Talking Rotary

Bringing Service Above Self to Life with Alex Johnson

October 09, 2021 Winnipeg Charleswood Rotary Club Season 2 Episode 1
Talking Rotary
Bringing Service Above Self to Life with Alex Johnson
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode we talk with Alex Johnson. Alex is the President of the Plano West Rotary Club. In Plano Texas they focus on service to the community in a very big way.

This episode will inspire you and change the way you think about Rotary.
You can find the club's website here: https://planowestrotary.com

Peter Tonge:

Welcome to this episode of talking rotary. I'm Peter Tonge and I'm a member of the Rotary Club of Winnipeg Charleseood.

Mandy Kwasnica:

And I am Mandy Kwasnica. past president and also a member of the Rotary Club of Winnipeg charleswood. We are so happy you have joined us here and I are so excited for this new podcast and thankful to our many listeners. Let's start talking rotary.

Peter Tonge:

Wow, man, do we just talked to Alex Johnson from Plano, Texas, that was just probably the most remarkable rotary interview I've ever done.

Mandy Kwasnica:

One of the most inspiring and has challenged me to the core, when I think about how I'm thinking about rotary going forward and how a rotary club operates. I this is exactly the vision that I would have dreamt of. When I think about rotary, and they're doing it actively in their clubs. So I'm super excited about this one.

Peter Tonge:

And they've been they've still brought it to life. They've taken the basic tenant of rotary service above self, and made it all about what they do. Yeah,

Mandy Kwasnica:

they figured it out to the core. Yeah, figured it out to the core that the way to improving membership and engagement within clubs is through activities through service activities. And they're nailing it I love how he comments in this podcast about you know, wire, we as Rotary Clubs, giving to other charities and not supporting ourselves our own rotary foundation. And he puts a great challenge out there in this podcast, I'm not gonna say it just yet. You got to listen to hear what it's gonna be. But he puts an incredible challenge out there to us as rotary clubs and and just to really rethink how we're doing things.

Peter Tonge:

Yeah, I agree. I hope we have lots of listeners for this episode, because it's going to change a lot of the ways that people think about rotary, I think and think about what they can do within their own clubs and more importantly, within their own communities.

Mandy Kwasnica:

Yeah, totally. And I think for those that are not a part of rotary, I think you're also going to get a lot out of this podcast, too. And hearing, you know how some rotary clubs are actually operating, and maybe it's more of a right fit for you. So it'll inspire you maybe to join a rotary club?

Peter Tonge:

I think so. Absolutely. Thanks, man. He was a great episode. It was fun to do. And I'll pull it all together that Hi, everyone, welcome to another another episode of talking rotary. I'm Peter Kahn,

Mandy Kwasnica:

and Mandy Kwasnica.

Peter Tonge:

And we're here with Alex Johnson and Alex Johnson. He is the president of the Plano West Rotary Club in Plano, Texas. Hi, Mark. How you doing? Hey,

Alex Johnson:

hi, Peter. Hi, Mandy. Alright, I'm here

Peter Tonge:

to have you tell us about Plano, Texas, please.

Alex Johnson:

Plano, Texas is I consider the number one city in the United States. I love my town. It's definitely the best city in Texas. We're 300,000 people. We're a suburb north of Dallas, where we actually were considered one of the wealthiest large cities in America, in that if you're considered a large city, if you're over 100,000, we're actually the seventh largest city in America. And with that said, as you guys know as Rotarians, we look for needs, so there's a lot of need in our community. You may have the wealth, but there's a lot of people in need. And that's what my Rotary Club we focus on those in need.

Peter Tonge:

Cool. So tell us a little bit about your rotary club. Well,

Alex Johnson:

okay, we are actually one of six rotary clubs in Plano. We have we're 41 years old. Our club founder is still in our club. He's been in rotary 51 years, but he founded our club 41 years ago. I've been here. Let's see. I've been in rotary 18 years. I was in another club for 15. I came here about three and a half years ago. And our club is just metamorphosis. I was President last year so I always tell everybody, I'm past president of a small club and now I'm president of a large club. So I kind of have both those experiences.

Peter Tonge:

Absolutely any and your credit has been attracting a wider attention within rotary because you guys are growing right?

Alex Johnson:

