Rotary in Kingston wraps up its Centennial celebrations this week with some pretty extraordinary projects and changes, including donating over $500,000 back to the community through 16 new initiatives.
Rotary began in Kingston in March of 1921. Today, six clubs operate throughout the Kingston region, with nearly 200 Rotarians building and supporting their communities.
To mark 100 years, Rotary in Kingston set out four major goals it wanted to achieve in one year: to increase awareness of Rotary; to raise $100,000 for community endeavors; to increase collaboration with the community and other clubs; and to grow club membership.
Rotarian Paul Elsley said the process of planning for the Centennial started three years ago. Though, at that point nobody knew exactly what was going to come of the Centennial celebrations, everyone agreed on one thing: that whatever it was, was going to be big.
“Lindsey Foster, who is a past president of our club, encouraged us to dream big,” said Elsley. “And so we decided to set our sights on much more ambitious dreams than we might otherwise have done. That included multiple projects and ambitious fundraising.”
Initially the goal was to raise $100,000 and distribute it to the community through the Centennial projects; however, as the list of Centennial projects grew, so did the cost.
“We realized we’re going to have to raise quite a bit more money than that. So our targets continued to increase as the number of projects increased,” said Elsley. “Obviously, fundraising, was going to be difficult… so [we decided] to do so very tactfully and look at different ways to raise money.”
For the first time, Rotary in Kingston applied for grant funding, which was monumental for its Centennial goals. However, Elsley said they were surprised to see how many members of the community continued to support Rotary despite the hardships of the pandemic.
“The most important thing, I think, was Rotarians and friends of Rotary stepped in in a very big way to generously donate to our cause. I think everybody was looking to support the community in some way, given the challenges we were facing. We were quite surprised and very pleased with the work, so we were able to hit that target raising over $500,000 — and that doesn’t include COVID-19 support. If you put all that together, that’s well over $700,000,” Elsley said.
These funds went toward 16 Kingston Rotary Centennial projects, all of which can be read in detail here.
The projects range from tree planting projects and butterfly gardens, to the implementation of community outreach grants and Panic, Anxiety and Stress Support Kits, and much more.
Many of the Centennial projects will remain in place and continue to provide support well beyond the Centennial one-year celebration timeline. One project Elsley seemed especially proud of was the implementation of the Rotary Facilitator of Alumni Relations (F.A.R.) project, which builds on the success of Pathways to Education to reduce high school dropout rates in low-income areas. The project offers tutoring, group and career mentoring, one on one support to enrolled secondary students, and more.
“We’re hoping to fund a three year pilot project with Pathways to improve those numbers,” said Elsley.
Another one of the four major Centennial goals was collaboration – both within the community and among Kingston’s six clubs. There was an idea to bring Rotary back to its roots – working collectively to improve the community – and that’s just what’s happened.
The six Rotary clubs have come together to form a Rotary Presidents Council, where each president and vice president meets monthly to discuss projects and how the clubs can help one another.
“Each of the clubs operated independently and there wasn’t much collaboration that existed between the clubs. And further than that, we wanted to really improve collaboration with community organizations,” Elsley said.
In order to achieve these grand goals, Rotary in Kingston knew they had to work together to increase membership among the six clubs – which, to their surprise, significantly increased over the past year.
Today, there is a stronger relationship with City Council and community organizations, and, as a result, membership has also increased, Elsley expressed.
“Rotary in North America has been shrinking over the last decade and we certainly see that here in Kingston. Our club went from 140 members maybe 15 years ago to 60 members,” said Elsley, adding that most of the members are over the age of 65. “So, we wanted to see what could do to change that pattern and grow Rotary and Kingston. I’m happy to report that we had great success on both fronts.”
In Kingston, Rotary has grown by 38 members this past year – a leap in numbers that Rotary has not seen for quite some time.
“That’s impactful. That that was just outstanding. I never expected that to happen,” Elsley said. “It caused our Rotary district to be the number one district in Canada in growth in the past year.”
And just how did such a dramatic change occur?
“I think our old model was to wait until people came to us and that just didn’t happen. So we changed the whole process… I reached out to a number of the executive directors of community organizations that we partner with and said, ‘let’s enhance our partnership, why don’t you join Rotary?’ And it just so happened that most of these organizations are getting mandates from their boards to [increase] community outreach, so it was a perfect fit,” Elsley explained.
Moving forward, Elsley is looking to help other clubs increase their membership as Rotary in Kingston has done.
“We’re really hoping to come up with a model for recruiting members,” he said. “I’ve been on a speaking tour, talking to clubs in South Africa, Columbia, Florida, letting them know how to grow Rotary, and the title of my talk, has been ‘Silver Linings.’ I like that because we have found a number of silver lining opportunities from [these] challenges.”
Through all of the above initiatives, Rotary in Kingston has naturally increased awareness of what Rotary is, which Elsley said continues the cycle of success in growth and giving back to the community.
As for what is next for Rotary, Elsley said the clubs are gaining momentum and plan to keep growing.
“This is kick starting the next one 100 years. We want to build awesome momentum and continue to strive to achieve our goals,” he said. “We’ve already started to see benefits in that.”
For more information on Rotary in Kingston Centennial successes, watch their YouTube video on the projects below.
To learn more about Rotary, including how to get involved, click here.