Students in the International Board Room at Rotary International. Photo by Heidi Randhava

 “We believe in the power of one,” keynote speaker Mike Merdinger, member of the Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club, told 50 students who came from Beacon Academy and Evanston Township High School (ETHS) to attend Rotary Foundation’s annual Youth Leadership Day on Nov. 17 at Rotary International at 1560 Sherman Ave. Mr. Merdinger said Rotary and its partners are on the cusp of eradicating polio, thanks in part to one Rotary member who in 1979 proposed that Rotarians make immunization for the eradication of polio their number one priority throughout the world.

“You can be the power of one, making a difference locally and globally,” Mr. Merdinger told the group.

Youth Leadership Day is intended to help Evanston area high school students develop their potential as service-minded leaders. This year’s event included speakers, interactive breakout sessions, tours of the worldwide Rotary headquarters, and networking with other students. Participants also had the opportunity to evaluate real-life grant requests submitted to the club’s International Committee, and to select one organization to receive a grant from Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club.

Breakout sessions included an overview of Rotary International and introduction to Evanston Lighthouse Rotary’s international projects, a presentation by Northwestern University Student Government focused on empowering students as leaders, a presentation by student members of GlobeMed from Northwestern, and a tour of Rotary International.

One breakout session was led by Gary Peterson of Rotary’s International Service Committee, and Molly Friend, a member of Rotary programs for Young Leaders Staff.  Ms. Friend showcased different youth programs and Rotary Service work opportunities including Interact, Rotaract, Rotary Youth Exchange, and RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards).  Mr. Peterson introduced criteria for sustainable service projects and information about Rotary International district and global grants. 

Another breakout session was led by members of Northwestern University’s student government.  Speaker of the Senate Danielle Lumpkin, Deputy Chief of Staff of Community Relations Jillian Gilbourne, and Chief of Staff Lars Benson offered personal accounts of social activism and challenges they have faced during service projects. They gave the high-schoolers an opportunity to voice concerns about their current or future service work and then provided advice on how to confront and overcome obstacles.

GlobeMed, Northwestern University’s global health and social justice student organization, led another session.  Founded in 2007, GlobeMed has since expanded into a network of 2,000 undergraduates at 58 university-based chapters across the country.  Members of NU’s GlobeMed chapter spoke, including Director of Advocacy Jacob Salomon, Co-President Nadia Ghazali, and Grass Roots Onsite Work (GROW) Coordinator Yasmine Diara.  The three presenters spoke about leadership in the context of a university setting and their experiences with global engagement service projects. 

Evanston is the world headquarters for Rotary International, which has seven international offices. A highlight of the tour was the 18th floor, the International Board Room, which offers sweeping views of the lake. The board room is equipped for simultaneous interpretation, and includes three booths where interpreters work as teams. Students sat at the Board of Director’s table and heard Japanese and Portuguese speakers while listening to the simultaneous English interpretation through headphones. Interpreters train and practice at Rotary International, where interpreters are available for the Spanish, French, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Italian, and English languages.

The first Rotary meeting took place in Chicago in 1905. Founded by Paul Harris, Rotary Foundation has grown to 35,000 clubs worldwide, and remains dedicated to six areas of focus: promoting peace; fighting disease; providing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene; savings mothers and children; supporting education; and growing local economies.

Student participation in Youth Leadership Day was coordinated by Mary Collins and David Feeley at ETHS, and Katie Petzer at Beacon Academy.