Planting the Seeds to Grow Rotary's Family

 
Medford Rotary and Interact present a donation to Ashraya InitiativeDecember is Family Month for Rotary International.  This year the Rotary Club of Medford had the experience of witnessing the growth of our family and the strengthening of our global connections.
 
Shown Back l-r: District Governor Elect David Manzi, Interact students Rezwan Ali and David Mojica, Rotarian Judy Lonergan, Assistant Governor Jen Sanders, Liz Sholtys of Ashraya Initiative, Interactor Ravina Longia, Medford Rotary President Doug Shoop. Front l-r: Interactors Erica Budina, Thessie Elysee, Advisor Amie Saulnier.
 
 
December is Family Month for Rotary International.  Our family is made up of the people in our lives who have a common background and to whom we feel connected in some way.  December is a time when we look at the people in our lives, appreciate the love that we have, and often express that love in the act of giving. It’s a time when we can acknowledge how far reaching our family really is.
 
When I think of families, I also think of cycles of life and the roots of a tree that spread out and connect us.  Considering our Rotary family in this way, there is no limit to how far our family can reach. The expression “think globally, act locally” can take on a richer meaning, allowing our local acts to have a global impact.  The reach of Rotary’s family and its ties to different generations became even more apparent to the Rotary Club of Medford this year.  We had the experience of witnessing the growth of our family and the strengthening of our global connections.
Some of the seeds of this growth were planted several years ago.  In the late 1990s, Judy Lonergan, a member of the Everett Rotary and Medford’s Thursday Fortnightly club heard about a man from Canada working in Medford. His family came to visit him for Christmas; and there was a fire in which one of his family members died. Wanting to do something to help this family and others, Lonergan proposed creating a charitable fund to benefit people in the community. “I saw the tree festival in Methuen and thought, ‘We can do that with house tours,’” said Lonergan. That thought sparked the creation of Medford’s Jingle Bell Festival, which first took place in 1999.  As a result, the Jingle Bell Festival has helped raise tens of thousands of dollars benefiting Community Family’s Buddy Coholan Memory Loss Center as well as other charities in the Medford community.
 
In the early 2000s, when Liz Sholtys was 16 years old, she heard about and was accepted into an international school in India. She became the representative for the United States at the school.  The experience got her thinking about global issues, specifically those in India.  She provided community service working in an orphanage and teaching English in nearby villages.  When she returned to the U.S. and started as a freshman at Emory University in Georgia, she experienced a culture shock.  Being a typical college student wasn’t her thing.  “Wheels were turning in my head.  I wanted to get back to India and start a home for street children,” said Sholtys.  With the help of some friends and the support of the Emory administration, she started a 501c3.  The Ashraya Initiative for Children opened its doors in June 2005.  They now have a Residential program as well as Education, Community and Health Outreach Programs.  They focus their efforts on two communities that were deemed criminal tribes under British rule.  Millions were classified criminal by birth, the brand being passed on from one generation to the next. The Ashraya Initiative invests heavily in these children, with the goal of every child in those communities being educated and literate, so they can be leaders in their community as they grow up.  Families who were initially resistant to send their children to school (their children may have been a source of income for them) were now arguing to get their children into the programs.  Donations and grants through Rotary and other donors have helped keep their doors open through the years. 
 
In 2013, Rotary clubs were encouraged by the district to invite Interact students to the World Peace & Understanding dinner.  Several members and class advisor, Amie Saulnier, of the Medford High School Interact Club attended the dinner with Rotarians. The speaker was Sholtys, talking about her experience with the Ashraya Initiative.  Sholtys’ story inspired the students.  One of the attendees, Jose Thessie Elysee grew up in Haiti.  “I thought it was a good gesture.  What was happening in India, I saw all the time in Haiti,” said Elysee.  Although Elysee felt scared to do something in her own country for various reasons, she saw the Ashraya Initiative as an opportunity to help from a distance. 
Sholtys was not a stranger to feeling scared in spite of all her accomplishments.  As a teenager leaving her family and home to go to an international high school in India, she was scheduled to leave on September 12, 2001.  Her parents told her they would ultimately let her make the decision and support her.  “It seems scarier when I step back from the situation and realize what went on – how crazy, stressful and dangerous some situations were,” said Sholtys.  Yet the love and support of her family, and her extended family within Rotary and the communities in India helped her feel safe and secure.  “Having now worked in these communities for years; we’re a part of them.  They look out for us.  People from the community work for us.  They are very invested in what we do.”
 
The year 2013 also marked Lonergan Insurance’s 95th anniversary.  Judy Lonergan wanted to do something to commemorate the event and decided to sponsor the Jingle Bell Walk/Run, an addition to the Jingle Bell Festival.  She decided that she would get the students at Medford High School involved.  Each club and team could sell ads for the Walk/Run program booklet and 100% of whatever they raised would go back to them.
The MHS Interact club raised $200 through selling ads for the walk/run and another $200 in a basketball event to promote anti-bullying.  They wanted to donate the $400 to the Ashraya Initiative and asked the Medford Rotary club if we would match their donation.  Erica Budina, co-president of the MHS Interact club said, “The story really motivated us.  We wanted to donate money because we knew where the money was going, to a good place, and would make the most impact.”
 
Sholtys was able to attend a Medford Rotary meeting this summer to be presented with a check for $800. from the Medford Rotary club and MHS Interact Club.  Everett Rotarian Judy Lonergan also attended the meeting  to represent the Jingle Bell Festival Committee.  Since then, the MHS Interact Club has held a badminton tournament and helped sell ads for the 2014 Jingle Bell Walk/Run.  They plan to send a holiday book package to Ashraya Initiative for Children for their library via Amazon India. 
 
A desire to make a difference, balanced with love and support is a strong fertilizer for growing our Rotary family.  For more information on the Ashraya Initiative and the Jingle Bell Festival, visit www.ashrayainitiative.org and www.jinglebellfestival.org.
 
Shown below: 
Children who benefit from the Ashraya Initiative in India.
 
Jingle Bell Committee member (and wife of Medford Rotarian Pat Theberge) Elaine Roccia Theberge, Medford Rotarian Jen Sanders and Jingle Bell Chair & Everett Rotarian Judy Lonergan at the 2014 Jingle Bell Walk/Run.
 
Medford High School Interact members David Mojica, Ann Lee and Rezwan Ali after playing badminton to raise money to send books to the Ashraya Initiative.
 
Children from the Ashraya InitiativeJingle Bell Walk/RunInteractors after badminton