Starting with Charter President H. W. “Mac” McDonald of MacDonald’s Cleaner, Charter Member Omar Stang of Stang Appliance, and the President of 1st National Bank of South Miami, the members of this club consisted of prominent community leaders in finance, retail, government, education, medicine, and development who came together to help make this place a vibrant and prosperous community.
The Rotary Club impact was felt throughout the community. South Miami was “home.”
As the club’s current president, my stint with the organization has not been long. After my initial membership in the 1990s, I stepped away from the club for 10 years due to a job relocation and being out of the country to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer. Upon my return, I recently rejoined the club.
Understandably, the Rotary Club of South Miami has changed, with a new set of dynamics emerging during the time I was away. While the infusion of many younger members brought a lot of energy, somehow I felt the club had drifted from the strong community bond we once had – and in a way, lost its roots.
Certainly not all was lost: these new dynamics and energies have made the Art Festival, a 33-year tradition, stronger every year – to the point today where it is consider one of the most anticipated events in South Florida. The Art Festival kept us somewhat strongly connected to the community.
So last year, when I was unexpectedly drafted to fill in for the President, one of my goals was to re-connect with the community and to nurture back some of those “lost roots.” Growing roots is a long and slow process requiring great patience and care. But upon committing to start the process, this year, I am pleased to report we took some baby steps with the hopes of those efforts becoming long and strong strides as we grow together.
Following are recent initiatives in re-connecting with the community:
• We have re-established the “South Miami Police Officer of the Quarter” (OOQ) program, an effort to extend our appreciation to the South Miami’s finest for their professionalism and for keeping our community safe. Historically, we have had a strong connection with the Police Department through its Chief and Assistant Chief being part of our club. We wish to re-establish that bond. So far we have awarded OOQ plaques to Officer Serguey Hernandez (October 2016) and to Officer Rezaie (January 2017), both of whom have contributed to the safety and well-being of the community by extending themselves beyond the call of duty.
• We have partnered with the South Miami Department of Parks & Recreation to help area youth with two city’s initiatives: the Football and Cheerleading Tutoring program and Swimming Lessons, as follows…
• The project objective for the Tutoring Program is to create opportunities for youths from low income families in the City to develop a positive image of themselves and acquire self-esteem and confidence through participation in sports and excellence in academics.
• The project objective for the Swimming Program is to give a gift of life to some of the inner-city children by teaching them survival swimming, which they probably would not be able to afford or access otherwise.
• We also have established a $5,000 per year scholarship for a South Miami student attending a New World School of Arts undergraduate program. In the event a South Miami student does not qualify, it will be awarded to a student from the Miami-Dade County.
These may seem like seemingly small initiatives but I hope they blossom into more meaningful and strong relationships with time.