New Paltz knows Maria Rice as school district superintendant of schools. But come July 1, she’ll have another role in town, as this year’s president of the Rotary Club of New Paltz. Rice has been a member of Rotary International for more than 20 years, with the past eleven of those in the New Paltz chapter. “It’s a service organization that I believe in,” she says. “We have some wonderful international projects, and also a very local component. And I believe that to make a true impact, what matters is service to both the local and global community.”
At midmorning, the group -- numbering some 9,000 members from 80 countries -- made its way through the congested streets of Rome, past the tight security surrounding St. Peter's Square, and settled into the area reserved for Rotary in front of St. Peter's Basilica for the Jubilee audience.
Francis, a 79-year-old Argentine, urged the crowd of more than 100,000, which included members of the police and armed forces from around the world, "to build a culture of peace, security, and solidarity around the world."
His message of peace resonated with Rotary members, including R. Asokan from Tamil Nadu, India. "His message about peace is about accepting. Rotary, which accepts all walks of life, can carry his message to all our clubs, therefore carrying his message to all our communities," says Asokan.
Though Francis is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, his words often reach a wider audience. A poll published earlier this year found him to be one of the most liked and trusted world leaders.
That's what made this event at the Vatican so appealing, says Adriana Lanting, who traveled from California, USA, to attend. "To have such a transcending figure together with a transcending organization like Rotary in the same place is something I just couldn't miss," says Lanting, a member of the Rotary Club of Long Beach.
Madrid Zimmerman, another Long Beach member, isn't Catholic but says Francis has a knack for touching people's hearts regardless of where they're from. "Rotary has the same effect," she adds. "We may have different ways of expressing it, but our [Rotary] action in helping others comes from the same place.
"This event is a reminder that we only have one goal and that's to give service to those who need it. I think that's the message I want to bring back to my club," Zimmerman says.
After the Jubilee audience, Francis met with a small delegation of Rotary members led by RI President K.R. Ravindran. The pope spoke to Ravindran about the importance of vaccinating children against polio and encouraged Rotary to continue its efforts against this disease.
"I have been honored and deeply touched to have had the opportunity to meet Pope Francis earlier today, and to have heard him tell us to continue our fight toward polio eradication," says Ravindran, who is Hindu. "It has given me even more pride in Rotary's past, even more faith in its present, and even more optimism about its future, than ever before."
• The BackPack Program partners with 92 schools throughout 18 counties, serving over 2,500
children each week.
• Over 70,000 backpacks were distributed during the 2014-15 school year; the equivalent of over
420,000 meals distributed directly to children in need.
• 73,000 lbs. of fresh produce was distributed to BackPack students during the 2014-15 school year.
• The BackPack program is funded entirely by local donations, 100% of donations go towards running the BackPack program. The average cost of one backpack full of food is $5.56 and the cost to sponsor a child for a full school year is $167.00. When sending in a donation, be sure to indicate that you’d like the funds to be directed to the “BackPack Program”.