Month: January 2019

Rotary clubs come together to fight opioid epidemic

Rotary club harnesses international connections to tackle U.S. opioid crisis

Clubs in Mexico, India, and Canada help Rotary members in New York launch project

By Ryan Hyland

New York Rotary members used support from international partners to help them fight a major U.S. problem: opioid addiction. 

After attending a wrenching funeral for a young man who died from an opioid overdose, Lana K. Rouff, a member of the Rotary Club of Binghamton, New York, USA, knew she had to do something. 

“It was awful,” says Rouff. “I was so shaken by the shock and sadness at the funeral. The experience really stuck with me but also sparked me to do something.”

Rouff immediately talked with her fellow members, as well as other local clubs, about how they could alleviate the crisis in their communities in central and southern New York. 

After months of doing research and consulting with health officials, substance abuse experts, educators, and media professionals, they had a plan: a Rotary Foundation global grant project, totaling more than $107,000. 

The project’s initiatives would support those directly affected by the epidemic, educate communities about preventing and treating opioid addiction, and prevent drug abuse among local young people by training them in leadership skills and healthy decision making. 

  • 130.00+

    people die every day from opioid-related drug overdoses in the U.S.

  • 11.00 mil

    people have abused prescription opioids in 2016

  • 47000.00 +

    people died from overdosing on opioids in 2017 

  • 9000.00 +

    people died in Canada between 2016-18 from opioid-related deaths

But they still needed one more thing to meet The Rotary Foundation’s requirements and secure the funding — international partners.

Rouff again turned to Rotary’s 1.2 million members in 35,000 clubs around the world. She found the support they needed. 

A Rotary club in Mexico was the first to volunteer, and then Rotary clubs in Canada and India agreed to help, too. 

Harnessing international support

Finding people outside of the U.S. to help with a predominantly American problem wasn’t easy, says Rouff.

“It wasn’t out of indifference to a problem in the U.S.,” says Rouff. “There just isn’t a strong understanding outside the country of how bad the opioid crisis really is.”

It took six months of searching before Rouff’s club connected with the Rotary Club of Tijuana Oeste, Baja California, Mexico. Sofia Sotomayor Magana rallied her fellow members to be the project’s international sponsor because she believed it was important to show support for their northern neighbors. 

Some in the Mexican club were hesitant, telling Sotomayor Magana that their resources and money should be allocated to local issues such as poverty and poor health care. But Sotomayor Magana persuaded them that it’s sometimes better to give than to receive. 

“We have an opportunity to help clubs in the U.S. make an impact on this horrible epidemic,” she says. “We know that this crisis can happen anywhere and can devastate any community. We see how bad it’s gotten. I’m proud we were able to get this important project off the ground.” 

The Rotary Club of Mississauga-Meadowvale, Ontario, Canada, also contributed funds and support to the project. Member Claudine LaRochelle says that the opioid crisis isn’t confined to the U.S.; provinces in Canada are also affected. Opioid-related overdoses killed 9,000 Canadians from 2016 to 2018. These overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Canadians ages 30-39. 

“When thinking of international assistance, we often think of countries far away from us, but help is also well-used when the crisis hits close to home,” says LaRochelle. 

Providing information and tools

Today’s opioid crisis is the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each day more than 130 people die from opioid-related drug overdoses, and millions more struggle with addiction. Since 2011, drug deaths in the U.S. have outpaced those caused by firearms, motor vehicle crashes, suicide, or homicide. In New York, it’s the leading cause of accidental deaths. 

Children and teens are not exempt from the crisis — nearly a quarter of U.S. high school seniors have had some exposure to prescription opioids — but they are the best targets for education and prevention, Rouff says. 

Over the past year and a half, the global grant funded a series of weekend seminars that brought together nearly 50 high school students from 11 schools. They gathered at the Heart of New York Teen Institute in Syracuse, New York, to gain the knowledge and confidence that will help them lead drug-free lives and the leadership skills to educate their peers about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. 

“We want to help produce the next generation of role models,” says Rouff. “We exceeded our expectations on this front.”

Jo Ann Wickman, a project lead and member of the Rotary Club of Cortland, New York, USA, has worked in social work and education for more than 25 years and was a grant coordinator for the project. She was impressed with the students’ experience at the teen institute. “It was really incredible how much they learned and what they said they wanted to accomplish,” she says. “It was a powerful program.”

Participating clubs led a broad public-awareness campaign with critical information, such as the signs and symptoms of abuse, and resources like 2-1-1, the local hotline for prescription drop boxes. Rotary members designed, produced, and distributed more than 60,000 informational flyers, brochures, and postcards in their communities. 

“We put them up everywhere we could,” Wickman says, which included schools, municipal buildings, medical and legal offices, churches, and Rotary meeting locations. Teachers even enclosed the materials with students’ report cards and other mailings to parents.

