30 Days of Thanks Day 11: Veterans

Every year for November 11th, I have thanked veterans. I am appreciative of their sacrifice not just today, but every day. I am able to live independently because there have been men and women willing to serve my country in the armed forces.

Last year, I wrote about my favorite veteran, my father. In case you missed it the first time, you can find it here. I don’t have anything to add other than to say how much I miss Dad. I miss his laugh, his smile, his hugs, and his stories. It has been almost a year since I last saw him, and eleven months since his death.

Dad had great stories to share about his years in the Army. He spent time in Alaska and described the ship ride through the Pacific in vivid detail. Somewhere there is a photo Dad took of Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower visiting the troops. I like this photo of my Dad better.

Black and white image of a young white man in uniform. He is kneeling in snow, in front of an army building, holding a rifle to his shoulder.

Today I am grateful for Dad, for my uncles, cousins, brother-in-law, nephew, friends and everyone who has served in uniform. I appreciate your sacrifice and service. Thank you.

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30 Days of Thanks Day 7: Rotary

Tuesdays used to be awful days for me. Mondays I could tolerate, but Tuesdays were the worst! Nothing ever went according to plan. Nothing positive ever happened on a Tuesday.

Then my Rotary club changed their meetings to Tuesdays and all of a sudden Tuesday became a better day! My club, the Colonie-Guilderland Rotary Club, meets Tuesdays for lunch. Although attendance is not mandatory, I have attended almost every meeting since July 1, 2016 because I am president of my club.

I became involved in Rotary when I joined my high school Interact club. Rotary sent me overseas for a year as an exchange student when I was sixteen. Rotary changed my life for the better and now I have the opportunity to give back and provide service in my own community.

Whatever is happening in my world, in our city, in our country, or in the world, I know that on Tuesday afternoon I will be able to sit in a room with people who are “doers;” people who see a need and say, “I want to help make a difference.” The positive energy and optimism that pervades the room lift my spirits and makes me enthusiastic about whatever else I need to accomplish on a Tuesday.

The Rotary motto is “Service Above Self.” Are you looking for a way to be of service to your community and the world? There are Rotary clubs in cities and towns around the world, including e-clubs!

30 Days of Thanks Day 11 – My Favorite Veteran (and Veterans Everywhere)

You were so kind earlier this week when I wrote a repeat post about my mother. I decided to push my luck and focus today’s gratitude post on my wonderful father Sebastian, or Sam as he is known to everyone. Yes, I’ve written about him before. Rather than repeat what I have already written, I hope you will read this post or this post to learn more about him. Most of what I know to be true about service to others, I learned from Sam.

My father taught me everyone has the capacity to be of service, to do something to improve their community or the world. Dad served my hometown as a Rotarian, a businessman and as a member of the Knights of Columbus. He volunteered to serve senior meals to seniors who were sometimes younger than he was. Dad drove his friends from church to and from medical appointments.

For almost thirty five years, my parents hosted an annual picnic on Memorial Day weekend. To the frustration of my mother, who would be planning details, Dad would invite people to the party up until the day of the event. It was not uncommon to be walking out of church with him, encounter someone and hear him say, “Whatcha doing on Sunday? We’re having a picnic and you should come – just bring a dish to pass!”

Mom would sigh, and I imagine she was mentally calculating if she had enough paper plates and napkins. Dad wasn’t concerned about the details. He is the type of person who doesn’t want anyone to not have a place to gather with others. Dad’s hospitality is what many of my friend’s comment on when they ask me about my parents.

Dad involved me in his community service when I was young. In elementary school, I accompanied him in the afternoons when the Rotary club painted the Scout House. In high school, I worked at his side scooping ice cream at the annual General Clinton Canoe Regatta, my hometown’s one big event. I sold tickets at the church chicken barbecues which were held to raise money for various projects.

Thank you Dad, for encouraging me to do whatever I can to help those around me. Through your example, I learned the value of commitment to the service to others. You taught me that everyone can do something, and that even small acts can have a large impact.

Today, a day we honor Veterans who have served our country, I would like to express my gratitude my father (who served in the US Army), my uncles, my brother-in-law, my nephew, my cousins, and my friends who have served or are serving. Thanks to you, and millions more, I am able to enjoy the freedoms and rights I take for granted. I appreciate the sacrifices you make for your country and its citizens. I may not always agree with my country’s policies and positions, but I always have the utmost respect for the men and women who willingly don the uniform each day and perform their tasks with professionalism and integrity.

Black and white photo taken circa 1946 of a young caucasian man wearing a uniform of a private in the US Army.
My favorite veteran.

30 Days of Thanks Day 5 – Colonie-Guilderland Rotarians

In 2013, I attended my first meeting of the Colonie-Guilderland Rotary Club. I was a guest speaker, along with my boss, invited to talk about Consumer Directed Personal Assistance. As the daughter of a Rotarian, and a former Rotary Youth Exchange Student, I was very comfortable interacting with the Rotarians present that day.

What is Rotary? At least once a week someone asks me that question. Because I grew up in a Rotary family, and have been involved with levels of Rotary all my life, sometimes I forget that there are people who do not know about Rotary – or who think it is just a weekly meeting of boring, old, white men.

Rotary International is a service organization with more than 1.2 million members worldwide. Rotary clubs, along with the Rotary Foundation, provide international and local acts of service. Globally, Rotary is committed to six areas of focus:

  • Promoting Peace
  • Fighting Disease
  • Providing Clean Water
  • Saving Mothers and Children
  • Supporting Education
  • Growing Local Economies

Rotarians are dedicated men and women of all ages who share a commitment and passion for service. My experience has taught me Rotarians also like to have fun. My views on this might be influenced by my exchange year, but my years as a Rotarian also support this observation.

