It’s about service. It’s always been about service, and it will always be about service. Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, said that whatever you choose to do in life, do it with passion. I am proud to be a Rotarian and to be part of an organization that does so much good in our community and around the world. Becoming the 98th president of Columbus Rotary is a great honor for me. It is a great moment for me because it is my chance to serve.

All over the world right now, Rotary is changing leadership at the club, district, and international levels. The genius of Rotary is the changing of leadership on an annual basis. Changing leadership insures that rotary remains relevant, invigorated, motivated, and inspired.

With 1.2 million Rotarians and 33,000 clubs throughout the world, Rotary is the oldest and most influential service organization in the world. As President of Columbus Rotary, I view myself as the servant of all of the leaders. I am happy to serve because service is my passion.

As I look around this room, I see some of the finest people I have ever known. People who care about others. People who believe in the importance of service. People who value fellowship, friendship, and relationships. People who believe in the goodness of Rotary.

People with Rotarian hearts.  People who find joy in a life of service. People who, over and over, say “yes” to Rotary. People who understand that by changing the lives of others, they change their own lives. And why do you do it? Because service is your passion.

Your “yes” to Rotary is changing our world. Thank you for all that you are doing for our community and our world.

Maureen and I recently returned from the RI convention in Los Angeles. Approximately 20,000 Rotarians from all over the world attended the convention. The plenary sessions were amazing and inspirational.

Bill and Melinda Gates gave Rotary International one hundred million dollars in the form of a challenge grant to support Rotary’s End Polio Now program. What does that say about the reputation of Rotary on the world stage as a global humanitarian organization?
RI has until December 2010 to match the 100 million dollar Gates Grant. RI has spent 70 million dollars of the grant since it was awarded in November 2007. Rotary International has promised the world’s children to End Polio Now. Rotary keeps its promises. Rotary will not quit until polio is eradicated in every country of the world. RI will continue its efforts in the areas of health, hunger, water, literacy, and the eradication of A.I.D.S.

Rotary is heavily involved in international disaster relief, as evidenced by its new “Shelter Box” program. RI’s new incoming president, D.K. Lee, addressed the convention at the closing ceremony and explained his theme for the upcoming Rotary year. D.K. Lee told us that 30,000 children under the age of 5 die every day in the world from preventable causes, such as pneumonia, measles, diarrhea, and malaria. He explained that so much can be done to keep these children alive with so little, such as mosquito nets, rehydration salts, vitamins, vaccines, clean water, a trained birth attendant, a visiting nurse, and nutrition programs.

D.K. Lee is asking that Rotary clubs around the world assist and provide service projects to reduce child mortality in our world. In 2008 & 2009, he has asked us all to Make Dreams Real for the worlds children by giving them hope and a chance at a future so that one day their dreams might come true.

Here in Columbus, the state of Columbus Rotary is strong. We are the 14th largest Rotary club in the world. Today we have 430 outstanding members, 4 active avenues of service, 47 committees including individual projects / sub committees, outstanding weekly programs, a very strong and financially secure foundation, successful Interact, Rotaract, and Young Professionals Clubs, and a growing and vibrant scholarship program.

We also have outstanding annual events, such as the Service Above Self Awards, the High School Service Above Self Fair, the Rotarian of the Year Award, an excellent staff, a strong and growing promotion committee, and numerous great service and vocational projects, locally and internationally. We are blessed with a strong club board, a strong foundation board, a strategic plan, a great website, a weekly bulletin, and great people devoted to our mission.

We have a deep seated and a strong set of core values. Our core values are to encourage and foster the ideal of service, fellowship, high ethical standards in business and professions; the advancement of international understanding, good will, and peace through fellowship. Our mottos are, Service Above Self, They Profit Most Who Serve Best, and the Four-Way Test that guides our personal and professional lives.

Based on our strengths and our core values, we move into the future with great confidence in our ability to fulfill the object of Rotary and our mission of service. And why do we meet, Monday after Monday, performing service and looking for new ways to make positive and enduring change in the lives of others?
Why is it that members of this Rotary club have remained members, in some cases for thirty, forty, and fifty years? It is because “Service is Our Passion.”

We have our challenges and they fall into the areas of membership, less than full engagement, and limited fellowship opportunities due to our size. I believe that we can take our challenges and turn them into our greatest strengths. We need to trust each other, keep open minds, and think big.

Our club has been around for almost 97 years. I believe we have lasted this long because we have made changes along the way. In order for Rotary to continue to be effective, it must change along with the times. We must work on our membership and do everything we can to create a fully engaged club. We need more hands, hearts, and minds to do service. We need to create an environment where going the extra mile is a way of life.

