Joan Knoertzer’s lyrical piano captured perfectly the spirit of the season. For her prelude Joan played “What a Wonderful World,” then, with the Rotary bell rung, she launched into a beautiful “God Bless America,” the country’s number 1 choice should we ever adopt dual anthems. Victor Stoeffler kicked off the proceedings with his Inspiration: “Regardless of your religious or spiritual belief, most people at thistime of year practice some sort of giving. The gifts of Hannuka, those under the Christmas tree and those of Quanza are personal exchanges, not just obligations. Giving of oneself or from material resources requires thought and some measure of generosity, otherwise, as the author says, ‘the gift without the giver is bare.”
Victor then told the story, penned by O. Henry, of “the wife with the beautiful long hair who sells her hair to buy her husband a gold chain for his cherished gold watch, and the husband who sells his watch to buy special combs for his wife’s hair.” Thank you, Victor, for reminding us, at what has become a frenzied time of year, where the horizon is. Of course, celebrating the meaning of the holidays wouldn’t be complete without a Knoertzer-Pierce singalong. Sitting side-by-side a la Bing and Marjorie Reynolds in 1942’s “Holiday Inn”, Joanie and Steve led us in full-bellied renditions of “Santa Clause is Coming to Town”
and “Winter Wonderland.” A panorama of Currier and Ives classics raced across your reporter’s mind, especially “The Road, Winter,” “Home to Thanksgiving,” and the atmospheric “Skating Scene, Moonlight.” By the time Greg took the podium, everyone was in fine form, and lobbing snowballs.
“Thank you, Steve and Joanie…They’re going to be here all week.” Mental images of the duo performing a week-long gig at the famed Weber’s Ballroom generated much good-natured laughter. Seriously, though, did you know that Weber’s is considered the Mickey Rooney Tabas Inn of the Midwest? It is. And in January — Steve and Eydie.
Greg went on to make some announcements, including the need to have 1-2-3 payments in by December 31. “Please see [club administrator] Lori Walters if you haven’t received yours, or if it’s been misplaced,” Greg said. While introducing the volunteers, he ruminated over the term ‘mic runner’ — “You know, I’ve always thought that Mike Runner would be a great name for a detective.” Great idea. Imagine what the old NBC Mystery Movie lineup could have been: McCloud, Hec Ramsey, Columbo, McMillan and Wife, and Mike Runner! Greg had sagely revealed the true meaning of cultural deficit.
Next came an incredibly moving presentation by Dan Lewan. Highlighting the humanitarian work of Mobility Worldwide, Dan narrated a video showing the monumental difference made in people’s lives
from the hand-propelled carts distributed in Africa and Asia. These people have lost the ability to walk upright, or at all, from a host of diseases. On-site interviews underscored how those unable to walk are “not seen…you are nothing.” As Dan declared, “We’re getting them off the ground, out of the dirt, and in those carts.” He also announced that DOGS Committee members will be meeting in Saline on January 5th, to put carts together [TIME AND LOCATION NEEDED]. Anyone interested in helping the DOGS, please come by.
Club director Barbara Eichmuller introduced Amanda Reel, of United Way. Amanda described the great work of VITA tax preparing volunteers (Bob Mull’s great endeavor) “These trained volunteers help people get their taxes in without paying steep fees, or having work done by dodgy preparers,” she noted. In fact, identity theft by bogus preparers, according to Amanda, is a growing threat. She brought the audience’s attention to a chart: “Each year since 2015 the dollars brought back to the community has risen dramatically — to $1.3 million this
year.” Who are the volunteers? “Students, bank personnel, and financial advisors.” She explained that all volunteers go through a detailed training program; it’s comprehensive, but not arduous. “When I saw the math, I said, ‘Wow, I remember this. I can do this!'” She then described her favorite moment: “We helped a homeless man, with three years of unfiled taxes. We were able to recover $6,000 owed to him. It was just sitting on the table, waiting for him, but he hadn’t been able to claim it. That $6,000 was a turning point that allowed him to move into an apartment and get on with his life.” Any who would like to serve as volunteers this tax season, please contact Amanda at United Way.
