District Conference Wrap-Up

This year’s district conference was a four-day event that provided great fun, entertainment, and Rotary ideas that were absolutely inspirational.
On Thursday, April 21 the district golf outing was held at Black Bear country club. One hundred and four golfers came out to participate. The weather was beautiful and the course was challenging.  Everyone had a good time. The Blairstown Rotary club once again won the district trophy for the third year running. It’s about time someone wrestle that trophy from their tight grip. The fact is that every golfer left as a winner from this outstanding day.
The conference started with a welcome from the R.I. President’s Representative, Mark Von Hossendorff, who brought us President Ravi’s message of “Being a Gift to the World”.  He shared with us some of the great work that Rotary is doing and how we can all be involved. Mark told us that change will be the way forward for Rotary. We must innovate to make our clubs better and attract new members. He is in an outstanding Rotarian and it was a pleasure to have him and his lovely wife Robin as our President’s Representative. Those in attendance certainly hope that he takes the opportunity to visit our district again in the future and if Robin has her way they will be back in June to pick up the Gift of Life canoe.
The next group of speakers, Jim Simmonetti and James Gannon, told the group about the many ways that terrorism now affects our daily lives. They told us that we should all be prepared because in their expert opinion’s there is always a chance that we may have first hand involvement in an event that requires us to protect ourselves and help others. They showed us trauma kits that the Roxbury Rotary club has provided to all its schools so that the students might be protected. These kits are important to have even for such events as a child falling from some bleachers, cutting themselves on a sharp object or other every day injuries that might be sustained. Both their knowledge and professionalism made this presentation particularly noteworthy.
We were then regaled with the singing of the High Point High School choir, who sang five songs for us. These songs were each one better than the other, but the best was a song about coffee. It was an inspiration to experience both the talent and the inner light of these young people.
The highlight of Friday’s session was Razia Jan who is the most recent recipient of the Rotary International “Service Above Self” Award. After 9/11, Razia wanted to make a difference, she started by making blankets for those working at Ground Zero, then she went on to sending care packages to American soldiers who were fighting in her native Afghanistan. One day she realized that in order to make the kind of difference that she would like in the world she would have to return to her native Afghanistan and do something to make it better. She raised money through her Rotary club and others taking it to a village near Kabul where she would start a girls’ school. Although Razia had spent her life in America as a small business owner who designed wedding dresses and gowns she had a Masters Degree in early childhood education. She knew the importance of educating young girls in Afghanistan. She started out with only seven girls and a great deal of opposition from the local mullahs. They did not want a girls’ school and threatened Razia, telling her that she should change it to a boys’ school. Undaunted she moved forward with her plans and today she has almost 550 students in her school and they come from seven villages. The most amazing part is that she started this all in her 70s which is proof that it is never too late to change the world. Razia is not only a CNN hero, she is an inspiration for all Rotarians.
Friday evening’s Foundation Dinner was an event to remember, not only did we meet all the new Paul Harris Fellow’s and Paul Harris Society members in attendance, we also had the opportunity to witness the induction of our two newest major donors, Sharon Hosking and Barbara Miller. There was a new award added this year, The District 7470 “Champion’s Award”. Two were presented this year to Rotarians who have served both our district and the Rotary world - Bob Pityo and Sven Johnson. They both exemplify our “Service Above Self” motto. Then the real fun began with an inspiring music group called “Uncle Rocco” who drove the crowd to dance the night away.
Saturday’s session began with a state of the district message in which we learned that we were up about 10 members year-to-date across the district. There was also information about the district being nearly $15,000 ahead of last year in Rotary Foundation contributions. Overall, our district is in good shape and our clubs are making great contributions to their communities and the world.
The next speakers we heard from were representatives of the Valerie Fund, a local New Jersey charity which helps children with cancer. They spoke about their centers throughout the state and innovative programs that they have instituted to help these children. There was a visit from V-Go the robot who provides students that cannot attend regular classes the opportunity to join with their classmates on a daily basis. V-Go is a product of technology which uses a tablet computer as its face and a camera to allow a home or hospital bound patient to experience the camaraderie of their class. Many of the students that use V-Go will not be able to attend school for long periods up to two years. This is an excellent way to allow them to continue to be connected to their education.
We then heard about the status of the Gift of Life program in our district. The most recent child helped was a young boy from Panama named Joseph and even though it seemed that chances were slim that he could be helped he had a successful surgery and positive outcome. The most recent mission for Gift of Life was in Cuba and the team sent managed to deliver some great technological advancements to their counterparts there. Gift of Life is always striving to make the world a better place one little heart at a time.
Saturday nights entertainment was a comedian named John Pizzi who had the entire crowd laughing. His use of ventriloquist dummies as a surrogate for his biting humor was excellent. Everyone seemed to enjoy the performance.
The bocce tournament that evening was won by Jim Koons and Bernie Rooney, although there seems to be some controversy about an early loss the team suffered. Of course the hospitality’s were great fun and the Brazilians sold Caipirinhas to raise money for the homeless Veterans and many Rotarians enjoyed Cachaca for the first time.
Sunday’s memorial service was a solemn remembrance of those Rotarians that we lost this last year.
Awards were given to many of the clubs in celebration of their great work throughout this Rotary year and many clubs received the Governor Citation for their hard work. There was a rousing performance by the Brazilian GSE team as they thanked the district for hosting. The crowd also heard an emotional and heart wrenching thank you from Cecelia Franco a member of last year’s GSE Team from Peru. She wanted us to know what a difference the GSE experience made in her life.
The group heard all about next year’s conference at Sky Top Lodge which will be another great event.
On top of all the wonderful Rotary ideas that were shared and the awards given the conference also managed to raise over $15,000 for the Rotary Foundation. Saturday nights 50-50 money which exceeded $600 will go to those suffering from the earthquake in Ecuador. Even as the Rotarians in our district were enjoying themselves and celebrating their accomplishments they were thinking of others. Thank you Rotary District 7470 for your commitment to the Rotary motto of “Service Above Self” and this year’s theme “Be a Gift to the World” because you truly are both a gift to your communities and the world!