Spreading the Word about Rotary Grants

'Service before self' is the motto behind the Rotary Club, and the Athlone man who was elected District Governor of Rotary Ireland, certainly personifies that lofty ambition. Find out more about what Rotary does...

Elected in July of this year, Tom Murphy said a large part of his role as District Governor was to motivate all of Ireland's clubs in the midst of the recession while improving and promoting the work they do. Indeed Rotary's theme for this year is "The future of Rotary is in your hands".

"We have to remember that 99.9% of the people we help didn't benefit from the Celtic Tiger. We've got to keep our funding growing." The "Service before Self" motto is something Tom thinks is vital now for both Rotary members and the community in general, as we try to find our way out of the recession.

"We should serve the community. There is so much work to be done and even more now because it's harder to get money. But there's no point in playing the blame game about the politicians, or developers or bankers... When I was young, people looked after their neighbours and we should remember that now."

"Rotary is my hobby, it takes up all my spare time, but I love it. You can see what you're doing. I hate the expression 'do-gooders', but that's what it is to a certain extent... We have projects to help disadvantaged kids, some people might argue that's patronising, but I disagree. I'd like to think it gives them hope."

Tom was elected District Governor at a large annual gathering "like a boot-camp" in Santiago, of all the DGs in the world. They hold meetings and discussions over five days, talking about the various charities, fund-raising events and other local initiatives. They swop ideas and inspiration. He met Bill Gates who has donated 3.5 million dollars to Rotary for its polio eradication scheme.

"I asked him why he donated the money and he said that he trusts Rotary to spend his money on the cause. What you donate to us, there is no admin cost involved. We raise that ourselves. All are money is invested, everything is done on a three year basis. We're not profit-making so we can guarantee that every single penny is spent on the good cause."

Rotary has five avenues of service; internship, community and communications, youth opportunities, foundation (charity) and membership.

"A few years ago in Athlone we raised €100,000 for an eye clinic in Belarus. One of the members suggested it so that's what we did. And we get half from the Foundation, we always provide a matching grant for what we raise. We're now helping in the eradication of polio. Why? Because it's only a flight away - look at swine flu. Children are still being immunised, but it's near eradication," he said.

To raise money Rotary members "beg, steal or borrow" and carry out simple fundraising ideas.

"Thanks for Life is our big project this year. We're asking school children to give €1 each and that will save two lives. We're hoping to raise €2 million."

Another local project was the foundation of the Athlone Community Taskforce which focuses on creating local employment. They also have raised money for the South Westmeath Hospice and the local Women's Refuge Centre. Last year, they organised a breakfast morning in the Radisson in aid of Console and raised €18,000.

A breakfast event is a great way to beat the recession said Tom. "There's no wine, no expensive dress, no special hairdos needed. You just buy the ticket and turn up."

Apart from charity work, Rotary is a big supporter of education.

"We offer scholarships to further people's careers. We give funding for Masters' courses. People apply from different backgrounds and these people can end up working in the UN or for governments. We have 12 scholars now studying in Irish universities at the moment." They are also involved in education projects with local schools and Athlone IT.

"We're starting a mentoring programme with students there. We're very happy to get involved. Members will share their experience with students on careers and job interviews," he said.

There's also a Youth Programme which allows for teens to stay with Rotary families around the world on an exchange basis and a Youth Leadership programme, where a group of Irish teenagers travel to Strasbourg to visit the EU parliament, where they interrogate politicians and debate issues such as the environment, in open parliament against other countries.

All of these programmes and competitions are about breaking down barriers and "getting people together". And that's the core message you get while talking to Tom; Rotary is about inclusion, betterment and community involvement, on both a local and global scale.

It's just a matter said Tom, for each of the local clubs to "get off their butts and publicise what we offer".

Find out more about the Rotary Foundation and locate your local Rotary club here.

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