by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon
France Pruitt from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rotary Club has been an active member of Rotary for many years. She joined Rotary in 1989 in Bethesda– one of the first women to do so, and is as past President of her club. Every year, she contributes hundreds of hours to various service activities, including her club’s fundraisers – the annual Turkey Chase on Thanksgiving morning (a 10K race) and Strut Your Mutt in the Spring. For the past 25 years, she has been involved with her club’s Children’s Shopping Spree that provides warm clothes, shoes and other essentials for impoverished children in the Bethesda area, a co-sponsored event with Sears.
France is a true world citizen. Born in Belgium, she spent several years of her childhood in the south of France with her family hiding from the Germans during the Second World War. She wrote a book on her experiences entitled Faith and Courage in a Time of Trouble, where she explains how French families in remote areas of the mountains called Cévennes risked their lives to provide shelter to her family. She later came to the United States, but she returned to France as an adult to complete a Ph.D. at the Sorbonne in Paris on the adaptation of African Students studying in the US.
International education has been her passion, and this is what she talked to us about when we asked her about her service work. As President of International Education Associates, a consulting firm placing international students in US universities, and US students abroad, she has helped many youths find their ways in the developing world. She has also recruited US faculty members for overseas institutions.
She told us that she sees her role as that of interviewing, training, and sending idealists around the world for them to change it. She has spent time with young college graduates to prepare them on how to immerse themselves in a new culture, how to respect its longstanding traditions, how not to feel homesick, and perhaps most importantly, how to make a difference for others. She has interviewed hundreds of students applying for scholarships or jobs and for going to studying overseas. In 2011, her tireless efforts on behalf of so many students and faculty members over a period of over 50 years were recognized through an award from NAFSA (the Association for International Educators) for her professional organization and her outstanding contributions to international education.
Her advice to Rotarians is to “find your place in Rotary whether backstage or front and center, and use your specific skills set”. This is advice she certainly has practiced herself.
Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).