52. Diamond Valley Rotaract

23 Mar

52. Rotaract

Working tirelessly to help eradicate polio, providing young people with leadership development opportunities and running the Eltham Fair Battle of the Bands are merely a handful of the impressive accomplishments of the Diamond Valley Rotaract Club.

The Diamond Valley Rotaract Club is part of Rotary International for young people aged 18 to 30 years old. Rotary International is a worldwide organisation that enables its members to work towards positive and constructive change in their communities and the wider world, while simultaneously helping them to develop their personal and professional skills.

Katherine Shields, the current Diamond Valley President, sheds some light on the goals and ideals of Rotary.

“In Australia, the big way that we break it down is under three key headings, which are ‘Help, Learn and Enjoy’. For our club, we want to be a community where people feel included, have fun and can be actively involved in our community – locally, nationally and internationally.”

Its benefits are numerous, for as Katherine describes it is “an opportunity to be a part of a group of like-minded young people, who are passionate about lots of different things but are able to channel that passion towards projects, fundraising and events.”

She says the Club has “six areas of focus. [These include] child and parental health, literacy and education, water, sanitation, peace and conflict resolution… and all of the things we’re involved in have some reference to that. Our club does a lot of fundraising… We’ve done fundraising for things like the Cathy Freeman Foundation, which supports communities on Palm Island. That relates quite strongly to literacy, because there is one of the lowest literacy rates in the world on Palm Island.”

Katherine then proudly explains how Rotaracters from all around the world are playing a crucial role in helping to eradicate Polio.

“One major thing that we’re really excited about at Rotary is the eradication of Polio from the world. Rotary have been involved for nearly thirty years now… They’re down to just one country [where the virus is present]. It is believed that this year will be the last year that there will be a case, which means that in three years time the World Health Organisation can declare the world to be polio-free.”

Katherine explains “[Rotary] have contributed to this in so many ways, through significant funding and through raising awareness and campaigning. They’ve played a huge role in getting some big names on board as advocates helping advertise the ‘Let’s End Polio Now’ campaign… Including Jackie Chan!”

“They’ve also provided huge numbers of volunteers to go and do vaccines all around the world… Hundreds of thousands of rotary volunteers have been going around and vaccinating as many hundreds of children as they can. So we’ve seen some hugely significant hands-on work from Rotary.”

Katherine then tells me about some of the other projects that the Rotaract Club have been responsible for.

“A personal highlight would have to be a number of years ago after the Black Saturday bushfires, when we decided to hold a knit-a-thon in Diamond Creek for people to come along for the whole day and knit, as well as creating a drop off point for donations.”

She says happily, “We ended up with over 300 knitted items to donate. That went to people who had been affected by the fires but also to homeless people for during the winter. That was a great highlight, just being that place for people to participate and get involved. A lot of people had never even knitted before and they were able to learn!”

The Rotaract is run entirely by volunteers. In exchange for their tireless work, the Rotaract provides those involved with a fantastic opportunity to form new friendships, liaise and network with other people and to undergo professional development.

“Rotaract in Australia has something called an ‘MDIO’, which stands for ‘Multi-District Information Organisation’. What they do is help to provide and disseminate information across multiple clubs. They run training for us every year, at a regional level. For everyone who is a board member, we spend two days doing standardised training on things like conflict resolution, leadership training, marketing, social media tools, and how to identify the skillset of your board members.”

Katherine mentions that members are offered training in order to develop valuable skill sets.

“We also run an annual conference, which is in a different city each year and again we have a number of guest speakers who talk on a variety of topics. We learn skills such as how to write a resumé, do well at a job interview, how to manage stress, how to maintain a work-life balance, how to run a meeting.”

Professional development is another benefit, according to Katherine.

“The specific roles like treasurer or secretary also get together and learn about how to actually be a treasurer, how you manage accounts, or a budget and for secretaries, how to write up an agenda and minutes for a meeting. So there are lots of great opportunities that allow our members to take on different roles within the club.”

“Another great benefit is learning about event management. We run the Youth Stage at the Eltham Rotary Town Festival. People involved in that are in charge of liaising with sound and tech guys, liaising with different bands and locking them in to perform, organising advertising, organising the roster of volunteers and budgeting. They are basically learning how to actually run an event from the initial stages of brainstorming ideas right up to executing it in the final stages. So there are heaps and heaps of really great learning opportunities.”

Katherine explains that the Youth Stage at the Eltham Festival “is a highlight for us. A big part of why we do the Eltham Battle of the Bands is that there is a lot of brilliant local talent in that area. We predominantly stick with high school students, because we’re aware that they don’t get many opportunities to perform… they’re restricted to age appropriate venues. So for us, we love getting to see just how talented they are and they get an opportunity to perform. The winners actually get recording time, which is fantastic.”

Members can get involved in projects that range from the local level, to a national and even international level. Thanks to the Rotaract Club, “there has been a huge impact [on the local community].”

“Something people often notice is also the impact on the people that are involved. Everyone in our club is from our local community, with maybe a couple of exceptions. We’ve seen heaps of people come through who have taken on roles in the club and taken part in events. We’ve had people turn up to the Club as a bit of a quiet, shy person and then they are soon taking on the role of treasurer or secretary. Two years later they’re becoming president and conducting speeches in a room full of 80 people… So I think that’s a huge thing.”

“I guess the other thing would be funding and assistance,” says Katherine.

“We really like to focus on local organisations, so every year we give to the Diamond Valley Food Share. We’ve also been big supporters of Kalparrin [an early intervention centre in Greensborough for children with additional needs] and our involvement with Eltham Festival is also pretty significant. Plus, there are other little things along the way like being involved in local tree planting. We’ve been going for seven years and the money we have raised would be in the tens of thousands, and most of that has gone back to our local community.”

While Katherine’s presidency will finish at the end of the financial year, she has high hopes for the future of the club.

“I think our hopes are to continue to increase our membership. We’d love to get another club started in the area, maybe somewhere like at La Trobe or RMIT University because we know there are just so many people who would love to be involved from around there. I think also we would love to see the members of our club getting more involved, feeling more confident and learning more skills. Also, just continuing our significant contribution to our local communities, through fundraising and awareness-raising events.”

“We also hope to get some guest speakers in, looking at issues like domestic violence, which we know is a really big issue. We’re also interested in the ‘Towards Zero’ campaign, which is the TAC campaign for zero road deaths, and would like to do information evenings at schools around the area. These are just some of the things we’re dreaming up at the moment!”

There are clearly many great things in store for the Diamond Valley Rotaract Club, as they continue to do amazing work that will greatly benefit our wider community.

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Picture: Sean Porter








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