Well, it's kind of interesting. Yes, the growth is where some of the tension comes. But the type of growth and how we did it is really where we get the attention. I do a lot of work with other clubs. And we actually take advantage of the road reaction plan, which very few Rotarians are familiar with its rotary strategic plan, and it has four priorities. And we actually enacted it last year, and that's where we achieved our success. And then by doing that, we have just a large level of diversity. One of the some of the things I like talking about when I started my rotary year last year, we were a typical Rotary Club, in that we were small, we were 21 members. Of those 21 members. 18 of them were men. So we have three women of the 2119. were white, there are many black guy and I had a Pakistani friend, we were the only minorities in the club. I was 54 at the time, and I was one of the youngest in the club. Our median age was 67. Right? So which is classic Rotary Club, right? No, no offense, but old white men. That's rotary. We're rotary in North America, but it that way, rotary, US, Canada. And so and we also were, and so one of the things that I wanted to focus on because I've been in rotary leadership for years. at the district level. I've been through pets three times a rotary Leadership Institute graduate, I'm actually a facilitator. So I know what rotary wants us to do. And as we all know, rotary wants us to represent our community. And our club did not represent Plano Plano is a very diverse community. And so my goal was to align our club to look like the demographics of Plano. And like one of those areas is Plano was trying to think of 51% women. Well, our club was 10% with it, so obviously, we're lacking it. Well, now we are 54% women, so we're a majority female club. planners. Median adult age was 51. Ours was 67. Now it's 49. So we've, our 32% of our club is under 40. We have club members that are 18, or oldest club member is 86. We have eight college students in our club. In fact, one thing I'm proud of is that, well, all of our college students join the rotary clubs at their different universities. We have more rotaractors in our Rotary Club than any of the rotary clubs in our district. Because one of the things we focus on is Rotarians. One of my pet peeves is rotary often segregates everybody, oh, you're young go to interact, right? Why are we doing that? Oh, me to your woman, why don't you go form a woman's club or it's just, instead of trying to be inclusive, we segregate. And I know people don't like hearing that. But that's exactly what we're doing. Well, our club doesn't we just make ourselves inclusive. And that involves a lot of changes. Obviously, we are an old established club, but you have to make yourself inclusive to those that you want to attract. And so that's, that's why we've been able to attract a number of young people in our club, because we give them opportunities to lead to be involved. In fact, two of our board members are in college. We have an 18 year old and a 19 year old board member. Our club secretary is 19. He just won most outstanding Return Of The Year for last year. He was in rotaract. I mean, he was he's second year president of his Rotary Club. Well, he's our club secretary. He was the interact district governor when he was in high school, he's been through ryla you know, all that stuff. Well, now he's in rotary, you know, and we have a number of right lerins or interactors that are in our club, because we give them opportunities. We mentor them, but then we we don't cater them, you know, we expect them to deliver like anybody else would obviously, you know, now we're one of the we're like the eighth largest Rotary Club in our district. Well, we can't have a club Secretary that's not doing his job. Well, he's awesome. You know, we've we let young people lead our projects, and that's what they want, you know, so they're able to our program chair, he's 19 years old. He's on a gap year. Well, he's able to work with leaders in the community. You know, last week or actually this week, our last meeting, we had the deputy superintendent of the school district. Next week, we're having a US Congressman, the week after we have our mayor while he's interfacing with them, you know, coordinating, you know, getting a bio picture, making sure they know all that, well, how many 19 year olds get the, you know, work with the leaders of their community, and actually work with them as a peer, not like, oh, you're a nice little kid, you know, and that's what they like about our club, we treat them as a peers. And then, you know, as I also mentioned, the gender equity. We're a majority female club. Well, Mandy, least agree, maybe Peter, women make much better leaders. Our club is thriving with being a majority female club. And that's really exciting. And so when other women say, Oh, this is a club that's actually embracing women, it's not like the token, Oh, we got a woman Yay, no, well, we are women. I'm a minority in our club. And the same thing with religious equity. We were 100% Christian club, will Plano when they surveyed the city, I think it was only 46% of the community, it didn't identify themselves as Christian. Well, how can you serve a community that you don't represent? Well, now we have Muslims in our club Hindus in our club, we have people that don't identify with any faith, we're still majority Christian beliefs, we're broadening our members so we can truly represent the city that we're supposed to be serving. And another area? Well, we, as a matter of fact, we have members of the LGBTQ community, the fact next month, we're going to do our first project, we're sending in about 20 volunteers to help out the North Texas pride Festival, which pride is almost every community, they have a big festival for the LGBTQ community. Well, as you know, for rotary, that's not something that rotary is really known for, you know, Roosevelt, he has a quote, he says, people don't care what you know, until they know what you care. And so whenever Rotary Clubs, say, Oh, we need more minorities, we need more young people, we need more women. And that's all they're doing. Minority young people, women that hear that all the time. What they really want to see is, is this an environment that I could succeed in. And so we do that, we start it first by serving in the community that we want to be a part of. And so that way, we are in there helping not trying to recruit them, we're trying to help serve, and then make then we learn how to be inclusive. And then that's how people join our club. So when you look well, Peter and I were talking earlier, I was telling him, one of the communities that were lacking is those with disability. So we have a project that we're just introducing to help those with physical disabilities, we're going to be partnering with an organization for intellectual disabilities. So that way we serve in our those communities, so that those of that committee see that we're welcoming and inclusive, so join us. And so that's where we are with the triple our growth from, we went from 21 to 63. Also July 1, we're at 63. Now we're will be inducting, our 68th member in a couple weeks,

Mandy Kwasnica:

and in what period of time was that? a year?

Alex Johnson:

Yes. So I have questions. We inducted 49 people, but you lose a couple. So that's why the gain was what is that? 42? Yeah, did 49 lost seven.

Mandy Kwasnica:

So I okay, that the how question definitely comes to mind. But even more so is how did you do that through COVID even?

Alex Johnson:

