Rotary partnering with Habitat for Humanity to expand reach

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 1.25.54 PMMore than 1 billion people around the world live in inadequate housing according to the United Nations Center for Human Settlements. Now, through a partnership between Rotary and Habitat for Humanity, more will have access to safe and affordable housing.

The partnership will facilitate collaboration between local Rotary clubs and local Habitat for Humanity organizations, enabling Habitat to extend its volunteer pool by tapping into Rotary’s 1.23 million members in 200 countries and regions.

“Habitat’s aim to bring people together to build homes, communities and hope aligns perfectly with Rotary’s commitment to make positive, lasting change in communities around the world,” said Rotary General Secretary John Hewko. “With Habitat’s expertise and the power of Rotary’s volunteer network, we will help build the foundation for stronger communities.”

“The values of our organizations are so closely aligned, and the desire to help others runs deep for both groups. That makes us such a perfect match,” said Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan T.M. Reckford. “So many Rotarians have worked alongside Habitat and the knowledge, experiences and connections that are so strong in local Rotary clubs will make them valuable Habitat partners in many communities worldwide.”

Rotary members develop and implement sustainable projects that fight disease, promote peace, provide clean water, support education, save mothers and children and grow local economies. These projects are supported by more than $200 million awarded through Rotary’s grants programs.

Habitat for Humanity joins a list of Rotary service partners including, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, Peace Corps, Dollywood Foundation, the Global FoodBanking Network, and Youth Service America (YSA).


Longtime Rotarian Russ Edberg dies (updated)

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Russ Edberg (left) chatting with Terry Brewer at SRC’s 55th anniversary dinner in 2015.

Russ Edberg, an honorary member of the Southern Rensselaer County Rotary Club and one of the club’s longest serving members, died Saturday morning.

Relatives and friends are invited to attend his funeral 11 a.m. Wednesday, October 11, from Wm. J. Rockefeller Funeral Home Inc. 165 Columbia Turnpike, Rensselaer.

For the benefit of new members who may not have been acquainted with him, Russ was an active SRC member for 45 years until recent years when his health prevented him from participating in Rotary activities. He also was a Paul Harris Fellow.

Russ had moved to the Evergreen Commons retirement facility in East Greenbush in 2013, about four years after Dorothie Ann “Dottie” Edberg, his wife and a longtime Rotary supporter, passed away.

Click here to read the obituary Russ’s family created.



SRC scholarship winner has play produced

Joshua Kenna, one of the recipients of Southern Rensselaer County Rotary Club scholarship awards this year, was featured in a story in the Times Union about his latest accomplishment — having his original short play produced at Capital Repertory Theatre.

Josh, who graduated this year from Rensselaer Junior-Senior High School as class vice president, still plans to enroll at Keuka College in the fall, but the experience has changed his plans for a major. Read on for the details.

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Joshua Kenna, foreground, watches a rehearsal of “Inside My Head” with Capital Rep’s Margaret Hall. Behind them are Kenna’s brother, Joe, and father, Jack. (Photos by Claire Hughes/Times Union)
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Actors rehearse “Inside My Head” at Capital Rep. At top is John McCorkle, 16, of Troy. At the table, from left are, Matthew Bonacci, 17, of Bethlehem, Caroline Skrebutenas, 13, of Niskayuna, Jayden Wojcik, 12, of North Greenbush, and Liesel Gerstenbreger, 19, of Clifton Park.


Inside his autistic brother’s head

Student wrote play in effort to understand sibling’s experience

By Claire Hughes
Times Union

ALBANY — When 18-year-old Joshua Kenna’s English teacher nudged him to write his first play, the high school senior knew what he wanted to create: words to help understand what his older brother Joe was going through as they grew up.

Joe Kenna doesn’t talk. The 19-year-old Rensselaer man has autism and is mostly nonverbal.

So Joshua put down on the page a character named Ethan who reveals what Joe might have said, if he could have, as his parents struggled with his diagnosis, where to send him to school and their divorce.

This weekend, Ethan will come to life on the stage as the completion of Capital Repertory Theatre’s Young Playwright Contest. Joshua’s drama, “Inside My Head,” is an effort of empathy that changed him in the process of writing it.

