Q&A: Getting to Know the Rotary Club of New Canaan

Here’s the first installment of a Q&A series running this week and next, where we get to know some of New Canaan’s wonderful service organizations.

We start with the Rotary Club of New Canaan. Here’s our exchange with Valerie Connolly, incoming president of the organization.

Photo: Last year’s club President, John Engel, turns the gavel over to incoming President, Valerie Connolly.

New Canaanite: Is the Rotary Club of New Canaan part of a national or international organization? If so, please provide details of that organization, such as the year it started, its size and scope.

Valerie Connolly: Rotary International was founded in 1905. We are an organization of like-minded individuals around the world who are working to make the world a better place with our efforts in water and sanitation, basic education and literacy, maternal and child health, disease prevention and treatment, economic and community development, and peace and conflict resolution. In 1985 R.I., in the boldest privately funded and organized public health initiative in human history, committed to eradicating polio from the planet by 2005. It has turned out to be a much bigger job than anyone imagined, but with a number of public and private partners we are down to active cases only in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan and victory is within reach.

Globally, Rotary International has 1.2 million members and over 35,000 clubs. It was named for the practice of rotating meetings from one member’s office to another member’s office in its early days.

Please tell us a little about the Rotary Club of New Canaan itself. When was it founded, how many members does it have and how often do those members meet? Also, please let us know how members may inquire about joining.

The Rotary Club of New Canaan was founded in 1959 by a small group of local business leaders and elected Ham Emery its first president. Peter M. Santella is the only remaining Charter Member.

Today, The Club numbers 51 members that share similar values of serving their community and addressing some of the difficult problems in our world. We meet weekly on Thursdays over lunch at Waveny House at 12:15pm. The practice of meeting weekly has fostered fellowship and there are many lifelong friendships that have formed at Rotary. We also have fun. We welcome new members and inquiries may be made to me (at valerie@newnotes.net or (203)258-2404), our Membership Chair, Jim Cole, or any Club member. Note: We are temporarily meeting through August 3rd at Lapham Community Center.

Talk to us about local impact. What project or projects can you highlight to give our readers an idea of what the Rotary Club has accomplished here in town?

Many families in New Canaan visit Mead Park for baseball games, to play tennis or take young children to the playground at one time or another and may have enjoyed lunch or a treat at the Snack Bar. You may not know that The Rotary Club of New Canaan was a significant financial contributor to the construction of this well-used facility.

The Rotary Club of New Canaan provides approximately $30,000 in annual grants to local organizations in New Canaan and surrounding towns who support the arts, education, food insecurity, mental and physical health care, and seniors, among others. For instance, the grant from Rotary to Staying Put allows free memberships to seniors. The Club has been a consistent supporter of the Teen Talk counselor at New Canaan High School. Rotary made grants to support the garden at St. Marks so low income residents obtain fresh vegetables at our food bank.

The club also participates in annual community wide efforts such as Clean-Your-Mile, the Pura Vida Food Packaging effort at NCHS, and our annual Dictionary Project where we distribute a new dictionary to every third grader in New Canaan.

Photo: Lobster dinner from the 2016 Rotary Lobsterfest held on the grounds of the New Canaan Historical Society

How does the Rotary raise funds?

Our Club has two primary fundraisers, the LobsterFest, which will be Friday and Saturday, September 22-23, 2017 on the New Canaan Historical Society lawn, and a Golf Outing in May. The LobsterFest proceeds support local community causes while the Golf Outing proceeds support the Polio Eradication effort and other global initiatives. LobsterFest Tickets can be purchased from any club member, on our website, or at select locations in town including Karl Chevrolet and Walter Stewarts Market.

What does the organization support?

Today, Rotary International has six areas of focus: Providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene; Supporting education; Fighting disease; Saving mothers and children; Promoting peace; and Growing local economies.

Photo: New Canaan Rotary Club President Valerie Connolly welcomes Adam Jazinski, the HALO Trust’s US Executive Director, along with New Canaan Rotary Allocations Chair, Amy Wilkinson.

Locally, we support a number of causes in New Canaan and surrounding Fairfield County communities as well as select global causes. Many of these causes are aligned with the six areas of focus. Others may be specific community needs or projects. Please see question 3 above for some examples.

One other signature International Organization our local club has supported for over a decade is The HALO Trust, which some may recall as one of Princess Diana’s personal favorites. Founded in 1988, HALO has cleared and destroyed over 1.6 million land mines and removed millions of other explosives from former war torn countries, returning the land to local residents for farming and commerce.

Now tell us something about what you all do that might surprise the average New Canaanite.

Photo: (from L to R) Alex Grantcharov, Youth Exchange Officer, Valerie Connolly, Club President, Alvaro Riquelme Barrueto, 2016/17 International Exchange Student from Linares Chile, and Ann Cheney, Youth Exchange Leader.

Many may not be aware that we have re-kindled the Rotary International Youth Exchange program in our town where an inbound and outbound high school student can spend a school year abroad. Typically this is for the junior year, however, in our area, a gap year could be considered. We are in our third year and will be hosting a young man from Germany beginning in mid-August. This project is an opportunity for the community to participate as the student will spend approximately 2-3 months with three different host families in New Canaan. You do not need to be a Rotary member to serve as a host family. The previous two students have been exceptional young people from Denmark and Chile. As a club, we are heartened by their enthusiasm and energy, and see a bright future. We believe this International Youth Exchange opens a pathway to lasting global understanding and peace.

You can follow the Rotary Club of New Canaan on Facebook @NewCanaanRotary or bookmark its website at http://newcanaanrotary.org/

2 thoughts on “Q&A: Getting to Know the Rotary Club of New Canaan

  1. The Rotary Club of New Canaan does so much for our town, but I have to give kudos to their Student Exchange Program.

    My daughter participated in the 2015 Summer Exchange and it was an incredible experience – we remain in frequent contact with our “Spanish Daughter” and family.

    I would encourage anyone with an interest in studying overseas to participate!

    • Thanks for your kind words Melissa! Our Rotary Club takes great pride in the Student Exchange program with broad support from members, but it takes interested local families to also get involved. Thanks for supporting your daughter’s decision to study abroad and also for hosting a student from Spain. International Student Exchange is a signature program within Rotary and we’re proud to bring that life changing experience to our students here in New Canaan.

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