Well, that's well, look behind me. You see my, that's pictures of our projects during COVID. If you notice, everybody has a mask. We had both what we call virtual projects, which that's the one I was one of those I was showing Peter before you got here, Mandy projects where people can do from home, and then everything else we did outside. So we're a very COVID conscious club. And so outside we required mass, there's no debate if you don't have a mask, you can't volunteer with us. And you there's a lot you could do outside and a lot of the projects we did were help. There was a lot of food deficiency during COVID families that were in need. So we were doing a lot of food distributions, either having food pantry, dried fruit, or where you'll see some of these people are delivering food directly to their house. Yeah. And and so and people you know, especially if you think about around July timeframe, everybody was in the lockdown mode, and they needed something to do and we provided them something to do service in a safe way. And people like helping other people. And that's that's kind of what like I said I've been in rotary 18 years, November of oh three is when I became a Rotarian. And as we know, most Rotary Clubs least in America, their check writing clubs, people see rotary as going to a meeting, eating a meal, watching a speaker, writing a cheque, donating it to another nonprofit, having a picture with the big cheque. We're so awesome. First of all myself, Well, that's not service, that's check riding the bus. So there's a couple issues with that one, it's not service, it's check writing until you're writing a check to the wrong nonprofit. We're the rotary, the rotary Foundation, key imagine the American American Some say the American Cancer Association, writing checks to other nonprofits. No, they find their nonprofit, how many Rotary Clubs write more checks to everybody else, then they'll give a couple 1000s of rotary foundation Oh, we're so cool. Well, we got to support ourselves. You may know, you may know this. But the rotary found you, I don't know how involved you are in the foundation. But they made drastic changes over the last two years. Basically, they give less money, the reason why rotary clubs are taking more from the foundation than they were giving. So the foundation had a I think the number I heard, if they didn't make the changes in the trends continue, the foundation would run out of money, and 30 years. So that's why they had to change it. Well, why is that happening? If you listen to john germ, who is the current chair of the foundation, because Rotary Clubs aren't giving, but they're writing checks to everybody else, they'll do their big fundraiser and write a check for 100,000. We're so awesome. While our foundation is losing money. So that's a big issue. So our club, and it's a big political issue with all clubs, because people love using rotary to take care of their favorite charities. That's not really we're rotary, we got to take care of our own. And then the other issue is the whole membership thing. As we know, we're losing members. You know, if we continue to trend, you know, North America, rotary will be gone. And we're basically going to be an African Asian organization. And part of that is that check writing mentality. And people don't want to do hands on. So you say, No, Mandy, you're like, how did you get all those members in a year through service. We don't recruit people, we do service service service. In fact, I would. If you look at our website, I plan on West rotary.com. If you go, our big call to action is find service projects, you click it, you're gonna see all our service projects. I think I checked a couple of weeks ago, between now and December, we average seven service projects a month, and they're all COVID safe, because you know, the Delta viruses is back out of here again, so. So if you look at our social media, you look at our website, we're marketing for volunteers for our service projects. We're not trying to recruit members. But what happens when these volunteers show up, they have a great experience. They're helping somebody, which is kind of like if you go on a mission trip on a church, what do people get out of it, they got to be there and touch the people they help? Well, we just do that in our own backyard. We are one of the wealthiest cities in the United States, but we have a lot of poverty. We have a lot of poverty, and people like to serve, and then the communities that we serve. They like seeing people in their community. So then they get involved. So they join our club as well. So last year, we completed 75 service projects a little at averages about six a month, and we inducted over four people a month. And that was from people serving Oh, they also get this great t shirt as you see all those blues. Every year it gets the T shirt. That's far we have a whole registration team to deal with all that people love it. You know, they were to bring it in. So what happens? They show up at our service projects. They see all these people with the Plano West Rotary Club shirt, oh, on the back, it says volunteer. They think everybody is a Rotarian. And nobody's talking about rotary, we're just doing our service. So then they're like, Well, how do I become part of you? Oh, sure. And then we do it. And we have a very modern Rotary Clubs. This going back old school rotary when we were XClusive. They make it very complicated to join. You've got to jump through all these hoops. You have to be this you have to be none of that is in the rotary constitution or the bylaws. These are things that Rotary Clubs built in to be exclusive. So then they wonder why they're dying. Well, if you're excluding, they're targeting a market That was in the 30s in the 40s. In the 50s. Well, this is today, we've got to be prepared for 2021. And the people of this era, they don't want all this passivity, they don't want to pay to volunteer. They want to volunteer and have fun and meet people like them and serve their community. So we make it easy for him. We have an online application, they fill it out, boom, they have to either come to a meeting, or serve in a service project, ideally a service project. And within a two week period, and then we'll voted induct them. They're a Rotarian. Our dues are cheap, because we don't write checks. Our dues are 200 a year we invoice 50 a quarter. So we do run a tight ship. Because we you know, in America, our right component with district is 120. You know, so 120 out of the 200 is paying your rotary tax so it's hard to run it Mandy knows get running club on 80 bucks a members so you have to make sure you handle your money. Well, that's fine. We're about service. We don't need a lot of money to serve the fat man. Do you probably know those rotary club president, every nonprofit in the world is hitting you up for cash, right? Yep, donate donate donate. Even though we're a service organization. We're not a foundation. But they do. And this was what I tell them. And I go well, our club were very poor. So you know, in Christianity, the other thing time, talents and treasures, I go with time and we have talent, we have no treasure. Rotary Clubs will cut you checks, and they will be very proud of it, we will give you our time, and we'll give you our treasures are giving you our talents. And that's what we do. So last year, with our 75 service projects, we led over 1000 volunteers to do over 2000 hours of service, and 80% of them were not in rotary, they were just in the community, from all walks of life from the mayor down to somebody who lives in a community we're serving. And that's truly the secret. And that's if I encourage you to Google rotary action plan. And it talks about the four priorities, expand your reach, create Well, the fourth one is increase your ability to adapt, and I can't remember I'm trying to remember them. It's like remembering the four way testing you forget, every day, oh my goodness, well look at it. And you will see what the four priorities are. All Rotary Clubs, all districts are supposed to be lining up to it. They're not. But if you do, and there's lots of information on it, lots of support from our eye. It's amazing what you can do. In fact, one of the priorities are increase participant engagement. You notice it doesn't say increase Rotarian engagement, or increased member engagement. It's increased participant engagement. Rotary International wants us to get the community involved, that's actually part of our strategic plan. Just most Rotarians don't know it, they think of everything is a club, our members. Well, when you were part of those in gate are part of those participants are your members, you know, so but you want to look at both the non members and the members. So what we do and our we have a very large membership committee, they don't do any recruiting. They are like accompanies HR, they're on retention and engagement, reaching out getting people involved seeing how they are doing. Because as you know, rotary, we get more in the front door, and we leave a lot more in the back door. So our whole goal is to keep people from leaving in the back door. And we let our service projects recruit in the front door. And that's been working with this. Now I gotta admit, this rotary year, there's been a slowdown, instead of doing four months, we're averaging two a month, which I tell them that's actually really good for a rotary club. But it's this whole Delta thing. There is so much confusion. July August last year, we all knew what to do stay at home their mandate. Now as you know, in America, we've got so many protests and chaos and people don't know what to do. And so there's a lot of activism going on where a lot of our volunteers are involved in the masking. That's nation activism, because that's really important as opposed to serving. So that's just Hey, but we're good. You know, two months is still good. It's actually really good. And so it's too active.

Mandy Kwasnica:

Sorry to cut you off. So to two activities per month is what you're doing right now.

Alex Johnson:

We're averaging I'm sorry,

Mandy Kwasnica:

we're getting two new members a month. Oh, two new members a month. Okay. So

Alex Johnson:

July to August, and we're going to induct two the first week of September. Okay, now we're doing seven activities a month this year,

Mandy Kwasnica:

seven activities a month and then how do you fit in your like, regular monthly meetings or I don't know Is it monthly meetings bi weekly, like how do you guys meet? And then what does that look like for your club?

Alex Johnson:

We have we have weekly meetings, we actually unlike other Rotary Clubs, if you notice, you both have been a roadie for a long time, you notice the ri doesn't track attendance anymore. Right? Right. You know, it's, we there's no measures for it, it's not part of a citation, they've taken out, just Rotary Clubs haven't noticed that they still think attendance is important. If you look at our right documentation, they are talking about meetings, they're talking about service. And so if you look at our website, we say meetings aren't required, but service is expected. So now, we have hybrid meeting. So we make live weekly. So I'm doing zoom every week, we do Tuesday, noon. And a majority of our club is actually on via hybrid. And so I think Lastly, in fact, I started running to meetings from my office, again, just because of the Delta, I'm vaccinated, but I take care of my mom, and I don't want to put her at risk. And so we have about 10 people that show up in person. And then we had about 20, that showed up virtually for the virtual meeting. And we also, we stream the Facebook Live, and then we upload the YouTube. So we tell our immediate you club members, well, you're in classes, your work, you have life, just watch the reruns, you know what's going on, you know, we're less important to me sit and see your face once a week, I'd rather be next few at the service project helping those in need, because that's why we're here I now I got to admit, I joined rotary for the networking. But I fell in love with the service. And so people are joining our club for the service. And then we build in the networking. And I tell people, all the room networking happens at the service project. When you're lugging food or picking up trash or doing anything with somebody, you're going to get to know them, you know, better than sitting at a table watching the speaker, and then seeing the next week, which I've done that for 18 years.

