Posted by Paddy Rooney on May 07, 2020
By now the superlatives have become almost trite – unprecedented, worse than…, nothing like this in our life time. But it is clear that we are all experiencing something that most of us never envisioned happening in our lifetimes – a shutdown to be sure but a form of social distancing that goes beyond anything most of us could have imagined. And this has impacted both our personal lives and our forms of social living as well.
And without a doubt, one of the things that has been impacted is the way we live our lives as Rotarians. Apart from the e-clubs and Passport clubs, most of us know and experience Rotary through our weekly club meetings which are often accompanied by a meal – breakfast, lunch or dinner. And there are often “rituals” attached to those meetings – a song, a prayer, the Pledge and the Four Way Test. Each club is different, each has its own ethos, but they bear a remarkable connectedness through those meetings regardless of where you are in the country or the world. Combine that with the organization of fundraising events, non-profit support work and participation in the life of so many communities and we have a picture of Rotary as it has run pretty successfully for almost 115 years with a format which is comfortably familiar.
All that has changed with this pandemic and the worry is what will Rotary look like, be like or act like as we move toward a “new normal.” Jeffry Cadorette, who serves as our Zone representative on the International Board of Directors, has challenged us time and again with a phrase I used in my club presentations earlier in this Rotary year when I asked, “If we sat down today and devised this thing called Rotary, would it look like it does at present?” And the answer is probably no! With technology, with busier schedules, with changes in our culture which says that joining any organization is something of a waste, then Rotary, if devised today, would look a lot different, perhaps even radically different.
Well some of that difference has been forced upon us by this pandemic. Many clubs have changed by going on line for their meetings; others have adapted to do fundraisers in the same manner. Training for future District and club leadership is now going on line. And having started this I suspect that much of this form of meeting and training is going to continue and we may not go back to the way we have done things for many years.
But what specific things do we need to be thinking about for our clubs in the District as we move toward re-opening? Here are some of my own thoughts which hopefully will prove helpful as we all learn to live in this new normal…particularly over the next few months while we are still living with the novel coronavirus without proper forms of treatment or vaccination.
  1. Club meetings. Our meeting format may never be quite the same again. I would urge club leadership to consider how they can continue practicing social distancing; how many folks should be sitting at one table; how food is to be served if you use a buffet style for the meal; whether they should have a greeter but not one who shakes hands; how many people come to the podium; whether there is still a recommendation for the use of masks; whether there should be a song sung since singing has been shown to spread more droplets than just speaking; whether would should discourage people from shaking hands at all? There are so many issues like this to consider. Some of it may depend upon club size – the smaller clubs will have a little more ability to social distance than the larger or mid-sized clubs. The District and its Leadership Team, stand ready to assist you in whatever way possible to both prepare for such start up and how we will operate from that point on. Above all, however, we should follow whatever guidelines are offered to us from the CDC or our State Department of Health. Those guidelines are for our protection and for the good of those around us. We Rotarians understand our responsibility to the wider community and we show by caring for the wider community before ourselves.
  2. Fund Raisers. We need to look at both our ability to organize fund-raisers and the community’s ability to want to come out and support them. We all recognize that our fundraisers are critical to carrying out the work in our communities but we also have to take into account the economic difficulties that have been caused by this disruption and the willingness of the community to be able to support it.
  3. Future Training for Leadership. While we are far from making decisions about ALL training programs, it is clear that some programs will go on line and may stay that way. Can we do District training in a new way with short half day programs, learning modules on line, a new format for Presidents elect training, District Governor training and so on? District conference was cancelled this year because of the virus which was sad; but then we have to acknowledge that attendance at District Conference has been declining a great deal over the past few years and so what might happen if we never have another in person conference but rather pull together some great speakers, hold on line workshops and even announce awards on line. We had planned, for example, to have a panel discussion at District Conference on issues confronting our communities and therefore our clubs, issues such as Diversity and Equity, Teen suicide, opioid addiction and gender fluidity. These are important matters so we are planning on a virtual gathering at some point over the next few months to address these issues.
  4. International Convention. The highlight of any Rotary year is the International Convention when Rotarians from all  over the world gather in one city for some of the very best workshops, speakers and experiences you could ever have. This year we were supposed to have been in Hawaii but of course that was cancelled. Now Rotary International is going to take some of those important learning experiences and share them through a virtual Rotary Convention which will be held June 20-26. More details will be available soon. 
So we will, at some point, get back to “normal.” We cannot say what that will look or feel like but we do know that Rotarians are amazing in their resilience, adaptability and willingness to embrace the issues which confront us. I am confident that we continue to have a bright future in Rotary and that together we will continue to fashion and support a future which will serve all. And if this virus has taught us nothing else, it has shown our interconnectedness in the world. But then we Rotarians always knew that because Rotary Connects the World.
DG Paddy