ROTARACTS BLOSSOM

 
Rotarians don’t realise how much potential there is to get Rotaract clubs started. So says Riley Louise Thornton, 23, president of Brisbane Rivercity Rotaract Club. Rivercity chartered in July with 20 members and now has 25.  
 
Rotary District 9600, including Brisbane, had no Rotaract clubs early this year. It now has two – Rivercity and Brisbane CBD (11 members at chartering last March, now 12 with three more expected). Two more Rotaracts, North Lakes and Sunshine Coast, charter in October, with about 20 and 15 members respectively.
 
Part of this success story is Rotary’s youth exchange and youth leadership programs, that introduced youngsters to Rotary and inspired them to get Rotaracts started. A small mystery is why these Rotaracts tend to have 50% or more females while Rotary in Australia has about 75% males.
 
District 9640 (Gold Coast) sponsored Riley Thornton to the Enrichment Program during high school and then to a  year’s Youth Exchange to Denmark  in 2010.  She also became   involved with Rotary Youth Leadership and grew “a passion for Rotary”.  “I met Melanie Packer [photo right] last year while looking for recruits to Rivercity,” she says. “Mel was also starting a Rotaract. We decided to launch two clubs rather than combine.”
 
Mel, 27, is a town planner who was first involved with Redlands Rotaract, south-east of Brisbane. Travelling through Queensland on State government business, she’s used Rotaract as a short cut to  friendships in towns and cities she visited.
 
At Sydney’s Rotary Convention last year, she met RC Brisbane High-Rise past-president Bill Phillips and worked with him to sponsor a Brisbane Rotaract club. The upshot was that the five inner-city Rotary clubs did the sponsoring jointly, partly because of nervousness about whether the project would succeed.  (The five are RC Brisbane, RC Brisbane High-Rise, RC Brisbane Mid-City, RC Fortitude Valley and RC New Farm). An earlier Rotaract club in Brisbane had folded through lack of younger recruits.
 
Mel says, “Our members range from 21 to 29 years.  A batch of us will turn 30 soon and leave Rotaract – maybe to start a young Rotary club or rejuvenate an older club. “We’ve now got a roster of helpers for the Salvation Army drop-in centre at Spring Hill, we’re organising school book shipments and a $500 literacy testing kit to a Fiji school where kids are desperate for reading matter.”
 
Ada Gain, 26, [photo right] has organised the chartering of Sunshine Coast Rotaract in mid-October. She got interested when District 9640 (straddling the NSW/Qld border) sponsored her for youth leadership training (RYLA) this year and she’s now on the Rotary D9640 RYLA committee as well.
 
Back at the Sunshine Coast, where she’s doing a Master’s in social work, she’s starting the club to enhance youth leadership work.  Ada says, “New people show up at every meeting. I recruited two members at an orientation week stall. Another two came from RYLA in Districts 9600 and 9630. But most recruitment’s been through networking.”
 
Chris Poole, 19, [photo above] has passed through Interact, Youth Enrichment (RYPEN) and Leadership (RYLA) courses and became secretary of Rivercity Rotaract this year. To reduce travel, he started North Lakes Rotaract, 40 minutes north of Brisbane, where he studies psychology and works in medical administration. It has about 60% female members. He says, “We’ve recruited through social media and word of mouth. Some Rotaract clubs are narrowly based on the founders’ networks; we’re tapping the networks of all our members. We also ask local Rotarians to tell the young employees and young adults they meet about us. It’s surprising how Rotarians don’t do this spontaneously. “Rotaracts brilliant because we can help diverse charities, not just one. Rotaractors want to change the world and for this we get access to an amazing Rotary support network.”
 
Rivercity’s Riley Thornton says, “So many young people want to get involved in the community but don’t know where to start. Rotary and Rotaract tick all the boxes – service, friendships and personal development. We have it tough finding jobs after uni and networking with managers and specialists is also attractive.”  “Learning from older people at our sponsor club RC Brisbane is great. For a start they know how to organise charity projects, which we can find complicated. We also get inspiring speakers like Wendy Protheroe, D9600 Assistant Governor and a general manager at Boys’ Town, who talked about high-level organisation management.”
 
Rivercity and CBD projects include helping a learning-centre for refugees in Cisarua, Indonesia and despatching hospital beds and equipment for DIK to ship to Vanuatu. Sunshine Coast projects include Red Cross blood donations, a local food bank, and shoeboxes of stationary for a PNG school.