The project grant also funded online ads, social media campaigns, and local TV and radio spots that listed ways community residents can help mitigate the opioid crisis and its devastating consequences. Club members created a Facebook page and YouTube ads as well.

The clubs also directed funds to the Addiction Center of Broome County to help pay for medical and administrative supplies, transportation vouchers to get patients to the clinic, and three drop boxes for safe disposal of prescription drugs. Each month, the police department collects and incinerates the unused drugs. 

https://www.rotary.org/en/rotary-clubs-come-together-fight-opioid-epidemic

After the storm

A year after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, local Rotary members continue to rebuild homes and lives

By Vanessa Glavinskas
Photos by Alyce Henson

Eladio Montalvo faced a stark choice: risk drowning in his one-story home or climb through a window into the house next door. It was under construction but had a second floor where he could escape the rising floodwaters. He boosted his dog through and scrambled in after him. The two huddled inside an upstairs bathroom for 22 hours while Hurricane Maria raged over Puerto Rico. With 155 mph winds and torrential rains, Maria was the strongest hurricane to hit the island in more than 80 years.  

After the storm, Montalvo went out to see what was left of the home he had lived in since 1958. The walls were standing, but the water inside had risen chest-high. Everything was destroyed. Without any family nearby, he had nowhere to go. He moved into his car. 

“But after the storm came the calm,” he says. “Good people came.”

Rivera greets Eladio Montalvo, who was forced to live in his car before the Mayagüez club helped him rebuild his home.

Faustino Rivera pats Montalvo affectionately on the shoulder. It’s September 2018, a year since Hurricane Maria, and Rivera and several other members of the Rotary Club of Mayagüez have stopped by to visit. Montalvo lives in a fishing town called El Maní outside the city of Mayagüez on the island’s west coast. He invites his guests inside to see the progress he has made adding a shower to his bathroom. There’s a pile of tiles that he plans to lay soon, and he has started painting the walls a light shade of blue. The home is neatly but sparsely furnished: a bed, a TV, and a few plastic bins, including one labeled camisas that has shirts and shorts tucked inside.

“He’s become my friend,” says Rotarian Orlando Carlo, who checks in on Montalvo almost every week.

The Mayagüez club paid $4,200 for the materials Montalvo used to add a second story to his home. Made of concrete, outfitted with hurricane shutters, and built high enough off the ground to avoid flooding, the new addition contains a small kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. Montalvo did much of the work himself, calling on friends and neighbors skilled in construction when he needed help. 

To find people like Montalvo who needed help but didn’t qualify for reconstruction aid from the U.S. government’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Mayagüez club members worked with community leaders and screened each family. “We are trying to help those who really need help,” Carlo explains. “Those who can’t get it from anyone else.”

By the time Carlo met him, Montalvo had been living in his car for nearly six months. A local church leader introduced the two, hoping Rotarians could help Montalvo find permanent housing. “I could tell immediately that he was severely dehydrated from staying out in the sun and sleeping in his car,” Carlo says. “He seemed stunned and needed guidance on how to start rebuilding. We assured him we were there to help him.”

After the hurricane, Carlo was also living alone. His wife had gone to stay in Florida while he remained behind to run his construction business. But the lack of electricity and reliable communication meant his work projects were stalled, so he mostly spent his days volunteering. “It gave me a lot of time to help,” he says. His home survived the storm, but the shortage of gasoline meant he had to plan his trips carefully. He rationed bottled water and food, eating what he calls a “hurricane diet” of canned pasta or sausage and rice.

“We didn’t have power back until the end of October,” says Christa von Hillebrandt-Andrade, president of the Mayagüez club. “We could use one bucket of water per day. My teenage daughter learned that water is the No. 1 thing you need. She could live without electricity and even without her cellphone, but not without water.”

Antonio Morales spreads a message of hope and resilience to at-risk youth through theater. His project, Teatro Por Amor, is now supported by a Rotary global grant.  “I like coming here because it’s an escape from my life,” says 16-year-old Annie, above left. Student Kelvin Tirado, right, sits next to actress Anoushka Medina, who runs the Santurce Teatro Por Amor group.

Mayagüez is home to 75,000 people and to the island’s second-oldest Rotary club after San Juan. In the past, the club carried out smaller projects, but the massive devastation caused by Maria motivated members to do more to help their neighbors, especially the very poor.

“I’ve been a Rotarian for 40 years, and I’ve never seen so much help come from other Rotary clubs,” Carlo says. After Hurricane Maria, clubs across the United States wired the Rotary Club of Mayagüez about $50,000 directly; more than half of that money came from the Rotary Club of La Jolla Golden Triangle in California and a group of clubs in New York. As club treasurer, Rivera keeps track of every receipt and sends updates back to the donor clubs. A year after Maria, the club had helped 22 families repair their homes, mostly replacing roofs that were blown off by the hurricane.

