My 10 years in Rotaract and Rotary

10 years ago, I was President of Maidenhead Rotaract, a club which celebrates its 35th birthday this year. Little did I know the impact it would have on my life, both personal and professional, as well as the amazing world and variety of experiences it would introduce me to.

What is Rotaract?

Rotaract is a programme set up by Rotary International. In most countries, including the UK, it is for people aged 18 to 30. It provides young adults with the opportunity to get involved in their local communities, to fundraise for charity, to do practical volunteering, to meet other like-minded people, to take on personal challenges, to develop skills that can be used personally and professionally, and to enjoy doing all of that!

Charity fundraising

I was a member of Rotaract for just under 5 years. In that time I was involved in raising money for Daisy’s Dream, St John Ambulance Maidenhead holiday for the disabled, Action Aid, Send a Cow, Epilepsy Action, Thames Valley Air Ambulance, Family Friends and WAMDSAD (now SportsAble) and many other local, national and international charities.

Practical volunteering

Helping at Thames Valley Adventure PlaygroundI was one of many members who helped at Maidenhead Boundary Walk, marshalled at Maidenhead Carnival (as it was in those days), helped Thames Valley Adventure Playground with their annual refurbishments, made mulled wine for a bonfire event at the Sue Ryder Home in Nettlebed, painted and did DIY at Longridge Activity Centre, assisted the National Trust conservation volunteers at Cliveden, helped at Wallingford International Pooh Sticks event, organised an annual Christmas party for elderly local residents of Maidenhead, and planted daffodils for Maidenhead Waterways Restoration Project as well as helping them with their regular York Stream clearing work.

Meeting other Rotaractors in the UK and internationally

I went to a number of Rotaract in Great Britain and Ireland conferences, including a fabulous weekend in the Lake District, which is a beautiful part of Britain. And I attended a European Rotaract Conference in London in 2008, where we got to meet Rotaractors from all over Europe. On a holiday to Western Australia in 2004 I popped in to visit the Rotaract Club of South Perth’s Christmas BBQ (yes, those two words go together in Australia!), and have kept in touch with one of the members since then – she has also now become a Rotarian, and on a recent visit to the UK she came along to the music quiz that my Rotary Club had organised.

Being President

It was a tremendous challenge to take on the role of President of Maidenhead Rotaract. When I started, the club had 3 members, and we weren’t sure how long it would last. But I was relieved to be able to increase this number and by the time I handed over the Presidency we had 18 members. The club fluctuated in numbers for a few years after that but remained in existence, and these days it has a very healthy membership of over 30 people. They continue to do fantastic work in Maidenhead and beyond.

After Rotaract – what next?

After leaving Rotaract, I was still involved in Rotary locally, as my boyfriend (now husband) joined the Rotary Club of Windsor St George. I was part of their Mountain Challenge team in 2010, raising over £8000 for Sightsavers International by walking up and down three of Britain’s highest mountains in 24(ish) hours. I also helped at or attended Windsor Horse Show, Windsor Midsummer Fayre, Reindeer Parade, Eton opera gala fundraising event, Christmas Music, Thames HospiceCare sponsored walks, and numerous fundraising quizzes for a variety of causes. I’ve also been part of their annual link with the Rotary Club of Goslar-Nordharz on a few occasions, visiting the delightful town of Goslar (twinned with Windsor) and hosting a Rotarian couple in our home in 2013.

Rotary District Conferences

Benjamin Mee signing books at Rotary Conference 2014I’ve been to the Rotary District 1090 Conference every year since 2006, and in 2013 was one of the members of the conference committee, which also required significant involvement on the weekend itself. In 2014 I was asked to ‘host’ Benjamin Mee, author of We Bought a Zoo, during his visit to the conference to talk. I just had to make sure he arrived, knew where to park, was introduced to the stage manager, and had refreshments and space to do his book signing afterwards. I was part of the group that took a trip to Dartmoor Zoo later that same day and we were privileged to have a mini tour from Benjamin with a few extra anecdotes.

And I’ve been to two Rotary International Conventions – one in Birmingham in 2009 (not very exotic but a great weekend) and one in Montreal, Canada in 2010 (a wonderful experience meeting Rotarians from all over the world).

Becoming a Rotarian

I became a founder member of the new Rotary Club of Maidenhead Bridge, chartered in 2012, being the first newsletter editor and a co-founder of the Maidenhead Tweetup event. In the 3 years that the club has been active I’ve been involved in organising the Easter Fun Day in Grenfell Park, a Health Awareness Day, a cow-themed quiz for Send a Cow, and helped at many many events including supporting FoodShare, and being part of the Pimp My Charity team where we offer our professional skills to local charities to help them with specific challenges they are facing.

I have also taken part in two active challenges in my time in the club. In 2013 we took part in “80 Ways Around The Thames Valley”, fundraising for the charity Wheelpower, which provides sports wheelchairs to disabled athletes. Our part of the challenge involved travelling from Maidenhead Bridge to just outside St George’s Chapel in Windsor, using as many different forms of transport as possible. We raised over £3000, which was enough to provide one sports wheelchair, making a real difference to the life of the recipient.

In September 2014 a team from the club completed the 50km Thames Path Challenge, in aid of the charity Send a Cow. We raised over £4000, which exceeded our target of buying a “Full Farmyard” of animals. You can read about the challenge here.

Most memorable experiences?

Windsor St George dragonThere have been some ridiculous and amusing moments in the last 10 years, of which most involve fancy dress. Dressing up as a Mars Bar at the RGBI conference in 2006, as the theme was ‘A Taste of Home’ (Mars Bars are made in Slough and I used to work near the Mars factory). In 2008 Maidenhead Rotaract were the proud winners of the ‘Most Unusual Place to Eat Breakfast’ award, for eating breakfast on a raft that we had made and launched into the River Thames. And In August 2013 I appeared in a photograph in the Maidenhead Advertiser and Royal Borough Observer with the Mayor, Cllr Andrew Jenner, in which he was wearing a cork hat and I was wearing a Highland Cow hat!

I can’t even begin to estimate the number of hours of volunteering I have done in those 10 years or the amount of money that I have been involved in raising for a whole variety of charities. All I can say is that it’s been amazing fun, and I’ve met a fantastic group of people from all walks of life that I would never have crossed paths with otherwise, been involved in some incredible events, learned about some amazing charities and organisations – and yes, and met my husband!

What’s next for me?

Well I’m recuperating from an operation at the moment so not able to offer practical help at the many events coming up. But I recently attended the district conference in Telford, and will be popping up to help with club events where I can. Maidenhead Rotaract celebrate their 35th anniversary this year, so I will be attending their celebration evening.

How can you get involved?

If Rotaract or Rotary sounds like something you’d like to get involved in, visit one of these websites to find out more:

Rotary in the Thames Valley
Rotaract in the Thames Valley
Rotary in Maidenhead (Rotaract and 3 Rotary clubs)
Rotary Club of Windsor St George

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