Rotary is a world-wide organization of 1.2 million people who meet weekly in 34,000 clubs around the world. The Rotary four-way test guides members in their work and personal lives:
- Is it the truth?
- Is it fair to all concerned?
- Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
- Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
A key component of Rotary is volunteer service to the community, and that opportunity changed my outlook on life.
My first service opportunity was helping a young man learn to read through a local literacy group. I went in motivated by the opportunity to make a difference.
The initial training was fun. I re-learned phonics, why “i” before “e” and any other reading skills I had learned decades ago, but probably forgotten. The training taught me a few new things as well, including the fact that nearly 160,000 people in the greater Milwaukee area are functionally illiterate.
Jessie was the name of the young man I first tutored. I told Jessie I was surprised a 23-year old man who had graduated from high school and held a regular job could not read. How did he read street signs? How did he fill out the job application? How did he read the paper? How did he get along? Jessie’s reply: “You learn different ways to get along.”
As Jessie read his assignment for the day, he stumbled across a multi-syllable word. He did a great job of using his phonics to pronounce the word. He looked and smiled, seeking acknowledgement that he had done right. I smiled, and he continued with the reading, but he still had that look in his eye that something was missing.
I asked Jessie if he knew what the word meant. His proud reply: “No, but I was pretty happy just to sound it out.” We used a dictionary to look up the word’s meaning. He smiled in a knowing way. He had that same look my children frequently had as I read to them before bed time.
As our session ended, I asked Jessie what motivated him to learn how to read. After all, he had a high school diploma and held down a regular job for nearly five years.
Jessie’s reply: “My two-year old daughter asked me to read her a book at bed time. That’s why I’m here.”
For as much as we are different; for as much as we come from different backgrounds, with different means and opportunities, we are all the same.
- Jeffrey Remsik, President and CEO