BY GLORIA J. KATCH Special to the VOICE
“It’s the feeling of service above self, locally and globally,” which drew Mary Ellen (Mel) Groom to be a Rotarian.
Embedded in her sensibility in some ways, Groom says her father was a Rotarian when she was growing up in Welland. He would be proud as she officially accepted the gavel with honor as Rotary Club President for 2018. She is elected for a one-year term.
Having a grasp of the big picture, Groom attended a national conference in Toronto recently, giving Rotarians a global sense that each one brings home, even to small towns like Pelham. One of the large scale goals of Rotarians is to eradicate polio in three years in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. There were 11 cases of polio reported in these countries in the last six months, she said. Polio is contagious, and it could become an epidemic if it seeps into the water system, as it did during the World Olympics in Rio de Janeiro last year. Fortunately, health inspectors there were able to prevent the disease from spreading, and visitors and Olympians were asked to inoculate themselves months prior to their arrival.
Rotarians are raising $50 million towards eradicating polio worldwide, with the assistance of Bill Gates, the software giant, and other corporate donors.
Building relationships with like-minded people is what Rotarians are successful at, noted Groom. She feels her 40 years as a banker has given her the customer service skills to contribute to the title of presidency.
In the last three years as a Rotarian, she has been a part of many of its programs and fundraising events. The Rotary club just signed an $8,000 cheque from the Niagara Mudfest Challenge to Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
“We wrapped up that event this year,” and now she is determined to find a suitable replacement.
The Canada Day Parade is on the list of Rotarian yearly activities, along with the Christmas TV Auction with Cogeco, which helps them ring in the holiday spirit.
The list of fundraising achievements for the Rotary Club includes collecting $2,000 for the Salvation Army in Pelham recently, plus a list of many projects donating to various causes, training and education.
Since its inception in the U.S. in 1947, Rotarians have placed education at the top of its list. This still holds true today. The local club recently partnered with the Fonthill Library to incorporate a reading nook in the new community centre. The parkland behind the new centre is going to be developed by Rotarians and the Youth Advisory Council in Pelham.
Synonymous with the student exchange program, Rotarians have hosted thousands of students from around the globe. It’s been so many years, Groom can’t recall when the program began.
“I remember it when I was a child,” she said. The Grooms’ three children have all participated in the student exchange program, and they’ve also hosted a student, as well.
The Rotary Club of Kingston, Ontario was hosting ten people through the Rotarian Fellowship Exchange program from South Africa, who all attended Groom’s induction ceremony at her home on Stella Street in Pelham. The South Africans were travelling through Ontario in order to partner with other Rotarians and organizations here.
“We have lots of projects in South Africa, but no money,” said one of the travellers. “It’s summer,” and “we enjoy meeting people,” were their other reasons for visiting Ontario.
At 21, Jarred Van Der Westhuizen, also from South Africa, is the youngest Rotarian president in the world. Indicating the size of the Rotary Club’s popularity in Africa, they said there are roughly 36,000 chapters on the continent. The South African district includes four countries, which means many long-distance, connections.
The evening included the induction of new member Teresa Quinlin, Town of Pelham Treasurer. Awards were given to incoming and outgoing members for their service. Pelham Mayor Augustyn wished the African delegates well on their journey and distributed mementos from Pelham.
Groom said the Rotary Club’s student exchange program is wonderful because it finds host families that pay for the housing, food and recreation for the student. The club was officially “saying goodbye,” to exchange student Frederico Roman Holt, from Paraguay, who attended E.L. Crossley Secondary School and enjoyed sports like football, soccer and basketball. It was a “good experience and I learned the language well,” he said adding, “I can’t believe how nice everyone is in Canada.” He promises to return.
The Rotary Club is looking for a student in Pelham to become a part of the exchange program in November. “The Rotarian program is so well run. The kids are safe and well looked after,” said Groom.
Working with youth and young adults is one of Rotary’s halmarks. There is a program at every school level including, A. K. Wigg School, E. L. Crossley, and Brock University. The Early Act program at A. K. Wigg raised thousands of dollars that went towards assisting a school in Haiti.
“We like working with younger people, because they think outside the box. They’re a great group and we like to harness their energy,” Groom said.
There are 34 Rotary members in Pelham who work their magic to fundraise and create positive change in the community and abroad. As far as her goals for the next year, Groom spoke confidently, “I feel like we have a strong group of committee volunteers, and I want to continue to build on the things that we’ve been doing.”