One hundred and seventeen years ago on the 25th of February 1905, a lawyer from Chicago, Illinois along with three of his business acquaintances gathered at a small office in downtown Chicago to create a service club to help elevate the infrastructure and develop facilities for their community. Paul Harris – the lawyer – along with the business associates, Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele and Hiram Shorey became the founding fathers for what would become a global organization in a matter of years, a place for those “longing for fellowship” to come together to serve their communities and care for its wellbeing and welfare. The club they founded also happened to be the first service club in the world.
The Birth of Rotary
The club would convene every week in rotation at each other’s offices, which became the basis of the name of the club: Rotary. Eventually, the club grew to such an extent that a regular meeting place was decided.
After the establishment of the Rotary Club of Chicago, four other clubs were founded in the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Five years after the birth of the Rotary Club of Chicago, the National Association of Rotary Clubs in America. Rotary became an international organization after the Rotary Club of Winnipeg, Canada was chartered in 1912. To acknowledge the organization’s internationality, the National Association of Rotary Clubs in America was changed to the International Association of Rotary Clubs in the same year and subsequently changed to Rotary International in 1922. Rotary International functions under two mottos, “Service Above Self” and “One Profits Most Who Serves Best”.
Over the years, Rotary has grown to become a mammoth organization boasting a membership of over 1.4 million and more than 46,000 clubs chartered worldwide. These clubs take on the challenges of tackling some of the world’s grueling issues. One of the most noteworthy achievements of Rotary International is the PolioPlus initiative, making the organization take a pivotal role in the worldwide effort to eradicate the disease.
The Rotary clubs, which exist as non-partisan and non-sectarian, are the fundamental units of Rotary activity. New members are accepted to the club by invitation and are given to anyone holding professional, proprietary, executive, or managerial positions and to those who have a passion for leadership and for creating social development within their community. Each club consists of the club president, the secretary, club treasurer, and the board of directors. The directors are usually appointed by the president to chair their respective committees such as club service, community service, and international service.
From Rotary to Rotaract
While Rotary was a club predominantly for adults, the need to involve the youth in the mission of service was felt. While Rotary clubs had been supporting youth activities since the early 1920s, especially through sponsoring boy scouts, young people were not directly involved with the organization.
In 1962, a Rotary-wide program was designed for young people with a passion for community service to engage with Rotary. This was named “Interact”, a portmanteau of the words “international” and “action”. Interact is open for students aged 12-18, allowing them to cultivate leadership skills The first Interact Club was the Interact Club of Melbourne High School, chartered on the 5th of November 1962 and sponsored by the Rotary Club of Melbourne, Florida, USA.
Owing to the success of the establishment of Interact, the idea for Rotaract took root in the mid-1960s, this time to promote Rotary to undergraduates and college students between the ages of 17 and 25 and like the Interact clubs, would be sponsored by Rotary clubs. The Rotaract Club of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA became the first Rotaract club in the history of Rotaract. It didn’t take long for Rotaract to become international and within a year, there were about 200 clubs in over 25 countries. Rotaract revolves around its unofficial motto of “Self Development – Fellowship Through Service” to serve the community while fostering international understanding and goodwill.
Rotary Today: Changing lives through service
Through the past century, Rotaract has uplifted and empowered the lives of millions around the globe. Whether through community service, strengthening bonds between cultures and societies, reconciliation and humanitarian efforts to help and heal communities, and service projects to enhance the professional and leadership development of their club members.
Beyond being just a space for people to engage and develop their leadership skills and build connections, the organization provides perfect opportunities for its members to let their creativity drive the contribution and work they do. It’s a place for people to come together to strive and build a better future – for us and for the world.
By Rtr. Yowan Dias
Very informative! Beautifully written Yowan! ❤️