Peter Tonge:

So seven, seven service projects a month is fantastic. But how do you go out and find seven service projects a month? And that to me seems like, like a climb?

Alex Johnson:

Well think about it this way, what you're saying is, it's hard to find people in need in your community.

Peter Tonge:

No, I don't think that's what I'd say.

Alex Johnson:

The guy through that question, but that's how you answer the question. Yeah, if you see somebody in need, you create a service project to help them. That's what we'll do. Now, the greatest area ne that we've noticed, which is ongoing is a food deficiency. There are just a lot of people in need of food families that were hit by the pandemic or even before the pandemic. So we do a lot with food pantries. Every school district will in America, every school district has what we call a free and reduced lunch program. Well, because of COVID, a lot of families are staying home so that the federal government is paying for the food for people at home. Well, they have to come to school to pick up their month full of food. Well, when they come to school to pick up that food who's given it to them. Educators. Well, we partner with our school district, instead of educators hanging out food, we hand out the food so the educators could do what educate. You know, and so the our school district is one of our strategic partners there. They trust us now. So they come to us when they need helping hands because they know we're reliable. We follow the rules because you know, there's got to be background checks. And you know, school districts have rules. Well, they know we're gonna follow them. And more importantly, we help their staff do what they're really paid for, because they want to help people but they also want to educate and so every community has food needs every we also partner with our city. Every community has litter. I guarantee your cities have programmed for people to either adopt the highway or pick up litter in parks. Well, we do that we adopt a stretch of highway every other month. We get about 10 volunteers, we clean it. We also partner with the city, they have Creek cleanup, Park cleanups. We do that on the other month. That's our seventh area focus now cleaned environment. Every Rotary Club could do that. That's the easiest thing. It's a service project. And what's awesome about it is you get the community to do it with you. It's not something People say, Well, our members aren't going to want to do that. That's what Plato was worried he would say, Mike, that's fine. We'll find other people to help you. So that's what we did. We have a service project, recruit friends and family, people in high school, they get it. So even though only 10% of our members are doing it, we're still meeting the need in the community. And that's a biggie for Rotary Clubs. To get past this. attitude, everything has to be done by us. And ri has been telling us for years, engage the community, lead the community, that's what we're all about. And if you think of we've got six rotary clubs for about 250. Rotarians. While our city has 300,000 people. That's a rich market for volunteers. And that's where the need comes from.

Mandy Kwasnica:

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Alex Johnson:

project that we did, which you could do and you're well, vaccine hesitancy is a big deal in America. Is it a big deal where you guys are at?

Peter Tonge:

Not as big as in the US, but there's certainly elements of it. Yeah. Well, one of

Alex Johnson:

the projects that we did is that we partner with the city, and they identified the spanic community had really low vaccination rates. And it happened to be a community that was segregated, self segregated. For example, the black community in Plano, they don't sell seven gates, you can't say these are going to black people are, but we could do that for Hispanics. So they print they use part of the COVID funding printed out flyers that was just giving COVID information both in English and Spanish. So over I think was probably maybe two, three months, every weekend, we would have between five to 20 volunteers, and we would hand out the door hangers we put them on the neighborhoods were the apartment complexes or homes that were predominantly Hispanic. I think, what do we do? I think we did I know is over 10,000 door hangers. Now, the city said because of our project, we increased Hispanic vaccination rates by 9%. Well think of that impact. That's 9% of the population of Hispanic population that are not going to hospitals, they're able to go to work there, their families not being impacted, you know, and that's powerful. Well, people like being a part of that, in fact, can you see? Oh, I don't think any of these is that project. But I was going to just say you say we're the needs? Well, I think if you ask your city or school district, are there any communities in need, and budget, they'll have answers for you. I'll tell you, the homeless is another one. There's so much you could do for the homeless in every community as homeless, we're actually working on a global grant and support in the US, it'll be our district's first global grant that the host club will be in our district. Usually in America, people do global grants by sending money somewhere, you know, we're great at writing checks, you know, well, we want to help our community. So what we're, we have a global grant team, and it's made up of we have three people from our city, somebody from the school district and a couple agency heads that are in the area of homelessness. And the project's called ICU, homeless ID project, we're basically we're going to provide identification for the homeless, because in America, when you don't have identification, you're basically invisible. So you can't get access to any social services. So I mean, you just can't do anything. Well, we're pursuing a global grant, we have a couple international clubs are going to partner with us. That will be our first one where we're helping in our community. I guarantee your club could do a global grant to help the homeless in your community. I assume you have homeless? Oh, we sure do. And we Does that answer your question, Peter. There's a lot of need. You just have to look at it. Yeah. And we always partner. We partner with other agencies, because we don't have money, but we've got labor. And so every nonprofit needs labor. You know, they they need volunteers. So we provide that volunteer base. Now we make sure our volunteer activity is focused to provide impact. Like for example, we're not going to go clean up someone's garden that doesn't really have impact. We Want to be able to work directly with the recipients of the agency started volunteers feel like they're making a difference, you know, because you could get a Boy Scout troop to go clean up your garden, you know, that's, that's not what we're going to have the mirror Plano out cleaning up a garden in terms of service. So we really tried to optimize our impact and make it focused and make it measurable, which is all part of the rotary action plan.

Peter Tonge:

What are the things I wanted to touch on Alex is one of the things that keeps coming up as we talk about these projects, is you guys are doing a lot of great labor. But this doesn't appear to be costing you lots of money, most of it is boots on the ground. So could you talk a little bit more about that?

Alex Johnson:

Well, we just don't spend money, we, we don't spend what we don't have. So we look for projects, we're hands on sweat equity projects, and that's what volunteers want. They want sweat equity. And so the biggest expense we have is a T shirt 775 each. every other month, we're ordering another 30. That's part of our budget. Other than that, we don't spend money on projects. Now, usually the agency that we're partnering with, they may have some financial aspect, you know, like the city printed out the, you know, they had to put the design in a printout for the COVID. Or for working with the food bank, you know, they're having to get the food, we're providing the labor. And that's what our volunteers are really liking to do. Now the global grant project, that's for the homeless ID Well, that is money, you know, that's probably going to be about $100,000. But that's why you use the rotary Foundation, where you want to make sure you're giving to it if you're going to get the money from it.

