Presenting – The Beach Rotary Club – Service Above Self in the Beach

One of the areas I really set out to focus on in my Beach neighbourhood portrait was the local spirit of charity and community assistance. One of the organizations that I interviewed, the Pegasus Community Project for Adults with Special Needs, left a deep impression on me. This is a day-time program for adults with developmental disabilities that also runs a local thrift store on Kingston Road to generate funding and to provide practical work experiences for the participants in the program.

Marie Perrotta, the founder and executive director of this organization, explained to me that one organization has been tremendously supportive of her initiative over the last few years: The Toronto Beach Rotary Club. So she connected me with the President, Barbara Dingle, who had also been mentioned to me by Sandra Bussin in connection with the restoration of the Gardener’s Cottage. But more about that project in a little bit.

On a frigid February day Barbara welcomed me to her home and we sat down to chat for a couple of hours. Barbara started off by giving me some general information about the Rotary Club. Rotary International is the oldest service club in the world. It was founded in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois, by an attorney by the name of Paul P. Harris who wanted to recreate the friendly spirit of his small town upbringing. The concept spread throughout the United States and by 1921, Rotary Clubs had formed on six continents. A 1943 London Rotary conference promoting international cultural and educational exchanges was part of the inspiration for the formation of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) in 1946, illustrating Rotary International’s impact on a global scale.

The Rotary Club’s principal motto is “Service Above Self”, and its 1.2 million members worldwide in more than 200 countries provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build peace and goodwill in the world. The organization is non-political, non-religious and open to men and women of all cultures, races and creeds. Rotary’s main objective is to serve the community and throughout the world, taking up issues such as children at risk, poverty, hunger, the environment, illiteracy and violence. Youth programs and international exchange opportunities are also supported.

Rotary International is organized in local chapters, and the Toronto Beach Rotary Club is a fairly recent addition to the Rotary family. The club was chartered in 1999, originally as an offshoot of the East York Rotary Club which has been in existence for more than 60 years. Barb explained that the Toronto Beach Rotary Club is a breakfast club, and that members meet once a week on Tuesdays nice and early at 7:15 am at the Balmy Beach Club which generously makes their facilities available.

Barb herself got connected with the Rotary Club about 4 years ago when a friend introduced her to the club. About a half a year into her membership she went to approach various retail stores during a fundraising drive, and from her interactions with the merchants she realized the amount of respect and cache that membership in the Rotary Club conveyed. All of a sudden doors started to open easily, and people started to listen to her fundraising proposals.

Barb explains that she wanted to become involved in the community, but
was not sure where to start. A few visits to the Beach Rotary meetings
opened doors to the kind of opportunities she was looking for. Barb says
that the club meets once a week for one hour, not a very huge time
commitment, and added that many people might initially be scared of
committing to volunteer work. Barb feels strongly that an hour a week is
feasible for most of us and clarified that you can get involved as
little or as much as you want in the club’s activities. Time restraints
on our lives change from month to month, year to year. Barb adds that “if you have the desire to give back to your community and to play a small part in
helping humanity on an international level, Rotary Clubs have the
infrastructure to make it happen”.

When she first joined she had no idea what the Rotary Club was all about, and she learned that every Rotary Club world-wide works on two levels: to raise funds for and help local community organizations, and to become involved on a global level to support serious international causes.

On an international level, Rotary Clubs support a broad range of humanitarian, intercultural, and educational programs and activities designed to improve the human condition and advance the organization’s ultimate goal of global understanding and peace. The Toronto Beach Rotary Club’s international initiatives include the removal of landmines, the worldwide eradication of polio and leprosy, as well as AIDS orphans in South Africa.

Barb explained that to support the landmines program, the “Night of a 1000 Dinners” was held last November at Quigley’s Pub and Bistro, a popular restaurant in the Beach and a strong supporter of local charities. Quigley’s generously donated a gourmet four-course dinner for 50 guests that was accompanied by local guitarist Tom Price. A keynote speech was given by Scott Fairweather, the CEO of The Canadian Landmine Foundation who is also a Rotarian. A Clear-a-Landmine Raffle was held, and the top prizes, a watercolour painting donated by generous community supporter Ann Francis Oakes, and a day of golfing fun at the Toronto Hunt donated by Graham Sanborn went to two lucky winners. In total $2500 were raised from this event and presented to the Canadian Landmine Foundation.

In addition to international causes the Toronto Beach Rotary Club
is very involved in supporting the local Beach neighbourhood. The Club’s annual
“Bowl for the Beach” Bowl-A-Thon provides funding to the Pegasus Community Project , as well as scholarships to local high school students and after school programs, and The Haig Family Resource Program. This year the Bowl-A-Thon will be held on April 21 at the Thorncliffe Bowlerama, and Barb indicated that the event is always great fun, and many different groups from the community participate.

