rotary club meetings are structured around a meal.  Some of the best food you can find is at club fundraisers in our District.  I’m thinking Oyster Fests, Crab Feasts, Crab Festivals, Bull and Oyster Roasts, Barbecue, Lobster Fests, etc.  I know.  I know.  World Peace and all of that stuff is important.  But I’m talking some of the best food on the planet, right here in District 7620.

Last month the Rotary Club of Columbia-Patuxent, demonstrated, once again, that when it comes to having fun, they are a tough club to match.  Their fundraiser, A Night on the Riverboat, wasn’t as much about the food.  It was about gambling!   That’s right, the club offered guests extremely high stakes gambling where thousands of dollars were won and lost on a single roll of the dice or spin of the wheel.  (Not really…you may have heard that actual gambling is heavily regulated in the state of Md.  This is kind of “fake” gambling.  The kind that doesn’t get you arrested.)

Before I get into the details, I want you to know that it’s hard to choose the best video clips for a gambling post on RFA.  Hollywood has stepped up to the plate with some of the best possible scenes.  How to choose from the blizzard of James Bond casino scenes, or Matt Damon in Rounders which some say is the best poker movie ever made.  Then, of course, there’s Rainman, 21, Maverick, and even Road to El Dorado, all with scenes that come close to capturing the real world drama of Night on the Riverboat.  Here’s my first choice….James Bond (Sean Connery) in Diamonds are Forever, with the beautiful Lana Wood playing Plenty O’Tool.  There was a lot of this kind of action at the craps tables at Night on the Riverboat.

 

 

The secret of Night on the Riverboat is that the players don’t play for cash.  Instead they are given “house” money that can be exchanged for tickets used to win all kinds of prizes.  The more tickets you have the more chances you have to win the prize you want.  You would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) how quickly the “play” money begins to feel like real money.  There was plenty of shouting at the tables as winners howled in triumph at winning thousands of …tickets.  Craps, blackjack, and roulette, were all paying out the fake bucks with plenty of action.  However, I’m guessing the cash wheels were the big money makers for the evening.  Combined with a variety of raffles, a silent auction, and other chances to win stuff during the evening, I’m hearing the total net raised was over $30,000.

Time for another classic scene.  I have to go with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in this iconic scene from Rainman.  Do you remember this scene?

 

 

Not content to just have fun at the Night on the River Boat event, the Columbia Patuxent club also took time to honor the winner of  their Service Above Self award, Chaya Kaplan, of A-OK Mentoring and Tutoring.  The club awards $5,000 to the winner of the award each year who then donates the prize to a charity of their choice, subject to the approval of the Club’s Foundation Trustees.  Chaya reports that this year’s prize, donated to A-OK, will purchase science kits, children’s books, and other educational materials.  The size of this award is beginning to gain the attention of the do-gooder community in Howard County.  Great publicity for Rotary and the club.

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Chaya Kaplan, Executive Director of A-OK Mentoring and Tutoring, accepting her Service Above Self award with Club Trust Chair (Grand Dame Poobah) Joan Athen, looking on.

Here’s the good news.  Amazing night.  Lot’s of fun.  Over three hundred guests.  A large screen running all night showing highlights of the Rotary club and reminding everyone that this is a Rotary event.  Oh…and did I mention?  Preliminary reports are more than $30,000 raised.  Not bad.  On the other hand, fundraiser organizers were heard muttering that not enough attention was given to the awards, too many tickets were purchased by club members, and not enough extra cash was spent on gambling.  It seems our guests only wanted to “lose” the play money they were given at the beginning of the evening.  Never fear, the club, like many clubs in Rotary, is already figuring out how to “fine tune” the event so it will be even better next year.  Too much fun!

My observation is that clubs all over the District, and all around the world, are working hard to raise money in support of their local communities.  Let’s make sure everyone hears about it.  It really is a powerful effort when you think of the size of our combined efforts.  Care to share any tips you can think of for promoting your club’s fundraiser to the community?  You can comment below.

OK…I can’t help it.  One last clip.  Here’s Mel Gibson, and a cast of thousands, drawing for a royal straight flush in the movie, Maverick.  Only in Hollywood…

 

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District 7620 Membership Chair, and Col Patuxent member, Darrell Nevin, is his famous, ” don’t you trust me?” pose at the cash wheel. Notably, the cash in Darrell’s hand used to belong to me.

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YOU CAN SUBSCRIBE TO THE READY, FIRE, AIM ROTARY BLOG AND RECEIVE NOTIFICATIONS OF NEW POSTS DIRECT TO YOUR EMAIL BY CLICKING ON THE SUBSCRIBE BUTTON TO THE RIGHT OF THE BLOG CONTENT.  YOU CAN FOLLOW KEN SOLOW ON TWITTER AT @KENNETHRSOLOW.  PLEASE “LIKE” THE DISTRICT 7620 FACE BOOK PAGE.