“We are not a huge club, we have 28 members and to see this group progress day by day and do all the things we have accomplished, it amazes me. I am very proud to be a member of this club.”
Kevin Smith may have had the most difficult period in recent memory for any Rotary club to head Nipissing.
“You’re getting ready to be president very early. So, I was in Florida around March and we came back early, and I started our Rotary year on July 1st and I was just thinking, ‘This year will be coming,” Smith says with a laugh. “I told the outgoing president if he wanted to continue with it that would be fine and I could take a break!”
Smith got up and running, and the 2020 edition of the club has been very active since the summer, despite the restrictions the global pandemic has imposed on people and organizations.
“Everything changed, we were having weekly meetings in person, and we couldn’t do that. All fundraising operations were stopped. No meetings, no fundraising, what can we do now?” Smith says.
Okay so we got started and worked on Zoom. Then the next question was, What can we do? Yes, we have had challenges, but we have very little reserves, we can not just move it. For me, this is the death of the club. If you can’t find it. Something to keep members engaged and to keep people feeling worthwhile, I mean that’s why they joined the service club in the first place. They want to feel like they can do something. ”
Smith says it’s when ideas started pouring in from the Rotary club, including finding a way to help with the hand sanitizer shortage.
“One of our members is a volunteer firefighter and he said they don’t have the funds, but they can really use some donations,” says Smith. “The local OPP detachment also ran out. So, we bought some disinfectants, bundled them together for donations, and then OPP donated that back to paramedics in the surrounding areas.”
The club continued to assist in various ways across the region over the next few weeks.
We joined Clean Green Beautiful North Bay to do community cleanups. We didn’t need a budget for that, we just divided and cleaned up different areas around town. These are the situations that make you feel good, and Clean Green Beautiful is a mega project.
“Then one of our members contacted us who said there is a face shield factory in town who wants to see what he can do to help the community and is looking for a partner. So, there is a division of North Bay Plastic Molders called ProtectOn that said they could sell us face shields at a really good price and the club could Rotary distributed it. Well, we were all on board. We also had our members making some donations from the food bank. “
Social inclusion and giving back was one of the reasons Smith joined the Rotary Club Nipissing in 1991, but he says the main draw was his global reach.
“I was 31 years old at the time and just started going to different clubs and what really attracted me was the International Rotary Band. You can’t be a Rotary Club member and don’t do anything international, that’s part of our mission. There are many ways that you can. Participation, such as youth exchange, group study exchange, and I liked the position that “we do not give charity, we give a hand” and the club is very strict about it.It is not just about donating money to a project, in order to engage internationally, there has to be someone On the ground in that other region, we are ready not only to ensure the successful completion of the project but to ensure its continuity.
Even in the event of a global pandemic, they found a way to do something of international significance.
“There used to be an orphanage in Costa Rica that usually got all of its funding from tourist hotels in the area,” Smith says.
“Covid shut down everything and there was no money entering the orphanage because the hotels did not make any donations. So, we partnered with a club in Orleans, Ontario where one of their members was from that area in Costa Rica, and we sold the virtual garage. That resulted in a $ 4,000 collection. We sent it to the Rotary Club of Costa Rica which in turn donated it to the orphanage to keep them working. It just blows my mind with the access you can still get in these times. We’ve had challenges without a doubt but we’re still moving forward and trying things to support our community and internationally as well. The whole world is our backyard and we need to focus on the people who not only need help here but those who need help all over the world. And if we can do something to provide that help, then we will. ”
Later this week, World Polio Day comes, and this may be the biggest reason Rotary clubs donate their time and commitment to it.
“The Polio End Program, also known as Polio Plus, is a big task for us,” says Smith. “In fact, we are retreating to two countries in the world where polio is considered a pandemic, namely Afghanistan and Pakistan. This has raised billions of dollars to fight polio. We are approaching of course, we still say that, but then the Covid-19 virus threw us a curve. About going out and vaccinating people. I feel goosebumps even thinking about eliminating it. “
Smith says there were roadblocks along the way.
“I admit at one point that there was definitely some donor fatigue among Rotary clubs saying that we’ll do it in 10 years, then 15 years and then we went into civil wars in areas where we couldn’t be vaccinated. Polio is incredibly contagious, and once it happened. On a foothold, it is spreading like crazy and we will be cut off from the regions. You cannot vaccinate when there are ongoing civil wars. Bill and Melinda Gates were huge for us to continue. They gave us an enormous amount of support and cash and they just matched a dollar for a dollar with our donations. It rejuvenates everyone in this eradication program. “
Smith continues, “When they came up and said they thought we’re doing a great job and wanted to help, it just seemed to spark that program. The last time I looked at, we got to 47 cases around the world. We’ve been close before, so I always put it forward by saying we’re Close, but we’ve been close before.However, last summer we made a big breakthrough when it was declared that Africa was polio-free and that was tremendous. The feeling you get, I mean you’re just one gear in a hurry, but you see what happens when you put all of these on. Things together and the feeling you have is that it astonishes your mind when you see these things done. ”
Smith says that the will of his club members to continue to look for ways to return the favor during these times is more than he had expected when he took over as president.
“I know they might be tired of hearing me say this at our club’s Zoom meetings, but I am telling you from the bottom of my heart that I am very proud of the effort they have put in. We are not a huge club, we have 28 members and to see this group progress day by day and do all the things we have accomplished, it amazes me I am so proud to be a member of this club. It was nice to have an easier year, I wish it was this year, but that went out the window in March!
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