In 2015, I agreed to accept the role of President-Elect of my Rotary club. This meant I would spend the 2015-2016 year planning to become President for 2016-2017. It was an honor to receive the support of my club, who believed I would be able to take on this responsibility.

I never expected to break my leg. But of course, life has a way of throwing the unexpected in your path.

Some of my first visitors to the hospital in January were my fellow Rotarians. They brought cards and balloons, gift baskets and cookies. Some of them sent me cheery emails and one brought me soup. When I returned home, they continued to visit, bringing me casseroles and dinners.

Because of my broken femur, I missed all of the training sessions for incoming club Presidents. I missed three months of club meetings. I was not able to honor my commitments to service projects with my club.

I offered to withdraw as President-Elect, but my club was willing to have me continue on. I explained that I would not have independent transportation, and might have to skip a meeting without warning due to my inability to independently get to/from the senior housing center where we meet. My club members assured me they would go with the flow, and shift responsibilities if needed when I was absent.

Rotary’s motto is “Service Above Self.” As the recipient of acts of service performed by my fellow club members this year, I am reminded of how easy it is to be of service to someone else. Today I offer gratitude to those Rotarians who took the time to check on me while I was in the hospital, and who made my recovery less stressful by providing nourishment for my body and spirit. I am thankful to be part of an organization that embraces everyone who has a desire to serve. It is an honor to have your support in my role as President, and more importantly, to call you my friends.

Are you looking for a way to provide service in your community? Rotary has clubs in almost every country. To find a club near you, click this link!

30 Days of Thanks Day 30 (finally!) – Kingston Rotary Club

I have to close my 30 Days of Thanks by offering sincere gratitude to the people who made it possible for me to participate in Rotary Youth Exchange – the wonderful men and women of the Rotary Club of Kingston, Tasmania, Australia. They are the ones who changed my life twenty-five years ago, in ways I could never imagine. Most of what I am sharing today in this post they have already heard, as it was the majority of my speech when I visited the club in March. It bears repeating here as this month of thankfulness draws to a close. All photos in this post are used with kind permission of Paul Jack and Malcolm Wells, both Kingston Rotarians.

In 1990, when I applied to become an exchange student, I knew being accepted by my sponsor Rotary club and district was just the half the battle. I would need to be accepted by a host district and club as well. My sponsor district hoped to send me to an English speaking country so I could make my needs known without a language barrier. I did not care where I was sent. As long as I was leaving Bainbridge, New York I was happy. They could have sent me to live in Ohio for a year and I would have been glad for the change of scenery.

The Kingston club had already accepted an exchange student, Hanna from Finland. But, then-District Governor John Thorne asked Kingston Rotarian Gerry Verdouw if the Kingston club would consider taking on another student, one with a disability. Gerry approached the club about accepting me, agreeing to serve as a host family if the club felt it was something they could do.

Kingston Rotary did not need to offer me a chance, but they did. They found four additional host families, and took on the financial responsibility of another exchange student. Their commitment afforded me the chance to have the best year of my young life, an experience which completely changed me and the direction my adult life would take.

Photo of a man wearing a blue apron with the Rotary emblem. He is standing with two women who are drinking wine.
Doug is always wearing a Rotary apron at every Rotary party!

I arrived in Hobart, Tasmania in August 1990 nervous and excited, hoping to make a good first impression. I walked into the gate area clutching my bag, scanning the faces to find people I thought looked like Rotarians. A tall, thin man caught my eye, broke out in a wide smile and said, “There’s our gal!” It was Gerry “Dad” Verdouw, who had helped bring me to Tasmania in the first place and who served as my first host father.

I have always felt at home with the Kingston Rotarians, and they have always made me feel like “their gal.” As a representative of their club, I did my best as an exchange student to make them proud and to serve as an example of service above self. I was always aware they had taken a chance on me, and I never wanted to give them a moment to second-guess or regret their decision.

The Kingston Rotarians opened their hearts and homes to me during my exchange year. I was invited to dinners, barbecues, camping trips and parties. I said yes to everything, which meant I received more invitations. At the end of my year, I had done at least one activity with every Rotarian in the club.

Photo of people gathering at a barbecue on a patio outside a wood house.
Kingston Rotarians know how to party, and gathered for a barbecue in my honor when I arrived in Tasmania.

When I received the invitation to return to Australia to speak at the District Conference, I contacted my friends from Kingston Rotary to tell them of the invitation. Without me even asking for assistance, they surprised me by offering to obtain and rent an accessible vehicle for the duration of my stay in Tasmania. This generous offer made it possible for me and my cousin to travel at will around the island, seeing more people and places than I had hoped to see on my return visit.

Home is not just the place you were born. A person can make a home wherever good friends and love can be found. Kingston Rotary has always made their community feel like home for me, and I am grateful for their hospitality and generosity.

Photo of a woman wearing glasses and a man wearing Rotary insignia.To the members of Kingston Rotary – it has been an honor and a privilege to be “your gal” for twenty-five years. I hope I continue to do you proud as a representative of your club’s commitment to international exchange. Your belief in me gave me the encouragement to keep saying yes to life. When you accepted me as your gal, you changed my world. Because you had faith in me, my ability to handle obstacles with confidence grew. I learned important lessons about mate-ship, tolerance, and service to others. I found acceptance and love on the other side of the world, and realized I could be happy and grow as a person wherever I was planted. I know the other students who have had the good fortune to be hosted by your club have benefited from the experience as well. I am a Rotarian with my club here in New York, but Kingston Rotary will always be a home for me. Thank you for giving me the chance to experience another culture. I appreciate your assistance with my most recent trip. My door is always open for any of you, whenever you want to come visit!