by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon
Last year, one of the friends of Mike Smith from the Clarksville Rotary Club suggested that he attend a Rotary meeting. Mike discovered that Rotary was not just another social club. The club had a congenial atmosphere and interesting people, but more importantly, passionate voices expressed a commitment to community service, including the need to eradicate polio in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Mike ended up joining Rotary six months ago, and he has attended every single weekly meeting since.
Although Mike has been a Rotarian for only six months, he has been an active volunteer for decades. The project he is most proud of is a school in Haiti. For the past 15 years, Mike and St. Louis Church in Clarksville have donated money and provided other support to an elementary school for underprivileged boys and girls in Haiti. The school goes up to 6th grade which is enough for basic literacy, but does not enable graduates to find good jobs that can sustain a family later in life. For this reason, Mike is now working on providing the children with access to a trade or vocational school where they could learn specific skills.
When Mike was asked about what inspired him to serve as a volunteer, he had two answers. His first inspiration was his mother and his father, who was a Rotarian in Richmond, Indiana. They taught Mike that in order to be a good person (and a good Catholic) you must help those around you. His second inspiration was President Kennedy, who was elected when Mike was just a boy and who inspired him saying “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” and creating the Peace Corps.
Mike is not your usual corporate lawyer. Taking the path less followed, he recently spent a year serving as the General Counsel for the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. When he meets up with his old law school friends, he is always surprised that, even though they have found great financial success in life, they look to him with a tiny bit of envy because he has been able to travel all around the world and experience different cultures, while helping people along the way. Mike realizes that those experiences as a volunteer in the community service tradition of Rotary have made his life rich in a way that cannot be measured in dollars. He is trying to add to those riches by getting actively involved in the Polio Plus project. What has he learned? Sometimes, as Mike said, just one little act of kindness can flip a person’s world upside down for the better.
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).