The Rollin' With Rotary team, clockwise from top left, Adam Barth, Kathy Fahy, Jason Browne, RI Director Jennifer Jones, and Marie Fallon, stop off at Rotary International Headquarters in Evanston, Illinois, USA, on 6 August.

Members of the news media had gathered, along with the mayor of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and a group of Rotary members, on the bank of the murky Detroit River. It was early August and the members were about to amaze the reporters on hand.

Jason Browne and Adam Barth, members of Rollin’ With Rotary, a four-person team of Rotary members who visited a dozen cities this summer, dipped a bucket into the polluted water. The reporters watched as they poured the brownish water into a filter, part of a $1,000 survival kit that Rotary and its project partner ShelterBox distribute to disaster victims worldwide. The water came out clear. Browne, Barth, and their teammates drank glassfuls and grinned broadly.

Then they invited Mayor Drew Dilkens to take a drink. “He survived,” says Rotary International Director Jennifer Jones, laughing. “And the media went nuts!” Jones, who is from Windsor, traveled with the team.

That day, Rotary was front-page news locally and featured on radio and TV. It was the kind of coverage that would be repeated almost every day of the nine-day Rollin’ With Rotary tour, 1-9 August. Says Jones: “Our aim was to make Rotary look cool, hip, and relevant. And I think we did it.”

The trip was a direct outgrowth of Rotary’s Young Professionals Summit, held last September in Chicago, at which Jones had encouraged the young Rotary participants to dream big. Barth, 31, of the Rotary Club of Jacksonville, North Carolina, USA, took that exhortation to heart and came up with the idea for the tour.

His plan was immediately endorsed by Kathy Fahy, 41, of the Rotary Club of Iowa Great Lakes (Spirit Lake), Iowa; Marie Fallon, 40, of the Rotary Club of Pittsburgh East, Pennsylvania; and Browne, 32, of the Rotary Club of State College-Downtown, Pennsylvania. “We were discussing what people don’t understand about Rotary and we said, ‘What would people think if we stopped in their town and did something crazy? That would show them how fun Rotary can be,’ ” recalls Browne.

Some of the fun was on display at Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio, where the team gave away discount coupons. “It gave us a chance to explain Rotary,” says Browne, “and we also went on rides and got people to yell, ‘Let’s Go Rotary!’ ”

At other stops, the team delivered explicitly educational messages about the good that Rotary does. In Perrysburg, Ohio, the team participated in a six-block “water walk,” toting heavy containers of water to demonstrate how women and children in the developing world struggle daily to provide water for their families.

During the drive between Taylor and Ann Arbor, Michigan, the team’s RV – festooned with the Rotary logo -- had a motorcycle escort of more than 80 members of the Wounded Warrior Project. Other drivers pulled off the road to watch, took photos, and were among the people who donated $11,000 that day to help disabled veterans. 

While in Ann Arbor, team members participated in an End Polio Now walk that concluded on the University of Michigan campus, in the building where, 60 years ago, the public announcement of the polio vaccine’s effectiveness was made.

And the team even meditated in front of Rotary International World Headquarters in Evanston, Illinois, near hand-lettered signs bearing messages like “Pause, Breathe, and Relax With Rotary.” The team members were joined by several local people, including Sensei Mui, a Buddhist priest and the husband of a Rotary member, who was marking the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the team, along with local Rotary members, engaged in three hours of random acts of kindness. Team members gave out cards bearing the Rotary logo that encouraged recipients of the kind acts to pass along the kindness -- and the cards -- to others.

“It helped that nobody (on the team) was afraid to do goofy things,” says Fahy. “We couldn’t have afforded this kind of media coverage.” By the end of the trip, 1,500 people had liked the Rollin’ With Rotary 

The entire trip was pulled together in just six weeks. Each of the team members contacted Rotary members along the planned route and solicited ideas for attention-getting activities in their area. “We looked for movers and shakers who wouldn’t just ask us to attend club meetings,” says Fallon, who organized the water walk in Perrysburg. 

“We’re showing that there are fun, inexpensive things you can do to bring attention to Rotary,” says Fahy. “Don’t wait for permission -- you can just take it and run with it.”

A Rotary grant covered a budget of $12,000, and generous Rotary members all along the route opened their homes for meals and overnight stays. The four never slept in a hotel.

Near the end of the tour, already thinking how much he would miss it, Jason Browne offered a piece of advice to fellow Rotary members: “We would have loved to come to every city in the country. We couldn’t do that, so do something on your own -- anything you can think of to promote Rotary!”

Rotary News