Rotary and beyond: An opportunity to do good

publication date: May 10, 2018
author/source: Chris Synder

The following excerpt is from the book "Creating Opportunities - A Volunteer's Memoir," a new publication by Hilborn's Civil Sector Press.

“Sorry I am late, but I was just at a long and very exciting meeting with two guys who have created this board game. They can't make it fast enough to keep up with the demand. They want us to take over the marketing and production of it." The game was Trivial Pursuit and the speaker was a client by the name of Stewart Robertson. After our meeting he said, "To make amends, why don't you join me next Friday at Rotary for lunch?" I thought that would be nice since I didn't know much about Rotary. In fact, the lunch and what followed was far from trivial and started me on a pursuit which has greatly affected my life ever since.

At my first Rotary luncheon, there were about two hundred people in attendance; many who were active business and community leaders. The speakers were Timmy and Tammy, two young people who were the spokespersons for Easter Seals. It turned out that the Rotary Club of Toronto was one of the founders of Easter Seals, (which was then called Crippled Children) a charity that continues to this day. I also learned that the Rotary Club of Toronto was one of the founders of what has become the United Way and many other charities. It was a very positive and uplifting lunch and took me far away from the numbers that I continually dealt with in my daily business activities.

My very first introduction to Rotary had actually taken place a number of years before. Part of the 1964 Rotary International Convention, hosted by the Rotary Club of Toronto, was a huge ice show they produced at Maple Leaf Gardens. Many of Canada's best skaters were in the show including my good friend Charles Snelling and his sisters, Sonia and Linda. The person running the show, Stan Reid, a Rotarian, did not like our comedy act and instead had our friends, Otto and Maria Jelinek and their brother Henry perform their comedy. To get me in the show, I became a stooge for the Jelineks. My role was to walk through the audience close to ice level carrying some popcorn, only to be hit by Henry who had come over the boards. The popcorn went all over. The crowd laughed! Incensed, I went over the low boards after him onto the ice in my shoes. Naturally, I fell creating even more laughs. It was not as spectacular as throwing popcorn on the governor general in Molson Stadium but fun nevertheless and as it turned out, was my first act in Rotary.

After the luncheon, Stewart asked if I had any interest in joining Rotary. I said I didn't think I had the time but I would consider it over the summer. That summer, in 1984, we had planned a family trip out west which included hiking in the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park. At the top of one of the passes, I came to a plaque indicating that the park was an international peace park initiated by Rotarians from Canada and the U.S. in 1932. I thought it was a fantastic initiative and joined Rotary that October, some 33 years ago.

Rotary, I learned, had been started in 1905 by a young Chicago lawyer named Paul Harris who was new to Chicago and wanted to meet people from different occupations. A group started meeting by rotating their meeting spots from office to office, hence the name Rotary. Rotary took off when they introduced service and community projects to their raisin d'être. The very first project for the new Rotary group was to install public toilets in Chicago. I might add, while not very glamorous, this type of project is an important part of what Rotary still does - particularly in the developing world.

Rotary now has 1.3 million members (men and women) and 33,000 clubs in 190 countries. This includes Rotaract for people aged 20-30 and Interact for high school students. Many of the members are community leaders who come from all walks of life and all who, in their own way, want to make the world a better place. Any Rotarian is welcome at any club in the world making it (I would argue) one of the best networking organizations anywhere. I certainly have met many wonderful people from all over the world and have been able to take advantage of these connections in many ways. Rotary does many good works and hence is the creator of many good news stories.

I was reminded of this at a recent breakfast with some friends who meet weekly to talk about life. A member of our group was very down about all of the bad things happening in the world. "Can't anyone write some good news stories?" he said. Another member, Terry Wray, who happens to be a member of our club, pulled out a copy of the magazine The Rotarian and said “Here, you can read about them here.”

Inside the magazine were stories of what some clubs around the world were doing, including: planting tule, a type of bull rush in Guatemala, installing solar panels on a home for the disabled in the Philippines, bringing basic sanitation to a village in Columbia, equipping a specialized medical centre in upstate New York and the outfitting of 23 people with prosthetic hands in Pakistan.

The clubs are the strength of the organization and are bound together by our motto Service Above Self and the Four-Way Test: In all that we think and do.

1. Is it the TRUTH?

2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?


4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Rotary has done some amazing things including initiating and spearheading a campaign to eradicate polio. This is being done in partnership with the World Health Organization and the Gates Foundation (Bill Gates' father is a Rotarian). When the Polio Plus campaign was first started in 1985, according to the Rotary website, there were about 1,000 new cases every day in the world. Since then, over 2.5 billion children have been vaccinated. In one day in India alone, as many as 80 million children are vaccinated, many assisted by Rotarian volunteers.

Rotary was also one of the founders of the United Nations and still has a seat. Fifty of the 800 delegates meeting at the San Francisco Conference to draft the charter were Rotarians and Rotary, to this day, works with many UN agencies.

Over the years, Rotary has done tens of thousands - maybe even hundreds of thousands of projects around the world. To see their presence, just look at your own community: the Rotary parks, community centres and events that Rotary sponsors. It has done hundreds of water projects, HIV and AIDS treatment initiatives, landmine removal and literacy projects. I could fill a book with a list of the good and noble works that Rotary has done. These works, while assisting and creating opportunities for people, also create an environment of peace.

Chris Snyder, CFP, RFP is one of the early pioneers in the Canadian financial planning world. Chris understands that while much of life revolves around money; life is about much more than that. He has been a founder and/or board member of many charitable organizations including Project Mainstream in India, Street Kids International and Bakong Technical College in Cambodia, the Canadian Landmine Foundation, Toronto's Youth Employment Services, the Nature Conservancy of Canada(Ont) and Alpine Ontario. A long-time member of the Rotary Club of Toronto, he leads groups of Rotarians to the developing world to build schools and lead other valuable community projects. Most recently he has been working on First Nations initiatives and is the founding chair of HIP(Honouring Indigenous Peoples). In 2018, Chris was awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers in recognition of his many contributions to volunteering in various communities. He can be reached at

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