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January 5, 2013

Robert Ebert
I am not what you would call a 'joiner'. I can count the number of organizations to which I have belonged on one hand. But when you are new to a community, looking for ways to meet people and get involved, joining a local organization seems like a good idea. So, when I was invited to join the Bennington Rotary Club, I was flattered and intrigued.

At my first meeting I saw many people I had already met in the few months my wife and I had been in Bennington. So I had a sense early on that this club attracted a lot of interesting and involved people. I was right.

Rotary is a Service Club. The motto of Rotary International is 'Service Above Self'. Rotary International is a global organization with hundreds of clubs in scores of countries. Rotary International embodies the notion of Think Globally and Act Locally. As a member I am part of a worldwide movement dedicated to improving the human condition. Rotary International's top goal is eradicating polio. Besides striving to eliminate polio, Rotarians around the world are also bringing clean drinking water to impoverished peoples, providing emergency relief after disasters, supporting education and literacy programs and too many other initiatives to list here. I became a part of all of that from day one.

But charity begins at home and Rotarians, millions of them around the world, serve their local communities. All around Bennington you can see the Bennington Rotary Club's handiwork: The Deer Park at the Veterans' Home, the restored fountain at the BBC visitors' center, the Rotary Room at the Bennington Free Library, and the magnificent Jim Ross Pavilion at Willow Park. These projects are enjoyed every day by residents as well as by visitors to our community.

Other ways Rotarians strive to serve are less visible. We plan many activities to raise money, such as our spaghetti supper at the Elks Lodge, our Mayfest dunking booth and our participation in the annual Bennington Car Show. We raise this money for one reason: to give it all away. Each year we award thousands of dollars to graduating high school seniors to help them start college or to learn a trade. To get their first checks, we make them get up in front of us and tell a little about themselves and their plans. After their first semester they come back (for the rest of their money) and address us once again. Seeing the change, the growth and maturity that has taken place in these kids after just one semester is a profound experience.

We also sponsor an annual Four Way Speech Contest for area High School students. The Rotary International's Four Way Test is a simple algorithm each of us (in theory, anyway) applies to everything we think, say and do. It goes like this:
1) IS IT THE TRUTH?,
2) IS IT FAIR TO ALL CONCERNED?,
3) WILL IT BUILD GOODWILL AND BETTER FRENDSHIPS?,
4) WILL IT BE BENEFICIAL TO ALL CONCERNED?

For the contest, students must compose a short speech talking about the Four Way Test and then present it orally. Our top winners receive cash prizes and the chance to compete in the districtwide contest. Just when you start thinking this Four Way Test is out of date and does not relate to today's world, listen in on these students (everyone is invited) and hear them refresh and rejuvenate these ideals in ways you never thought of.

The Bennington Rotary Club gets requests for assistance every day. It is hard to decide who we can and cannot help but if you see the Bennington Project Independence bus driving around or if you listen to WBTN radio, you've seen two more examples of Rotary in motion. And during the holidays you cannot get into JCPenny Penny without walking past Bennington Rotarians ringing bells and raising money for the heating fund. But it is not all about money and Bennington Rotarians are always looking for ways to roll up our sleeves and do some work. When the library halls needed painting, we had the job done in two days. When the Deer Park began to look a little tired we got out there to spruce things up. We painted the picnic tables in the Jim Ross Pavilion so it would look nice for the car show.

But what has become, for me, the most meaningful part of being a Rotarian is difficult to describe; it might be best just to offer an example. A few weeks ago a long time member of the club passed away. The call went out for Rotarians to gather at his memorial service. In all honesty, I barely knew the man, as I have only been a member for a short while. I was hesitant to attend, not knowing if his family would get much comfort from a near stranger. But when I saw the my fellow Rotarians, gathered together to honor one of our own, I knew that it was right for me to be there. It seems that people in mourning do not judge the length or depth of your relationship with their loved ones. They simply find strength in the fact that you came. And it is this fellowship, this reinforcement of the notion that WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, that is, to me, what it means to be a Bennington Rotarian.

Author: Robert Ebert
Compliments of: The Bennington Banner

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