Dowagiac Rotary Club discusses youth programs, recruitment

DOWAGIAC — The Dowagiac Rotary Club convened at its weekly Zoom meeting Thursday to talk youth recruitment.

Former president of Jackson Rotary Club and current Rotary District 6360 Youth Service Committee Member Kirk Hoffman was on hand as the club’s special guest to discuss both Rotary’s youth services and its youth

Hoffman discussed five different areas of Rotary’s youth programs: Rotary Youth Exchange, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, Rotaract, Interact and the Rotary
Student Program.

Founded in 1929, Rotary Youth Exchange is a Rotary International student exchange program for students in high school where students learn a new language, discover another culture and more.

Rotarian Barbara Groner mentioned that the club has had experience with the program.

“Several of our members have been hosts to Rotary Youth Exchange students,” she said. “Mike and Marry Lou Franks have hosted many of our students and they are wonderful exchange student parents. We have had the advantages of that, and I am hoping we can get back to that soon.”

According to Hoffman, RYLA is an intensive leadership experience organized by Rotary clubs and districts where participants develop skills as a leader while having fun and making connections.

“RYLA is a great source for Interact and Rotaract leaders,” Hoffman said. “The long-term recruiting aspect of these programs is that those are our future Rotarians.”

Interact is an offshoot of the Rotary International service organization that is designed to teach leadership to teenagers through community service. It is an organization that the Dowagiac Rotary Club has had success with over the years but is still trying to grow.

“Interact is a great way to connect our clubs with the youth and their communities,” Hoffman said. “One thing we have noticed across the district and in other districts is, for whatever reason, Interact clubs are comprised of predominantly female students. I’m not sure why that is but it’s been pretty consistent from my observation.”

Hoffman then moved on to discuss Rotaract, a Rotary partner that connects young adults ages 18 to 30 to a global network of friendship, engagement, and action. According to Hoffman, Rotaract clubs no longer have to be sponsored by a Rotary club as Rotary is pushing for more Rotaract clubs in order to attract younger members.

“Generally, their structure is a little looser as far as meetings and they tend to have lower dues,” Hoffman said. “It’s a great way to attract young professionals who maybe can’t participate in Rotary clubs or have difficulty with the due structure. It’s a great opportunity to attract young members.”

The Rotary Student Program was founded in 2008, with its first local implementation starting in St. Joseph-Benton Harbor. The program is focused on juniors and seniors in high school, allowing them to explore career interests by meeting one on one with business professionals in reverse interview settings. Accompanied by Rotarians, students have the chance to ask questions, explore options, and discuss future plans before starting college and a career.

“The goal for this program is that everyone involved will become Rotarians,” Hoffman said. “The mentor that is involved will end up becoming a Rotarian. The students ultimately end up becoming a Rotarians and the students’ parents become Rotarians because all three groups are involved in this program and find it very beneficial. It really helps with engaging folks and attracting newer Rotarians.”

Hoffman said one of the challenges modern Rotary faces when recruiting is the busy work schedules young people tend to have, but he believes the youth programs the clubs offer are the best way to attract young Rotarians.

“People are busy and have a lot of stuff on their plates,” Hoffman said. “If they get involved with a service organization, they want to know what they will be doing and why they should join Rotary. These five programs make a huge impact on the community and on our youth and are great recruiting tools for area clubs.”

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