Scanning the horizon from a hillside neighborhood nicknamed Felices Días — “Happy Days” — Carlo points out a less-than-happy sight: the many blue FEMA tarps that still stand in for permanent roofs. “There is still a lot of need here. This is not over,” he says. “But we are willing to continue to help as long as it takes.”

And for Montalvo’s part, he has remained optimistic in spite of all he went through. “Hurricane Maria gave me more than she took,” he says.

When Ken McGrath became president of the Rotary Club of San Juan in July 2017, he thought his most arduous task would be planning the celebration of the club’s centennial in 2018. Three months after he took office, Hurricane Maria hit. 

“While Maria was a major disaster,” McGrath says, “it had the beneficial effect of invigorating our club to show those in need the real meaning of Rotary.”

By the time he was able to get an internet connection and check his email, McGrath had received 200 messages from clubs around the world offering to help. Rotarians in Puerto Rico started distributing food and water every Saturday. Working with other clubs, they coordinated the distribution of 300,000 pouches of baby food. They even put dog food out for animals that had been left behind.

Once the immediate needs were under control, they started to think about long-term relief.

San Juan club members distribute mattresses in Villa Santo.

Photo by Gerry Cumpiano

“So much of the damage isn’t only to the infrastructure; it’s to the spirit,” says John Richardson, a member of the San Juan club and a past district governor. To address mental health after the hurricane, fellow member Bob Bolte suggested the club do something unconventional: apply for a grant to support youth theater.

Bolte had met Antonio Morales in 1995 when the San Juan club installed a library in the housing project where Morales grew up. He was impressed to see that Morales, who was just 14 at the time, was running a theater group for other kids living in his tough neighborhood.

“Theater saved my life,” says Morales, now a 37-year-old actor and director. “My father was a drug lord. My mother was a victim of domestic violence.”

Even though his father had forbidden him to pursue acting, Morales persuaded his mother to secretly take him to an audition at the public performing arts school. “Everything I learned at school, I brought back to the projects,” he says.

Eventually his theater group became an unlikely alternative to gangs in his neighborhood. “When boys reach a certain age, it’s very easy for them to join the drug gangs,” Morales says. “We told them, ‘Come join our club, not them.’ Even the leaders of the gangs supported me. They didn’t want their little brothers to follow in their footsteps.”

After the hurricane, Morales, who now runs the San Juan Drama Company and stars in a TV series called No Me Compares, started visiting housing projects with other actors to spread a message of hope and resilience to young people. “People were desperate. They were bored. They were depressed,” he says. “We decided to go into these communities to give love. We didn’t have aid kits, food, or water to give — but we had our theater experience. So we said, ‘Let’s go and make these people happy.’” With schools closed and the power out, teens turned out in droves.

When Bolte learned what Morales was doing, he suggested Rotary could help. “These theater groups provide almost a second family to a lot of the kids,” Bolte says. “I wanted to help him do this on a wider scale, across multiple neighborhoods.” A $99,700 global grant has allowed Morales to expand the project to four theater groups so far and to pay a stipend to the facilitators of each group. Funding for the grant came from Bob Murray, a former San Juan club member who now lives in Arizona, where he’s a member of the Rotary Club of Scottsdale. In December 2017, Murray gave $1 million to The Rotary Foundation for the recovery effort.

Morales calls the project Teatro Por Amor, or Theater for Love.

Every Wednesday, the Santurce Teatro Por Amor group meets on the second floor of Federico Asenjo school. The sounds of laughter and cheering can be heard from down the hall as students, ranging in age from 11 to mid-20s, perform an improv exercise. Five members of the group squat down in the front of the room, and when the director yells “arriba,” whoever stands up has to improvise a routine together. One boy stands up alone, so he takes off his shoe to pretend it’s a phone. He tells off the friend who “called,” and the room erupts in laughter and applause.

“You come here and you’re not in the streets,” says 18-year-old Nandyshaliz Alejandro, who lives in the same housing project where Morales grew up. This is her first theater experience. “This is one of the few things I actually look forward to.”

  1. Yolimar Feliciano and her younger brother walk along the only road in Rubias to fill containers with free, clean water at the local community center. 

  2. The Rotary Club of Yauco supplied the town with a solar-powered water filter.

  3. Maritza Osorio rests on a new mattress furnished by the San Juan club after her home flooded.

  4. Orlando Carlo shows what the house behind him looked like before the Rotary Club of Mayagüez supplied the family with a new roof. 

  5. Faustino Rivera reviews what the club has provided homeowner Sandra Acevedo.

Felix Juan Osorio lifts the corner of his mattress. The underside is rippled with brown water stains, and it smells of mold. One year after Hurricane Maria flooded the family’s home, the mattress is still wet, but they can’t afford a new one.

