Winters are pretty cold here in the Great Northeast and making a conscious decision to jump into a freezing cold lake on January 1st takes more than courage. It takes a reason so strong and so compelling that people who normally act quite sane are happy to take part in this annual event.
So on any given New Year’s Day you will find many Rotarians from District 7190 getting ready to jump into Lake George in upstate New York. It’s a hardy band of high-spirited people called Polio Bears who annually take the plunge to raise money for polio eradication.
Initiated by the Wilton Rotary Club many years ago, Rotarians from the District’s 42 clubs joined the fun in 2007. Usually led by the current District Governor the group gets together early in the day for a hearty breakfast and then begins the routine of prepping for the plunge. Much laughter erupts when someone shows up wearing a funny hat or other crazy gear.
The bright red End Polio Now tee shirts are easy to spot from shore when the bell rings and everyone rushes into the lake. You can hear how cold the water feels by the screams and shouts. The water is usually about 43 degrees but it’s the wind chill that really determines how frosty you get. Then it’s back to the shore for foot warmers, fleece wraps, hot cocoa, coffee or drink of choice, cheers and lots and lots of pictures.
District Governors who opt to stay on dry land find countless ways to raise money to stay out of the water. And Rotarians who want the Governor to ‘go jump in the lake’ find countless ways to convince them to take the plunge. This year, Rotarians raised over $10,000 to see the Governor get wet.
A great new event was added this year to give other Rotarians and their families a way to contribute to polio eradication and have a great time on New Year’s Day without getting wet. Planned and put together by the End Polio Now committee, eleven bowling alleys around the nine county district held the Pinning Down Polio Tournament with spectacular results. More than 250 people took part in this fun day with almost $25,000 in total raised with donations still rolling in.
With the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation matching every dollar raised for polio eradication with $2 this annual event raised over $75,000!!
Thanks to Dennis Austin and Ed Brown for the great photos
What do you do when you find out there are children and families in your hometown without Thanksgiving Dinner? Well, if you are TJ Tracy you say, “Mom we have to do something about this.” And then go out and do it. Again and again and yet again for the past four years.
Now 13, TJ has raised enough money during these past years to provide hundreds of Thanksgiving Dinners to the Franklin Community Center in Saratoga Springs, New York. This year he is closing in on $10,000 which will also be used to give holiday gifts for children in the community.
After hearing his story, local residents stepped forward to support his mission. Several local restaurants held Eat and Feed dinners with a percentage of the proceeds going to feed hungry children and families. TJ has had many interviews with local media and the Saratoga Springs Rotary Club named him one of their 2013 outstanding citizens, the first time a young person has received this honor.
TJ has turned this grassroots fundraising effort into a mission to do something about the hungry children in our communities. TJ knows this is about more than turkeys. He knows this is one of the most important issues facing millions of children and their families in this country today. And he has a plan. A pretty big plan too.
TJ’s assessment – if each of the 6o million children in the Untied States could raise $10 there’d be over $600 million to put towards feeding hungry children and families. A really simple and kid -friendly plan that might just work and certainly capture the imagination of young people everywhere.
Those of you who read my stories about people having the courage to step forward and make a difference know I particularly have high regard for children with the passion and courage to take on huge challenges. Alex’s Lemonade Stand
, Free the Children
, and most recently , Nik Toocheck
who is running marathons on every continent to raise money to buy brand new, warm winter coats for children in need.
Now I’m adding TJ to this list of movers and shakers – I’m going to follow where his passion leads him and let you know what’s next. For more information please check out his Facebook page ww.facebook.com/TJsTurkeys
PS – what’s next? Tonight TJ and his volunteers are shopping for Christmas dinner and school break breakfasts and lunches for 35 families.
Each year I get the biggest thrill when hand knit or crocheted hats for children start rolling in. I love looking at the colors, the designs, the newest patterns. And then every winter I get another thrill as we pack them up to head to their new owners. I love to look at each hat and picture the person who made it; the time it took, the love that went in to each stitch.
Hats For A Purpose, now in its fourth year, received hats from as far away as Arizona and Pennsylvania as well as our local Capital District area. And it was a banner year – we are distributing over 150 hats in the next couple of weeks – think of the big smiles on the children’s faces when they get a brand new, beautifully made and warm hat.
Thanks to all of you who take part in this project. Although you may never see the joy you bring to these children firsthand, your care and compassion knows no bounds.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families.