Mandy Kwasnica:

And that's good. I am. I like hearing that you're partnering with other agencies to because sometimes I think we are wasting our resources and time and effort and reinventing the wheel when there's already organizations within our community doing a fantastic job at that. So how can we partner with them who already figured out all the obstacles and everything that goes along with those projects? When I think about working with the homeless, we have incredible shelters here in our local area that have figured out how to work with these individuals and have nailed it. So I love the fact that I'm hearing that you're partnering with them not trying to reinvent the wheel. Well, we

Alex Johnson:

would suck at it because they do that. 100% Yes, he talked about homeless project next weekend, a project that we're going to be training, it's called Plano overnight warming station. Now this is Texas warming station. I know in Canada, you guys got some important stations. And so basically it's a there's a Homeless Coalition for our county, and a lot of agencies are part of it. And there's I think it's something like 27 cold nights in Texas, where it gets below freezing. Isn't that funny? You're like, only twice from Fairbanks, I can relate to. So well for the homeless. Those are 27 death defying nights, basically, you know, and so there's a planar overnight warming station where they it's mainly churches, they have trained volunteers that work there basically are hosting the homeless. Now there's also paid staff and security. So we're really almost the high level host because you know, the middle of the night, there's police there and paid staff, but they need a lot of volunteers around that. Well our Rotary Club is going to be the first rotary club or actually the first non church that's going to put together its own team. So we're training volunteers so that we can select nights. So two or three nights will come in with our volunteers and our T shirts. And we'll be hosting the homeless. I know you guys can do that in your city. As I'm sure you I know you have a lot more in 27 cold nights, and I guarantee those warming stations need volunteers. That's our biggest problem.

Peter Tonge:

We have more than 27 cold nights in a month. Yeah.

Unknown:

I'm from Fairbanks.

Peter Tonge:

years ago we had 48 straight days below minus 50

Mandy Kwasnica:

Celsius.

Alex Johnson:

I guarantee those homeless shelters need volunteers. And your rotary club if you ask him, how can we help? We don't have any money. It's true. Now if you're a rich Rotary Club, you can't say what I say we have no money. You can say we're not giving it to you. But you know, how can we help hands on sweat equity? Do you need volunteers let us recruit volunteers. In the beginning. It might be just two or three volunteers. Well, that's a service project I used when I was in district leadership. One of my roles was over interact. So I worked with all we had about 55 interviews. clubs. And I always said that they interact clubs, you only need once a person to as a team. If you got two or more, that's working on a service project, don't worry about having a lot, you just want to know that you actually accomplish something. Well, the same thing applies to a rotary club. If you show up with five people to help them out, they're going to be indebted to you. And here's the key. When the community knows that you're offering an opportunity for them to get involved with no strings attached, they're going to just run after it. They're used to Rotarians either wanting donations or wanting members that want one. We asked none of that. We're just saying volunteer. So if you look at our social media, we have social media going out. We have Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook at three times a week, and we do Facebook every day, what we're doing is looking for volunteers for our service projects. Because think if we got seven service projects a month, that's a lot of volunteers. And so that's all we're messaging. So we have a lot of interaction, a lot of people involved, they see us, they know we're all about service. So they're think that's rotary, this is awesome. I love this, then they see our pictures with people like themselves. That was great, too.

Mandy Kwasnica:

So what's your ratio of volunteers to members that are attending these events?

Alex Johnson:

80% of our volunteers are not members

Mandy Kwasnica:

at like each individual event,

Alex Johnson:

because we don't have enough members to serve all our volunteering. So yeah, we wait. And we like that, because we're volunteers we get, the more potential members we're going to have, because we don't hard sell them. But if they like volunteering, they're going to want to know how they can be a part of it.

Peter Tonge:

Great. I think that's such a great sort of shift in philosophy where your rotary club is almost becoming a volunteer brokerage service, will connect volunteers with projects and act as the middle people. I mean, I think that's probably it.

Alex Johnson:

We just organize it we have a lot of in club organization of it. I mean, we have a sub because we have like a registration team. You know, where they deal with the signups. You know, we have to deal with the T shirts, we track it, we don't just keep on giving the same person getting 10 different t shirts, we have to track it. Most Rotary Clubs don't realize, I know in America, we have a part of our dues pays for a insurance plan isn't the same in Canada? Yes, well, insurance company, they recommend rotary clubs have waiver and release forms. Meaning people say okay, if I get hurt, I'm not going to sue you. Most clubs don't do it? Well, we do. So we get waivers and releases on everybody. Because once you have somebody claiming they got hurt in your project, you're going to wish you had that doesn't mean you're not going to get sued. But it's a little added protection, oh, you release this. And it also gives us a release for pitch no for us to use their likeness and pictures and being able to add them to our database. So we've got all this formal process that our registration team handles so that our team leaders don't have to worry about that, because it's just bureaucracy. But it's important just to keep the machine moving.

Mandy Kwasnica:

So Alex, I have to ask you, your your club was not always this way. So how did you make that shift of mentality of members who had been there and said, like, No, we love what what we have going here. We don't want to change what we have, why change it? It's working? Well, how did you change that shift in mentality with members and convince them that this is the right direction to go. And this is how we continue to make our, our, our growth happen in our club and make our club thrive?

Alex Johnson:

Great question. As you know, in rotary club level, we were getting to the point where we were duplicating presidents which duplicate. But we were having people being second, second second.

Mandy Kwasnica:

And very common. Like I think every Rotary Club would say that. Yeah, absolutely.