Next, Greg asked PP Ashish Sarkar to come to the podium. His audience knew an important announcement was about to happen. “You know about the 1-2-3 [bill]; I’m going to talk about #3 — the
Rotary International Foundation and Polio Plus,” he began earnestly. “I’m here to request that you give to the EREY.” (A request for action from Ashish, as everybody knows, is akin to Admiral Nimitz asking for a destroyer escort for a carrier group.) Perhaps the most salient point was his explanation of the power of “leveraging up,” where the Club’s gift of $31,500 last year was transmuted, though meeting benchmarks, to $370,000. “That’s 12X leveraging,” Ashish noted.
“If we don’t get District contributions [by fulfilling the benchmarks], we don’t get the funds from these other clubs. He showed a chart that highlighted the small galaxy of clubs whose funds are made available to RCAA’s international humanitarian projects (including Polio), but only if our internal fund raising reaches a certain level. He also illustrated how another Club gift of $10,000 “resulted in more than $100,000. So, please give whatever you can — at least the [required] $100.” Then the clincher: “Of course, those who don’t give by the end of the year will get a call from me. I’ll wish you a happy holidays, but then we’ll talk some business.” Laughter aside, there was no mistaking that his listeners had gotten the message. “I think you can all see how important it is to give to the EREY,” Greg reiterated upon returning to the podium.
John Hubner then came up to introduce our speaker: Tim Wilson, Executive Director of Washtenaw Promise, Inc. John recounted Tim’s education at the University of Michigan, his 35-year career as teacher and headmaster at Emerson School, and as founder of education strategic planning and marketing firm, Round River Adventures. “I’m here to talk with you about two things,” Tim began, “Washtenaw Promise, and the educational crisis in Ypsilanti.” He then put our area in perspective: “I’m lucky to work in a community that believes so strongly in education. As an educator I knew said, ‘Education is the key in, and the key out.'” Tim emphasized the power of education to improve lives, but made plain that the opportunities
and benefits are not universal in our county. “Think with me about the kids who don’t do well. Let’s role-play.” He asked for one person from each table to stand. “Imagine you’re a kid in kindergarten. For those of you standing, congratulations. You will go on to succeed in school, and have the opportunity for a [rewarding] life. Those of you who are seated, you represent the situation of many kids in Ypsilanti.” “Now, don’t get me wrong, Ypsilanti has many people who are doing wonderful things, but you also know there’s an education crisis there.” Tim contrasted Ypsilanti’s 3,800 students in its consolidated community schools to Ann Arbor’s 18,000. “About 1,000 students have left since 2013,” Tim pointed out, “losing millions of dollars for the City.” Then a shocking figure — “Only 7% of Ypsilanti students test as college-ready. But this is not just at Ypsi.” Then, to an audience fascinated with statistical rankings, Tim gave the knockout punch: “Last year Alabama bumped Michigan to last place in the U.S. in reading proficiency.”
“What’s going on here?” he asked plaintively. “Is it home? the schools? For one, poverty is 10X higher in Ypsilanti than in surrounding towns. Fifty percent of kids live in poverty.” One pernicious trend is the “taking-out of school of the better students, and placing them elsewhere. We have resegregated our schools.” He then listed some of the respected board members of Washtenaw Promise — Bob Ufer, attorney, businessman, and son of ‘Mr. Meeechigan,’ Wolverines broadcaster, Bob Ufer Sr.; Fred Jackson, the longest-serving coach in Michigan Football history; and many school principals and teachers.
The upshot, as Tim sees it, is that our county, “with 200+ non-profits, and…saints working their hearts out, with dedicated teachers…the needle’s moving slowly.” One reason is that in Ypsilanti “there’s not enough collaboration [among schools, non-profits, and mentors]. For success you need to have focused targets.” More than anything else, Tim stressed the importance of high-quality and affordable preschool. “We can see the results when priorities are lavished on kids in preschool and the earliest years.” Robotics, Tim cited, is a dramatic game-changer: “Robotics is being brought to Ypsilanti middle schools…[In short,] everything possible needs to be done to enhance the futures of these kids (who are so compromised).”
A resounding ovation filled the ballroom as Greg thanked Tim and reminded the assembly that Rotary will be on hiatus for the next two weeks. He then delivered an apt parting maxim: “The life you lead is the one you teach. Meeting adjourned.”