Despite my best efforts to keep our readers informed about all of the wonderful things New Tampa’s two Rotary Clubs do to help people both here and internationally, there’s no doubt that both clubs do many amazing things to live by Rotary International’s motto of “Service Above Self.”
Rotary International (RI) is the world’s largest service organization, with more than 1.2 million members in thousands of clubs worldwide. RI is the organization that has now all but eradicated polio, once a dreaded scourge afflicting millions without discriminating for race, color, creed or national origin. Today, there literally are only two countries in the world — Pakistan and Afghanistan — that still have new cases of polio being reported, with only eight such new cases in those two war-torn nations because they won’t allow Rotary and the World Health Organization vaccinate everyone in certain areas where those new cases still pop up.
But, RI and the thousands of Rotary Clubs across the globe are about so much more than just eliminating polio. Rotary Clubs — including the 20+-year-old Rotary Club of New Tampa (which still meets Fridays at 7 a.m., at Tampa Palms Golf & Country Club) and the 15-year-old New Tampa Noon Rotary (which meets Wednesdays at noon at Pebble Creek Golf Club) — provide service to their local communities, the Tampa Bay region and the world.
One way clubs get involved globally is by exchanging outstanding students in their communities with students from foreign countries to live for a year (there are shorter programs, too), where they get to travel, spread the word about Rotary and immerse themselves in other cultures.
The New Tampa Noon club, of which I am a member, has never really been big enough to sponsor a Rotary Youth Exchange (RYE) Scholarship student before; but even though our club still has fewer than 20 active members, we recently jumped on the RYE bandwagon in a big way.
Wharton High graduating senior M’Kya Gonzalez-Richardson is the president of the school’s French club and French Honor Society, and is already fluent in “la langue” (the French language), so the fact she was interested in traveling to France was no big surprise.
What was surprising to learn was that M’Kya and her mom, Thelsuice Gonzalez (who was disabled from an accident at work when M’Kya was only 9) were actually homeless a few years ago. Although they live in a home in the Wharton attendance district today, their situation isn’t typical of most RYE exchange students — and that’s another reason this very well spoken, excellent student was selected by the New Tampa Noon club to receive the prestigious RYE Scholarship.
“It costs $5,500 for room, board, tuition and a small monthly stipend to spend one academic year overseas,” says Helen Chan (with me and M’Kya in the photo), the RYE coordinator for Rotary District 6890, which includes both New Tampa Rotary Cubs and 43 others in Hillsborough, Highlands, Hardee and Polk counties. “So, most RYE students are somewhat affluent themselves, so they can pay those costs. But, the goal is to select high-level students, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds, to be RYE Scholarship recipients and M’Kya is exactly the type of student — and ambassador for our District — who deserves this type of honor.”
Despite their time living on the street (and moving from one relative’s home to another), and her mom’s disability (“I had to grow up faster than most kids because I had to be the one doing the shopping and cleaning for us at a young age,” she says),M’Kya has always thrived at school, whether in Thel’s tough hometown of Gary, IN, or from her time attending Benito Middle School and Wharton here.
And, she’s not afraid of having to do some fund-raising of her own to help pay for her year in the northern French city of Normandy.
M’Kya and Thel have created and sold hand-made holiday cards and blank thank-you note cards, and sold some homemade cakes to raise money. And, while she will be representing all of District 6890 during her visit, she also is now receiving the proceeds of the New Tampa Noon Club’s weekly “Brag Bucks.” In addition, she plans to compete in next month’s Rotary District 6890 club speech contest. If she wins at the “club” ($100 for first place) and “group” levels ($250), she will advance to the District Finals in March, where the prize is $1,000.
“That would really help me out a lot,” says M’Kya, who will likely do at least some portion of her speech en Français. “But, I’m prepared to do even more to raise all of the money before I leave for France.”
A “Tasty” Connection?
I’m also proud to announce that the New Tampa “Breakfast” Rotary Club, which is again the organization putting on the Taste of New Tampa & Wesley Chapel — on Sunday, March 25, noon-4 p.m., at Florida Hospital Center Ice (in conjunction with the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce) — has agreed to give $1,000 of this year’s Taste proceeds as a thank-you to my Noon Rotary Club, for the efforts of not only yours truly as the restaurant coordinator for the event again, but also for our club’s assistance with day-of registrations for the 2018 Taste.
I was able to secure nearly 50 restaurants and beverage providers for last year’s Taste and hope to surpass that number this year. I also hope my club will donate at least a portion of those proceeds for M’Kya’s trip.
For more information about the 2018 Taste, including how to pre-buy tickets at a discount before February 1, visit TasteofNewTampa.org!