Alex Johnson:

And they so the members, they love rotary, but the kind of burnout, because you got that same that 8020 rule. And so they know they want to do something different. And so what I did was keep in mind, I moved when I was in district so I kind of had a lot of rotary knowledge. And then I you know, I didn't just come here out of the blue and say, Hey, you know, I'd been in rotary 15 years prior, they knew me so on. And what I did was like for me, we have a small club with 21 members. I talked to every member in preparation for my presidency, I would call them on a regular basis, kind of get a pulse. What's important, what do you want to see different and you know what everybody says? We need more members. We need you younger members, we need minorities, we need more women. They know that. And so then it's like so how do you think we could do it? I don't know, hopefully you could do something. So what I was trying to what I was doing is putting together a strategy to meet the needs of the club, because they knew what they wanted. They just did not know how to get there. So I put together a strategy. Well, the strategy wasn't really mine, it was rotary strategy. And so that kind of gave it the credibility and then we did it. And then another really important part Mandy, is most clubs have antiquated constitution and bylaws. They didn't realize that rotary in the 2019 Council legislation, they changed the constitution and bylaws. The Constitution cannot be changed. Every Rotary Club has the same constitution, only thing that changes is your name and your address. If you look at most Rotary Clubs, they've got old constitutions. And the new constitution added flexibility took out a lot of stuff that rotary doesn't feel is important. Then they also have the bylaws. Now the recommended bylaws because that's where you get your local, but they still have that flexibility and guideline and they get away with a lot of old school rotary things like mandatory attendance, mandatory. Anything that's rotaries now flexible, and so we had to rewrite our bylaws, but it was easy. Let's just make it look like Alright, well, it's kind of hard to argue with that. No, we're not well, now, yeah. And then I lead the team. So it's, you know, everybody likes to have somebody else do the work. Right, Peter? If you're willing to do the work, that kind of gives you a little flexibility? So I am, so we're able to answer your question, we changed our constitution and bylaws to line up with what our I wanted. And then that provided a lot of flexibility. We took out a lot of stuff that and we put it in our mo p, your method of procedures. So there weren't a bylaw thing. And that gave us the flexibility of right in the club. And then the big problem that most rotary clubs have, which is kind of get into your question, Mandy is, how do you get the club to do things differently? Well, the answer is, don't. Member I said earlier, you don't have to have your club do everything. All you need is just one Rotarian there. That's it. So if you have a project, and the other people said, we just want to go to lunch. Cool. That's awesome. That's an important part of rotary, well, then we're going to have the service project and oh, yeah, we just had 20 people show up? Well, after they see that they're like, what, what's going on? Then they started showing up, because they're seeing that we're actually having an impact. We're getting these volunteers. People are joining the club. They're like, well, how is this happening? Let me be a part of it. So they're not like, okay, maybe I will volunteer in this, what's great for them, because they didn't have to do the work, they could just, you know, participate, and that's fine. You know, well, then you'll see, they will started to want to step up to different leadership, because they see it changing. So the key is don't try to force people to do what they don't want to do, because it's not going to work. And I get that from a lot of new presidents. Well, my board's not going to let me do it. I mean, are they truly saying no? Are you saying they're not going to do it, because a lot of presidents want everybody else to do the work, they want to delegate? Okay, you do this, you do this, you do this, stand back and give me the results. Well, that sucks and volunteer leadership. We're like herding cats, he can't tell a cat to go here. So if you're not ready to get in there, and lead by example, you're not going to fail. So if you're expecting everybody else to do what you want them to do, and if they're not on board, it's not going to happen. And so that's what we just had projects, maybe one or two in the club or involved. We got other people in the community, the other club members that will let us cool, then we just started doing it more and more. So we didn't start with seven a month. Obviously, it was just a couple a couple. And here's another key on projects, find projects that are repeating because most organizations when I say organizations, other nonprofits, they are something that they need to do on a regular basis. They need help. Well, if you provide help on a regular basis, that's a continuous project. Over the summer, there's a thing called Plano calls a curbside meals, and they were providing meals to families in need, and they would do it once a week. There's three campuses that they did in the morning, then they had another three at night, and their food and nutrition, the cafeteria group was supposed to do it? Well, in the summer, a lot of people in school districts aren't there. But they still had these families in need. So we, every week, this is actually our meeting day it was on Tuesday. So we had people working before and after our meeting, we had 20. Volunteers spread out three schools in the morning, three at night, every week in the summer, boom, boom, boom. Well, now that school started, that program went away. Now they have three different campuses that has a food pantry once a month. Well, we do that we just did one on Tuesday, there's a number one coming up, we send about 10 volunteers per campus. And they're handling the food, you know, doing like, where do you see it here? Trying to see if you can see them putting in someone's car right here. See this one here? Yeah. Do that. And we're working alongside the people in school? Well, that's gonna that's three projects a month for the rest of the school year. Do you think that school district is thrilled that we're helping them? Oh, yeah, they love because we're letting their employees do what they're paid to do. Not no one's hired to put food in people's trucks. But our volunteers love doing it. And everybody loves supporting your school district. And so that, so three of our seven a month, well, three of them is that right there. And so it doesn't sound as ominous when you just think about it. So we try to strategically find projects for one, someone else's paying for it, because we have no money to they need sweat equity, and three, it's a continuous basis. Because if it's continuous, then it becomes really easy to plan is just cookie cutter, boom, boom, rinse, and repeat, rinse and repeat. Your volunteers love it, they're gonna show up work for two hours, go home, go back to work, everybody's happy. And we get more members.

Peter Tonge:

One of the things that I that I so love about this approach is that I show mice like the commode and volunteer with us and learn what we're about as opposed to becoming a Rotarian. You can do some cool things. And those cool things or come to a meeting and listen to speak,

Mandy Kwasnica:

is a completely different approach. I mean, I know I've even been in that situation myself, where I've invited someone and then they're hounded by people at my table going, so what are you joining rotary, they just came to their first meeting.

Alex Johnson:

I actually tell our members you can watch if you're watching the reruns don't recruit people to the club, recruited to our service projects, we need more volunteers, and we need meetings, members. If they like us, they'll join if they don't join us, because you're probably mean to them. And people appreciate that. Because I find what people don't like about rotary is when they don't think it's inclusive. You know, they think it's old white men. And if you're not all white men, you're like, I don't fit in. And too, they think you have to go to a weekly meeting. That is very intimidating to a lot of people, because nobody wants to have a weekly obligation. And three, they think they have to read a lot of checks, then they really want to serve. And so we don't have any of those requirements. You know, you don't have to come to the meetings. I tell people, it's like church, when you join a church, they don't say you have to come every week, we would love you to come but you don't have to come. So we try to make it enjoyable. Yeah, so it's fun. It's fast paced. We offer the hybrid offer is huge. You know, our members love the hybrid. We have we we do a lot of surveys of our members. And we did a survey on if you want to go in person only hybrid, or virtual only just to kind of get a feel. And some of the members that said there were the would call veteran members, they said and personally that's what rotary is about. They haven't showed up in person yet. I give them a hard time you voted in person. Here's those zooming in. Wow. Yeah, so yeah, the veteran members are loving zoo. You know, instead of having two hours out of their day, it's an hour. You can come in late. It's not a big deal. So I there's a few people I give our time. I remember you voted in person only what is that gonna happen? We are trying to build up the in person part.