With a scant 10 minutes in which to pack the story of Joe’s life — that’s the limit for the plays entered into the Cap Rep contest — Joshua carefully chose four scenes, with the last one harkening back to the first.

He knew a key scene well. It’s a fight he and Joe had. But for two others — Joe’s diagnosis and his parents’ decision to place him in a school for special-needs children — Joshua had to do some research. So he interviewed his parents.

The result is an honest and heartfelt drama with a maturity that Margaret Hall, the assistant to the artistic director at Capital Rep, called rare for a teen playwright. Joshua doesn’t hold back on the tough scenes, but it’s not the anger in the play that’s unusual. It’s the fact that he moves through it, Hall said.

“It’s different in that it takes a positive spin, even when the moments are difficult,” Hall said.

The play begins with Ethan’s diagnosis at age 2 1/2, and with his parents’ struggle to accept it. Then it fast-forwards several years to a fight his parents have over where to send him to school. It’s the kind of conflict many parents will recognize, perhaps especially those who have argued over how to address a difficult-to-absorb diagnosis: It’s emotionally raw with lots of yelling.

It wasn’t easy to watch as a parent, who remembered the moment from a different perspective, said Joshua’s father, Jack Kenna. When he watched it, he thought the father was a jerk. But Jack, as well as Joshua’s mother, Mary, and other brother, John, thought it would be OK to see some rough patches in their family history on stage if it would help others understand autism.

Jack and Mary are divorced, and that decision has a role in the play, too. Ethan blames the fighting on his autism.

But the real emotional kicker is the scene from Joshua’s own memory. Teenage Ethan and his younger brother Edward are fighting over getting to use the computer, when Edward screams in frustration, “Ethan, will you listen to me for once?!” “ARE YOU EVEN IN THERE?!” Ethan replies with a note: “Sorry for autism.”

Then Edward cries and apologizes. And an older Ethan, narrating, says to the audience, “That was the day when I finally understood nothing could or would change me. I am autistic, and that’s OK.”

And that is the message of Joshua’s play: It’s OK to be autistic or disabled. Or as Edward says to Ethan, “You’re my brother, buddy. You’ve nothing to be sorry for.”

Joshua, who graduated from Rensselaer Junior-Senior High School in June, thought he wanted to pursue writing in college. But he changed his mind after writing “Inside My Head.” He’s going to Keuka College to study occupational therapy, with a minor in creative writing.

“I realized I wanted to do something to help.”

Where: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 North Pearl Street, Albany
When: 4 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 11 a.m. Saturday; 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission: Free
More info:


The latest update on ‘Project Legos’

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Xavier Schmitt proudly shows off his latest Legos success.

Xavier Schmitt, grandson of Debbie and Chuck Rodriguez, has been the happy recipient of a wide series of Legos building kits to keep him occupied as he undergoes a lengthy, difficult regimen of chemotherapy for leukemia.

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Cole Schmitt a happy boy.

Debbie reports that Xavier sends his thanks from Connecticut after completing his latest Legos project — the futuristic fighter plane shown above — while he was in clinic.

Xavier now is in remission and out of the hospital, and, says Debbie, “The plan is for him to return to school in September. He also told me he would like to visit Rotary some day. Thank you to all for your support during this difficult time.”

And, of course, little brother Cole also says thank you for the Legos kits he received from our club as part of a project conceived by Jim Leyhane.

Thanks to all the individual SRC club members who have contributed financially to the effort.


What do Rotarians do on the road?

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Club member A.J. Amato isn’t taking it easy while on vacation. Here’s proof — catching dinner on the Middle Provo River near Park City, Utah, one of several spots he’s been fishing on his western tour.

Fair warning: We’re probably going to hear a lot of fishing stories when we get together for our club’s “Summer Casual” events!

Not familiar with our “Summer Casual” lineup of family-oriented events?

For shame. All you have to do is click here and bookmark it to stay up to date.


Proposed SRC Bylaws changes

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-7-37-32-pmThis message was emailed to all members today.

To: SRC Members
Date: December 4, 2016
Re: Proposed Bylaws Changes

At the December 1 meeting of your SRC Board of Directors, attended by nine of the 11 Board members, a series of proposed bylaws changes was unanimously approved to be put before the general membership for a vote.

