by Carolyn Dobbe, daughter of Sue Dobbe

I found myself at the Rotary International Convention in New Orleans—a representative of the Crystal Lake Dawnbreakers—and my experience at the convention deepened both my understanding and respect for the organization immeasurably.

Walking through the convention center, I saw booth after booth of Rotarians with programs all engineered at affecting social change in their communities in all aspects and seeking to share their unique programs with communities around the world. Having the opportunity to represent such a program with the Crystal Lake Dawnbreakers’ Diaper Bank, not only did I get to hang out with the coolest priest I’ve ever met, but I also got to feel the sense of pride and genuine investment Rotarians devote to their mission of “Service before Self.” As people passed by our booth and saw a table littered with diapers and a banner reading “Start a Diaper Bank!” the first question out of everyone’s mouth was unfailingly, “What’s a diaper bank??” (Complete with two question marks.) We’d smile and begin to explain the concept of collecting diapers through drives in the community and distributing them through an existing network of social service organizations, and we could see the realization dawn on their faces. Whatever they might have initially thought a diaper bank was, the reality was both more accessible and viable than they expected.

The pinnacle of the convention was a speech by Bill Gates; and while I expected it would be a pretty big to-do, I was stunned by the sheer size of the hall we were in and the thousands of people in attendance. Over the loudspeaker we heard directions in several different languages instructing everyone which radio station they could turn to for a translated version of the ceremony; and although I had noticed various cultural differences (language barriers, etc.) throughout the week, I realized once again just how globally expansive Rotary International is and how many people from so many countries were all brought to one spot in support of a common cause. Bill Gates spoke to the room about Rotary International’s effort to eradicate polio, which has succeeded in reducing cases of polio worldwide by 99%, and insisted, “The last 1 percent will be the longest and hardest 1 percent.” The statistic evidence of the work Rotary has done to eradicate polio spoke for itself; and as we saw them flash across the video screens, the energy in the room was palpable.

It was incredible to be in the presence of so many people gathered together to support one another in this collective effort, and I could see that all the good work that has been done thus far only motivates Rotary International and furthers their momentum in the fight against polio.  As thousands of people celebrated the power of their togetherness and positivity and resolved to keep going further in the effort of “Service above Self,” I understood more fully than ever before that Rotary is both a local and global organization of human beings, using their strength to make change in the world; and I felt privileged to be able to participate.