I love it when someone hands me a bag of brightly colored hand-made hats for children. That happened just the other day – over 30 hats, some with matching scarves were donated by Annette to our Hats For A Purpose project. My thanks and gratitude goes out to Annette for her skill and her warm heart.
According to the reports I’ve read, this winter stands to be bitter cold. Children need to have warm outer clothing to go to school and play outside. Hats For A Purpose, now in our 4th year, delivers lovingly handmade hats to local schools as well as around the region. This year we hope to offer hats to children in other areas so if you know of anyone who needs hats we will make every attempt to send them. Thanks to all of you who continue to support this project. I wish it were possible to share the children’s smiles with you all.
A quote from the Trees for Life website touched my heart. It reads “We plant hope and watch joy grow. We plant inspiration and watch miracles happen.” Over the years I’ve watched Trees for Life keep to the mission at hand: empowering people to help themselves – not through hand-outs, not through money, but through education, training and, above all looking for the, sometimes, hidden potential of a situation.
I believe the organization’s essence is found through the philosophy of the founder, Balbir Muthur who says “Trees for Life is not about planting trees but about the regeneration of the spirit of people.”
The concept seems simple enough: work to empower those within a community who wish to make it better; a very strong, written set of values; education commitment where you agree that you will help two others; taking a very long-range approach (say 1000 years); adhering to a set of ethics and let’s not forget the Trees.
In my mind, I’ve always called these the Giving Trees – trees you donate to be planted somewhere in the world where a community has created its own project with the help and guidance of Trees for Life.
Trees for Life, founded back in 1984, isn’t about how many trees have been planted throughout the world, but what’s happened because of the trees. Schools and libraries, hospitals and clinics have been built, the land reforested, the people inspired to help others – the stories are endless.
Trees has several other initiatives including Books for Life (I love this), Moringa Trees, Cook stoves and educational opportunities for teachers. I plan to write other articles about these projects as well.
Please take a look at their website – it’s well-organized and beautifully written. Their volunteers and staff are so helpful and pleasant – thanks Balbir and Treva.
There are so many kids today who want to help others and many find ways to do that. Alex’s Lemonade Stand comes to mind as does Craig Kielburger’s Free the Children and the thousands of children from 40 countries who came together to save the El Bosque Eternode los Ninos Rainforest. Every day I hear about children requesting cans of food for the local food bank instead of a birthday present; collecting bottles and cans to buy food for animal shelters; saving their pennies to buy polio vaccine for children in other countries – the stories are endless and heartwarming. We ARE raising good children; they care about others and aren’t afraid to step forward and help.
And now I’d like to tell you about 9 year old Nikolas Toocheck who set his own goal to run a marathon on each of the seven continents taking one million steps to rsaise money for underpriviledged children through one of my favorite organizations, Operation Warm.
Nik wants to raise $1 a step to buy new warm winter coats for children at risk to make sure they can go to school in the cold weather. Nik’s been volunteering with Operation Warm since he was five, ran his first marathon in Delaware in 2012 and completed the Antarctic White Continent Marathon in February 2013. Now 10, he’s on his way to Australia for the Brisbane Marathon.
Nik gets his love of running from his Dad who runs with him but his passion to help others is found deep in his heart. No doubt it has something to do with the fact that his grandfather founded Operation Warm with his own money.
Running the World for Children is Nik’s charitable foundation – so far he’s raised over $16,000. Nik is right on target when he says, “you don’t have to be big to make a difference.” Read his story here.
You can check out his Facebook page at Nik Runs the World.
I think everyone knows I’m a huge fan of The Dictionary Project and all the organizations that take part in dictionary distributions every year. Back in 1992 when Annie Plummer gave 50 dictionaries to third graders in a local school, who realized that just 20 years later more than 18,000,000 students would benefit from this program?
A dictionary isn’t just about looking up a word for its definition or spelling – it’s an inspiration; the vehicle to good communication skills, both written and verbal; the stimulus to creative thinking, a gift beyond compare. Ask any of the children who have received one of these dictionaries and they will tell you that years later they still have and use it. Even with the Internet, even with other electronic versions, a dictionary you can hold and touch brings words to life.
About to enter our 9th year distributing dictionaries, my Rotary Club is proud of our partnership with The Dictionary Project. Dictionaries are modestly priced, most at $2.00 and it’s easy to sponsor a project. Inspire a child today and for always with a dictionary.