The changes would modify two sections of the current bylaws (which are available in full on the club website for your review). One change would reduce the annual dues. The other would amend the types of memberships, adding “Corporate” and “Family” categories as recently allowed by Rotary International, and would introduce a streamlined process for proposing and accepting new members.

In accordance with our current bylaw requirement of a 10-day notice of proposed changes, this email will serve as such notice and allow for a vote to be held at the December 15 meeting or thereafter as designated by President Debbie Rodriguez. Members’ questions will be answered at such a meeting.


‘Project Legos’ completes its 2nd round


The second shipment of what we are calling “Project Legos” has arrived in the home of Debbie and Chuck Rodriguez’s grandchildren in Connecticut. Was the package welcome? These photos say it all. (Go here for a look at the first round.)

The catalyst for the project, conceived by Jim Leyhane, was their grandson Xavier’s diagnosis of leukemia and the need for ongoing treatment. Jim thought it would be a smart move to have something fun and constructive for him to do, along with his brother. Several other members agreed, and have been helping finance the ongoing effort. If you’d like to pitch in as well, just get in touch with Jim for details.

And, from President Debbie, a heart-felt thank you to all in the club who have been so supportive of her family.

How is Nigeria Rotary reacting to polio flareup?

Nigerian Rotarians pose with local victims of polio and wheelchairs donated by a Maryland Rotary Club.


A group of Rotary Clubs in the area of Lagos and its suburbs in northern Nigeria just carried out a polio walk across several communities to mark World Polio Week. Despite the belief that the African nation was polio free, several cases recently were reported in the area that had been in the hands of Boko Harum terrorists who forbade immunization.

Eboigbe Olaiye, assistant governor of District 9110 which covers Lagos and nearby cities,  said the purpose of the walk was to create awareness of polio. He called on parents to take their children to the nearest primary health center for polio immunization, while urging the national government to create more awareness and emphasize to people living in rural areas that the vaccine is free.

Santoch Kakade, chairman of Rotary’s Polio Service and Blood Donation, said the sudden outbreak of polio requires renewed sensitization in Nigeria.

District 9110 last Saturday brought together students from various schools with a target of 4,500 to break the Guinness Book of World Records’ human mosaic record of 4,200  people. Dr. Tunki Funsho, chairman of Nigeria’s National Polio Plus Committee and a past district governor, said the effort was to create more awareness towards eradication of polio in Nigeria.

In a related development, the Rotary Club of Amuwo also staged an awareness campaign through the media on plans to eradicate the disease. It called on members of the public to donate funds to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).

Club President Aniekan Essienette said, “Our call to action is to enlighten the public to report any new case of limb weakness among children up to age 15 to the local council authorities or World Health Organization (WHO) close to them.”

The Rotary Leadership Institute Class of 2016 flashes the “This Close” Rotary sign in its fight against polio. SRC members in the photo are Bill Dowd (3rd from left) and Debbie Rodriguez (3rd from right) in the top row. The photo was shot during the recent RLI graduation ceremony at Siena College.

New SRC logo now available on a new shirt, cap, tote, mug, etc.

SRC Club Logo
Our club’s new official logo

Our old logo and the shirts and caps we had it applied to are outdated and getting a bit threadbare.

So, we’ve come up with a new logo (but retained the original colors) that reflects the official basic design change instituted by Rotary International two years ago.

And, you now can have it put on anything from polo shirts to caps, from fleeces to vests, from aprons to tote bags, from mugs to aprons, etc.

Dawn Vavala, a member of the Twin Bridges Rotary Club, provides personalized services through her company, Nite Owl Marketing. She displayed several samples of the products at our club’s recent get-together at Eastwyck Village.

In addition to having the club logo on whatever you purchase, many items can be personalized with your name on them (or the name of the person you’re buying it for as a gift).

Says Dawn, “If you go to my website and click on the Rotary button [at the top of the home page] then scroll down, you can see many of the popular items. It is not a store, just a page to display a few items. You can also click on the apparel button toward the bottom of the page to see all the clothing one can order.

” I promise to take great care of  the members of the SRC club.”

Purchase prices, sizing, and other details also are on her website.