“I never thought mattresses would be the No. 1 request,” says Armand Piqué, a member of the Rotary Club of San Juan.

Piqué has been working in Loíza, a town not far from San Juan where the Osorio family lives, since he learned people in the area weren’t getting the help they needed.

“There are certain areas where it is difficult to get in if you don’t know someone,” Piqué explains, adding that drug trafficking can make it dangerous for strangers to enter certain parts of Loíza. The Villa Santo neighborhood is one of those areas. So Piqué worked with a community leader, Ángel Coriano, to find out what families needed. Coriano, who grew up in the area and now works for the Puerto Rico Department of Health, is the type of person who knows everyone.

“I was listening to what all these people were asking,” Piqué says. “And I thought, our club cannot provide everything that’s on this list. I need to find the thing that is most pressing, something that they really need.” Again and again, people brought up mattresses. Unlike other furniture, mattresses, once wet, don’t dry out. So far, Rotarians have distributed hundreds of mattresses across the island.

Before receiving her new mattress, Felix Juan Osorio’s neighbor, Maritza Osorio, had been sleeping on a damaged mattress, the springs poking her ribs. She suffers from pulmonary hypertension, and the lack of rest took a toll on her already fragile health. “I could hardly sleep,” she says. “Now I’m comfortable. I’m able to sleep, and I’m feeling better.”

It’s a bright, sunny morning in Rubias, a picturesque farming village in the mountains about 35 miles east of Mayagüez. In a few hours, that sun will begin to power a new water filter, providing the 100 families who live here with access to clean drinking water for the first time.

https://www.rotary.org/en/rotary-members-rebuild-after-hurricane-maria

Connecting the world

2019-20 RI president announces his presidential theme

By Arnold R. Grahl
Photos by Alyce Henson

Rotary International President-elect Mark Daniel Maloney explained his vision for building a stronger Rotary, calling on leaders to expand connections to their communities and to embrace innovative membership models.

RI President-elect Mark Maloney announces the 2019-20 presidential theme, Rotary Connects the World, to incoming district governors in San Diego, California, USA.

Maloney, a member of the Rotary Club of Decatur, Alabama, USA, unveiled the 2019-20 presidential theme, Rotary Connects the World, to incoming district governors at Rotary’s annual training event, the International Assembly, in San Diego, California, USA, on Monday.

“The first emphasis is to grow Rotary — to grow our service; to grow the impact of our projects; but, most importantly, to grow our membership so that we can achieve more,” Maloney said.

Maloney believes that connection is at the heart of the Rotary experience.

“(Rotary) allows us to connect with each other, in deep and meaningful ways, across our differences,” Maloney said. “It connects us to people we would never otherwise have met, who are more like us than we ever could have known. It connects us to our communities, to professional opportunities, and to the people who need our help.”

Maloney also called on every Rotary and Rotaract club to identify segments of their community not represented in their club by creating a membership committee with diverse members.  

“Through Rotary, we connect to the incredible diversity of humanity on a truly unique footing, forging deep and lasting ties in pursuit of a common goal,” he added. “In this ever more divided world, Rotary connects us all.”

Maloney urged leaders to offer alternative meeting experiences and service opportunities to make it easier for busy professionals and people with many family obligations to serve in leadership roles.

“We need to foster a culture where Rotary does not compete with the family, but rather complements it,” Maloney said. “That means taking real, practical steps to change the existing culture: being realistic in our expectations, considerate in our scheduling, and welcoming of children at Rotary events on every level.”

Maloney said many of the barriers that prevent people from serving as leaders in Rotary are based on expectations that are no longer relevant.

“It is time to adapt, to change our culture, and to convey the message that you can be a great district governor without visiting every club individually, and a great president without doing everything yourself.”

Relationship with the United Nations

During 2019-20, Rotary will host a series of presidential conferences around the world, focusing on Rotary’s relationship with the United Nations and the UN’s sustainable development goals that many Rotary service projects support. More information will be available in July.

In 2020, the United Nations will celebrate the 75th anniversary of its charter and its mission of promoting peace. Rotary was one of 42 organizations the United States invited to serve as consultants to its delegation at the 1945 San Francisco conference, which led to the UN’s charter. For decades, Rotary has worked alongside the United Nations to address humanitarian issues around the world. Today, Rotary holds the highest consultative status that the UN offers to nongovernmental organizations.

“Rotary shares the United Nations’ enduring commitment to a healthier, more peaceful, and more sustainable world,” Maloney said. “And Rotary offers something no other organization can match: an existing infrastructure that allows people from all over the world to connect in a spirit of service and peace and take meaningful action toward that goal.” 

https://www.rotary.org/en/rotary-international-president-maloney-theme-2019

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