Another popular initiative is the Free Movie for Seniors, a weekly free
movie night at the Fox Theatre, a real landmark in the Beach and the
oldest continuously running movie theatre in Toronto. In addition, a
Christmas lunch donated by Quigley’s Pub and Bistro was held for the
seniors at St. Aidan’s Church. More than 300 seniors enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner, and Quigley’s generosity was much appreciated

Barb also explained a major community effort that has left a lasting legacy in the Beach: during the late summer / early fall of 2005, renovations to the Gardener’s Cottage (the historic Kew Williams House) were undertaken as a joint project by the City of Toronto, spearheaded by City Councillor Sandra Bussin, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Toronto Beach Rotary Club. The Gardener’s Cottage is a treasured landmark at the foot of Lee Avenue, and was in need of repair.

One of the major strengths of Rotary is that each club is comprised of a
cross-section of vocations. By drawing on the club members’ wide variety
of skills and connections, amazing good work is accomplished. As a
long-term collaborator with Canadian home d├ęcor queen Debbie Travis, and
a past associate editor for House and Home Magazine, Barbara Dingle had
the perfect idea: to restore this treasured Beach icon together with a
group of talented local designers who each took over one section of the
building. The verandah, the entrance hall, the parlour, the dining room,
the kitchen, the upper hallway, the girl’s and boy’s bedrooms, the
bathroom and the master bedroom were all authentically restored and
decorated by different designers to reflect the Queen Anne period. A
large number of merchants and business people donated everything from
labour, paint and lumber to fabrics, draperies, lighting, plants,
accessories and furniture for the project. More than $70,000 worth of
goods and services were donated, and the entire Beach community came
together to restore a beloved neighbourhood icon. The results are
stunning.

For three weeks in September and October of 2005, Barbara and her team put together the “Dream Tour” which provided the public with an exceptional opportunity to view the designs and the contributions of the local designers and merchants. A beautiful full-colour magazine was put together to showcase the project, the history of the Kew Williams House and each section of the building that had been so lovingly restored. Funds from tour ticket sales were donated to Toronto East General Hospital’s Mental Health Program for Children and Adolescents. In total a donation of $15,000 was raised and passed along to the Mental Health Crisis Unit at Toronto East General Hospital – a true demonstration of an entire community coming together to make positive things happen.

Another big event in the works is an Annual Rotary Lobsterfest in the Beach. The Toronto Beach Rotary Club together with the East York Rotary Club is planning a fundraiser where people can feast on a fresh lobster dinner with all the fixings, listen to some great music and play games. The event will be fun for the whole family. Proceeds from this fundraiser will be donated to the Woodgreen Community Services Homeward Bound Program – a program dedicated toward helping women acquire life skills, computer skills, a community college education and employment training so they can learn to provide for themselves and their children.

Barbara added that the Toronto Beach Rotary Club is a small club, but it has done huge things for the entire neighbourhood. The club has many volunteers, loosely referred to as “Friends of Rotary” who are not full-fledged members, but who love to donate their time to help out. At the moment the club is looking for new members and has started advertisements with the headline “Do you need Rotary? Rotary needs you.” Barbara describes her volunteer work with the Rotary Club as an extremely rewarding experience.

She explained that joining is quite simple: a prospective member would come out to the breakfast meetings for several weeks in a row to assess the fit with the Rotary organization. At the end of this trial period they can officially join and become a regular member. The reasons for joining are many: not only does the Rotary Club provide the opportunity to serve and support local and international causes; it also provides a great realm for friendships and business development. The special events run by the club offer an opportunity for personal growth, leadership and ethics development. In addition, exposure to community and global programs provides learning opportunities for greater cultural awareness. All in all it’s a win-win situation, for the individual, for the club and for the communities, locally and abroad, that are supported by the Rotary Club.

Naturally I also needed to inquire into Barbara Dingle’s connection with the Beach. Together with her husband John she moved into this area in the fall of 1975 because they saw the Beach as a great place to bring up children. Their children Geremy and Emily attended local schools where their love for music and drama was fostered along with strong academics. She added that the Beach today is an area on the move, similar to 30 years ago. Everyone is renovating and “a spurt of youth” is being injected into the neighbourhood. The Beach is an eclectic mix of teachers, artists, professionals and people from all other walks of life, “a great tapestry of people and a very egalitarian place”, to use Barb’s words.

Barbara obviously loves the neighbourhood, and together with her friends at the Toronto Beach Rotary Club she has chosen to give back to organizations in her own community and to needy people around the world.

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