Mandy Kwasnica:

So I have another question. I know we're running late here. But this is just so fascinating to me, because I think you guys are front runners. When it comes to this. I think there's so many people who are going to hear this and be very inspired on how they can make these changes in their club. So one thought I have is, I think about our club. We do a lot of focus on fundraising and such so that we can cut those checks You're not doing a lot of cutting of checks. So are you guys doing a lot of fundraising? And if you are, what does it look like? And what is it for?

Alex Johnson:

We have two fundraisers, technically three. One is we sell pecans. We sell a bunch of pecans, we basically net 4400 bucks. We use those proceeds to fund our high school scholarships. We give three $2,000 scholarships a year. So the the pecans fun 4000 of it. And then we also get a district grant that does part of it. So basically, the fundraising is for those high school scholarships. So we're cutting checks, but it's for high school kids. Now, this is what's different. This is something that I really push for. I was in new services and interactive stuff at the district level, and Rotarians don't understand what you services is. People think you services is about helping the kids they see it as charity. You services is not about charity you services is about developing future Rotarians. And that's a completely different service. You know, that's why use services is one of our avenues of service of the club, what you're doing, and we're basically building the future. Think about, you know, sports organizations, when they move into a city, what do they do, they start investing in youth leagues, right? They're doing it for their fans, and for future athletes. Well, that's what rotary new services are. And so now, when we do our scholarships, instead of trying to make it based on need, we base it on rotary involvement. So if they were an interactive, they're in rotaract. They're a four way test speech contest. And so give it so with that said, three of our past, scholarship recipients are now members of our club. Fact, amazingly, just, well, our scholarship recipient from this last school year, she joined a week after she joined a turned a team and the same for last year. And so that's what it's about. We're trying to invest in the future of rotary, we're not trying to help the media. There's lots of neediness out there. But you services is trying to create future view and I. So that's another reason why we have so many young people in our club. A lot of these young people knew me when they were in interact. And I'm really big on leadership, involvements, you know, so they just built the leadership up. So then when they saw Oh, there's a Rotary Club, and Alex is gonna let me be involved? Well, they do.

Mandy Kwasnica:

And I guarantee you, it's because of the activities, I guarantee you that because when I think about the recipients that have received scholarships from our Rotary Club, the number one reason they're chosen is because of all their volunteer work that they do. And all of their like extra activities. That's why they're usually selected. So it makes perfect sense that this is what they want to continue doing in life is giving back and helping others. And so if we're not creating those opportunities, like you guys are, how can we potentially even think of getting young people to join our Rotary Clubs if we don't have activities for them to join? For? Exactly.

Alex Johnson:

I used to do a lot of presentations for clubs and districts, I don't anymore, I just don't have time actually on a company to tune it to teenage daughters. And so I created a 25 minute club program. And that demonstrates how cleaner was rotary used rotary action plan to triple our growth and add that diversity last year, and what we're doing to continue with this year, so I encourage both you to watch it. And it's it's the whole point of it is to give clubs, concrete things to do. Now, easier said than done, because not all club members want to do things differently. That's the number one problem with Rotary Clubs, Rotarians not all want to change. That's why I say don't try to change it. You know, I

Mandy Kwasnica:

love that

Alex Johnson:

you don't have to have the whole club involved in what you do. You got one Rotarian there and get other people to help. I was talking with another rotary club president in our district and she's got that problem. And you know, she's got a lot of like, past district governor years and 40 year Rotarians and their heart is there that they just don't want to do stuff. Well we're talking about a project one of her passions is animals. And she's like I wish we could do something and animals Oh, why don't you she's like well what? Like a call a shelter and see if they need help. She's like I could do that. I go Yeah, kind of like what I said to you Peter. And they're gonna say and then they'll, you'll figure it out. Well, she's like, but my clubs not going to want to do it. I go, will you be there she goes, of course. There we go. Do you have any friends that would Oh yeah, well, have you got a service project to plant always rotary? And I bet you send me your members, when they find out you guys are doing something with the animals, they'll end up showing, they'll say no, in the beginning, but when they see what's going on, all they have to do is show up, they'll show up. And if they don't, who cares? Because you know, a lot of other people will help animals, and they'll probably join your club.

Peter Tonge:

There's many things that have come out of this conversation I spoke to, that really stick with me one is to people or service project, right? Okay, we always think of these big things that we need to raise money to start this, we need to do this to be reserved on Friday, and find something that you're interested in and ask your friends to help you with it, like our art, our project or so, club driven like it's the 30 people in the club that are doing this stuff, it doesn't need to be that way. We can have 30 different supervisors of 30 different projects, while other volunteers are helping us do the work.

Alex Johnson:

Yes, friends, family, kids, and make everything family friendly. some reason Rotarians think you can't let anybody involved. Like we can't have kids, why not? Well, I don't know. Kids are great volunteers. You know, you don't have to make everything so complicated. Because you're right, in a lot of clubs. And that's an ROI problem. A lot of the old ri training information, they say signature projects. I don't agree with that. I like doing a lot of little things, you know, cuz signature projects are very overwhelming, and very few clubs. Okay, we recruited one person last year for a signature project. Well, that's a horrible return. An analogy you might have read in that article is in john Hugo, he actually spoke to our club last year. You guys know who Hugo is, right? Yeah. You know, awesome, dude. And he, you know, he said you, you have to think a rotary like a business? Well, it's interesting for him that makes sense. Take you know, we pay on average about 85 bucks each for for our ideas, multiply that by 1.2 million. That's $100 million business. He runs. rotaries a business. That's a big nonprofit. Well, Rotary Clubs, we're we're supposed to be businesses as well, who our clients, your community, like the public, what are we selling? memberships service? Yeah, we're selling service service, we gauge our success through your membership members. Yeah, so those in business, if you want to have a good business, you have to have a good product. And our product is service. A lot of Rotary Clubs forgot what their product was, and who they're selling to, you know, we're selling to the public, we're inclusive, and we're selling a service. We're a service organization, our model is service above self, you know that people forget that. So when you think of yourself being a company that's selling service to the public, well, then that helps put it in perspective, what do you need to be really good at service? Have a high quality service product for your public? What are you going to market? market your service? Because that's what your clients want to see. You never see churches say, join us, join us join us do that. They just they're talking about the faith, you know, come be part of our faith. They're asking you to join in their faith service project. And when you come, if you become a member, you tie, you know, but if you aren't a member, you just come and enjoy it. Well, that's what a Rotary Club is come be part of our service. If you're a member, yeah, we're gonna charge you some dues. But if you're not, you're still part of our service. So when you change that paradigm, especially if you're in business, then it kind of tells you exactly what you need to do. Yeah, you've

Mandy Kwasnica:

nailed it, Alex, that's 100%.

