Tina Tchen, assistant to President Barack Obama, and chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, thanks the Rotary honorees for their humanitarian work.
Tina Tchen, assistant to President Barack Obama, and chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, thanks the Rotary honorees for their humanitarian work.

Senior Rotary leaders gathered Tuesday at the White House to honor  for their service projects, attended by members of U.S. President Barack Obama’s senior staff.

The Rotary members presented their projects, in the hopes of creating new inroads for government partnerships and support.

“This is recognition of the great work that they do but also serves as a great vehicle to inspire others to do similar kinds of things,” said Rotary General Secretary John Hewko. “One of the things we’re doing a better job of is sharing our story to the non-Rotary world.”

The honorees were selected by Rotary senior leaders and endorsed by the White House from clubs around the U.S. but their projects touch lives across the globe.

, of Anchorage, Alaska, has served numerous times as a Rotary volunteer in Russia, three of them as a preschool teacher for developmentally delayed children in orphanages. During her presentation she lamented hearing about a child sold for a bottle of vodka, and vowed to use her honor as a stepping stone to save more lives.

, a licensed professional counselor from San Antonio, Texas, works on projects in her community and abroad, including the  (Fitness, Literacy, Attendance, and Grades) program, which provides incentives to students to go to school, including bikes, sports equipment, and other items.

 from Baker, Louisiana, coordinates tutoring for at-risk students. With the help of her club, she renovated an uninhabitable school building, and worked with tutors to reach 50 students each day. She’s also passionate about workforce development in Baker, where well-paying craftsman jobs often go unfilled.

“We just don’t have enough craft workers, people who are certified to do the jobs,” she said.

, from San Diego, California, works with , an alternative school designed for homeless children.

“Right now there are over 1.3 million homeless kids on the street in America. That’s more than there are Rotarians around the world,” said Candland. “Twenty thousand of those kids are in San Diego alone.”

“How can a child focus on school if their tummies are growling, their shoes don’t fit, and they don’t even know where they are going to be sleeping the next day?” she asked. “It takes an entire community to work together to solve this problem.”

The other honorees Tuesday were Bernadette Blackstock, Marion Bunch, Carol Butler, Elizabeth Usovicz, Deepa Willingham, and Jane Winning.

Winning, a registered nurse from Chowchilla, California, has provided immunizations and health exams to more than 2,500 people in need across Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador, and Guatemala. She’s also worked with  to provide free cleft lip and palate reconstructive surgery to those who cannot afford it.

“A gentleman was 65 years old and he said, ‘I can kiss my wife for the first time,'” Winning said of the man post-surgery. “Those are incredible experiences you don’t get to share every day.”

, also from Anchorage, highlighted two projects. The first is a statewide suicide prevention plan. According to Butler, Alaska has the highest rate of suicide per capita in the nation. The public awareness plan educates Rotary members and Alaska residents to recognize the warning signs of someone in crisis. She also talked about her club’s partnership with the , a collective of dentists, staff, and other volunteers who provide free dental services throughout the state.

“Dental care is a gateway to good health,” says Butler. “There’s an increasing problem nationwide with people seeking dental care in emergency rooms.”

, of Shawnee Mission, Kansas, has worked on service projects in Missouri as well as abroad. , she helped to reduce the rate of malaria deaths by 65 percent to 70 percent in less than a year by supplying the community with mosquito bed nets.

, of Solvang, California, is the founder and chair of  (PACE), an organization that educates girls and their mothers, and works to prevent child trafficking and early marriage in India.

, of Atlanta, Georgia, is the CEO of . She has received numerous awards on behalf of her work for AIDS, and considers herself a mom who represents the face of AIDS because she started her work after losing her son to the disease in 1994.

“Because of that one single tragedy, my life’s journey changed dramatically from a very engaged business woman to a warrior on AIDS and advocate of human rights,” Bunch said.

As a result of her leadership, in April some 343,660 people received health care, medical checkups, and counseling from 8,150 Rotary volunteers during Rotary Family Health Days across Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa.

Like Bunch, , of Franklinville, New Jersey, has turned her love of service into a career, launching the People for People Foundation, which  families struggling with financial hardships. To date, the foundation has helped some 10,000 families afford food, clothing, rent, utilities, medications, and other life necessities.

“Our combined mission today is not only to provide small grants but to serve as advocates for our families and provide life-skill training and mentoring and case management where needed.”

The event in D.C. was also an opportunity for the honorees to share ideas with each other.

“There are some resources still available to expand and improve projects even amongst the women here,” Jones said.

“Listening to the ladies, I was in awe,” said Vann. “I was thinking what if all 10 of us got together on one project. That would be amazing. We’re talking and it’s exciting to be a part of that conversation.”

By Adam Ross

Rotary News