Because we have so many new members on an annual basis, we must find ways to welcome them warmly into the family of Rotary. We must develop a sense of generational sensitivity. We must open new avenues of fellowship in order to develop the kind of relationships necessary to support high levels of service and full engagement. We must raise up new Rotary leaders with regular leadership development and training. We must bring more qualified women into Rotary.

We must become more sensitive to diversity and develop membership that fairly represents our more diverse community. We must bring qualified younger new members into our club. And when we do we must bring those new members into the wide circle of the Rotary family. We must let the community know who we are and the service we provide. As leaders we must lead. We must never fear change. We must embrace it. Leadership does not mean reacting to change. Leadership means making change.

The new century of Rotary requires new visions of service and fellowship. This is our challenge. And this is our time

I have set five goals for my year. Goal #1 is to increase our membership. I have strengthened our membership development committee to a team of 7 Rotarians including Tedd Dameron, Rob Pierce, Mike Voinovich, Mike Schoedinger, Bill Lane, Jackie Cooper, and Millie Droste.

We have established a new committee, called Membership Three, encompassing New Member, Membership Development, and Participation and Retention that will work together on those three important aspects of membership. We will hold a series of round table luncheons to train our members to recruit with methods and materials. We will recognize and honor Rotarians who bring in new members.

Goal #2 is to increase participation, retention, and engagement. I have expanded our Participation, Retention, & Engagement Committee to include Jerry Converse, Judy Czarniecki, Lisa Westwater, George Arnold, and Kathleen Lach. I have strengthened the committee leadership throughout the club by adding second vice chairs to all 36 committees. Each committee now has a chair, vice chair, and a second vice chair who will work together as a team of three. In doing so, I have widened the circle of leadership to bring more minds, hands, and hearts into our various service-related committees.

Goal #3 is to increase opportunities for fellowship. Fellowship is the fertile ground from which service grows. Beginning next week, your officers, John Deal, Sandy Knoesel, and I will serve as greeters at the doors prior to the meetings.

I have created a Fellowship Committee composed of Hugo Trux, Joanne Schorsten, and John Ziegler to help us create fellowship opportunities. I have decided to incorporate a very short period of fellowship into all of our weekly meetings. For this reason, we will be starting our meetings at 12:05, rather than ten minutes after twelve, beginning next week.

Goal #4 is to increase service projects in all four avenues. At our leadership retreat, I asked the committee leadership to increase their efforts to locate and select appropriate service projects. I reminded them about the power of an idea and the fact that many great projects were born from an idea by one Rotarian. With the help of our partner, First Link, we now have a service project database to guide us where the needs are the greatest. Our committee chairs will help us decide where we can do the most good with our resources. I have also asked committees to work together, interdependently, on group projects.

My fifth and final goal is to create a Leadership Development Training Program in 2008 & 2009 for all members. I have established a new Leadership Development Committee, comprised of Christie Vargo, Charlie Boltwood, and Donna Glanzmann. We will have quarterly leadership development roundtables covering topics such as communication skills, leadership styles, leading and motivating volunteers, mentoring, time management, goal setting and accountability, strategic planning, ethics and the four-way test, building consensus, and teamwork. Our Leadership Development Program will enhance Rotarians personal growth and further develop their leadership skills, allowing them to better serve and benefit their communities, their families, their business endeavors, and our club.

I ask you to do three things this year: bring a guest to Rotary; attend as many weekly meetings as you can; and participate in fellowship activities and committee work in one of the four avenues of service. I also ask that committees select service projects aimed at reducing child mortality.

As President, I am given the gift of three Paul Harris fellow awards. I in turn now give these gifts to three very important people in my life, my wife Maureen, and my mother and father, Catherine and Duane Erney.

We are ordinary people who come together in teams to do extraordinary things. We will continue to assist homeless families in Columbus, because service is our passion. We will continue to support the Rafiki Village orphanage in Kenya, because service is our passion. We will continue to support Enterprise Academy because service is our passion. We will continue to support and foster membership, engagement and fellowship, because service is our passion.

Columbus Rotary will be 100 years old in 2012. The Centennial Committee, chaired by past president Dick Argo, is already at work. We will have a huge celebration in 2012 and a centennial service project that will be a lasting reminder to the community of the generosity of Columbus Rotary and our love for this city.

With faith in God and faith in each other, we move into tomorrow with confidence and optimism. We have done a lot. But we can do more. In fact, we can do more than we might believe possible. The best days of Columbus Rotary are still ahead.

In the coming year, we will do everything we can to help each other. But we will save our best for others. We will continue to make positive and enduring change in the lives of others. And it will come naturally to us, because Service Is Our Passion.