Alex Johnson:

And it wasn't even me, john cuco said this. You know, he said, he knows Rotary International I. I have a lot of friends in our eye staff, because they're amazing resources. Most retirements don't see our eye staff as a resource. They see them as somebody to get a presentation from. But if you think about it, like the rmcs, you know, the regional membership, person for they handle hundreds of mini districts and all that. They deal with so many different issues. They're experts, their subject matter experts use them as a resource. You'd be amazed what the ROI staff has encountered. ideas they can give you, because they deal with it all over then they're all their peers as well. Most rotary districts and zones they don't use our staff that they use what they know and enforce What they know is what doesn't work anymore. They don't know the rotary action plan and they don't implement it. Another key thing I've been trying to solidify this for clubs, the hardest part is Amanda, you kind of hit on it is how do you get your members involved in something new. And I'm hoping when ISIS say, don't, you know, get one or two, get you in a friend, and then let it grow and let them be a part of it. That's probably the hardest part is being willing to go at it alone. And then let that little seed grow.

Mandy Kwasnica:

Yeah, it's funny, I just heard a speaker recently say, Stop dreaming big, but dream small. And it's, it's true, like sometimes people just are overthinking the whole big picture. And if the change just happens by starting with something small, so maybe it's like starting off with once a quarter, you know, you do an activity because a lot of Rotary Clubs, that would be a big milestone to get to that level, and then you switch it up, okay, once every two months, we're doing one then once every month, we're doing one and then you can slowly get there. But you don't have to go, oh my god, okay, we got to start doing weekly activities here out here. It's It's too big. If you never want to get into that.

Alex Johnson:

When I joined this club, what I thought was amazing. They were doing on an annual basis 15 service projects, which for me was mind boggling. That was more than any other Rotary Club in our district. I have a lot of service in my first year in Plano West rotary than I did in my 15 years and my other Rotary Club. Yeah. And believe it, that was a lot to me. And I'm like, wow, this is a club that I want to be a part of it service mine. Now, granted, we do a lot more. But like you said, Man, it just started with the little, and then you just get more people involved. And when you get more people involved, you're gonna want to do more, because they're gonna say, Well, I'm part of this organization. I'm part of this, we have 40 days and of different agencies in our club, people that are part of different boards of different nonprofits. And so that our challenge is being selected on our service projects, because we can only do so much. I mean, we're at seven as it is, that's a lot, a lot. And so we have to be selective, it has to be impactful, it has to be measurable. And it has to be rewarding to our volunteers. And then we try to make it repeatable, so it just makes it easy for us, you know, it's just cookie cutter, boom, boom, boom,

Mandy Kwasnica:

really good.

Peter Tonge:

That's fabulous.

Alex Johnson:

I would encourage this is something that I wish Rotary Clubs could do. And I hope you can include this in here is back to that my biggest pet peeve is the lack of support for the rotary foundation. Try to get clubs to at least donate 50% of their funds to the rotary foundation. That's a great start. Because that is a nonprofit that doesn't support its nonprofit is just mind boggling. And so you said you're you guys do all these big fundraisers? Do you cut 50% of those proceeds to the rotary foundation? Isn't that mind boggling? Can you think of any other national nonprofit that doesn't support itself?

Mandy Kwasnica:

So

Alex Johnson:

nobody, you know, cancer, any disease United Way, they fundraise for themselves. And that's not controversial. It's very controversial for Rotarians because they don't want to change. If and people don't understand the whole point of the foundation is to provide funds for service projects. So if you don't do service projects, and yeah, the foundation doesn't have any value for it. And that that's that all wrapped up in a service. If a Rotary Club is doing service, well then having this massive foundation that to provide you funds is something that's really valuable. But if you don't want to do service, and you're like, oh, what good is a rotary Foundation, you know, it's a I got a Paul Harris fellow, you know, whatever, but people don't have it in their heart. And so it kind of goes all together. And so that's my, if I wish we could change anything is that Rotary Clubs support the rotary Foundation, at least half as much as they give to everybody else. If you're cutting $100,000 in checks a year 250 if you're cutting 10,000, give five to the foundation, fundraise for the foundation, not just one polio day.

Peter Tonge:

Makes a lot of sense to me.

Mandy Kwasnica:

It's a great challenge, but out there love it.

Alex Johnson:

It's hard

Peter Tonge:

In our podcast, as you may have discovered, because you were listening in we only have one standard question. And that is what keeps you coming back to rotary, you've been beating it now for 18 years, why are you still doing it?

Alex Johnson:

As I mentioned, I joined from the networking, but I remained for the service and what, what really, my passion is leading other people to serve, you know, one person can serve. But you can lead other people to serve that as just a massive impact. So that really excites me. And that's what rotary that's what the foundation does, you know. And so that's what keeps me coming back the ability of leading other people to do a lot of good in their community.

Mandy Kwasnica:

Well, Alex, I have to say, I think you have definitely accomplished that here today. You've not only inspired myself, I'm sure Peter would say equally the same, but you're going to be inspiring everybody who's listening to this podcast and really help change our shift our mindset to how can we change make changes within our clubs and how we're operating and starting out small. You are a perfect example of that. I want to thank you so much for leading the way being leading by example with your Plano West Rotary Club, and helping to inspire all of us. It's been fantastic getting to know you here tonight.

Peter Tonge:

Alex, thank you so much.

Mandy Kwasnica:

Thank you so much for joining us on another great episode of talking rotary, we would love to hear from you. Please send us your comments and story ideas and you can share it with us easily by sending us an email at feedback at talking rotary.org Let's keep talking rotary.