“Rotaract” stands for “Rotary in Action”. It is a Rotary inspired youth organisation for people aged 18+, with the aim to empower its members to create positive change in their local communities and around the world. It grew from a youth programme started by a Rotary Club in North Carolina in 1968 and now has over 10,000 Rotaractors in 180 Clubs worldwide.

This week Penelope Milner came to tell us of a new Rotaract Club, the first in our District for many years.

Penelope is a student at the University of Leeds, now in her final year reading for a geography degree. She is also a trustee of the Student Union, and whilst living on campus at Devonshire Hall in 2020 she became the President of the Hall Executive, responsible for arranging events for the students. This was a challenge with students socially isolated in lockdown. Nevertheless she was able to arrange various treats including a virtual Christmas concert. Penelope has a a passion for volunteering and fundraising, and through a happy coincidence met some members of the Rotary Club of Headingley, who for many years had met at Devonshire Hall. Until that meeting she knew nothing about Rotary, and was impressed and inspired to learn of Rotary’s global reach and charitable work. She is not the first person to be surprised that we do not have a higher profile in the community.

Penelope accepted the challenge of the Headingly Rotarians to set up a Rotaract Club within the university. She was in touch with two international students, one with experience of Rotaract, and she advertised an inaugural meeting. No one turned up for the meeting, but Penelope was undeterred. She started getting on-line interest, and in October 2021 she registered the society with the university, obtained the charter with Rotary International in January 2022, and got a lot of interest from the new student intake at the Fresher’s Fair at the start of the current academic year. Penelope was able to report to us the up to date statistics, namely 97 members communicating on WhatsApp, and 500 followers on Instagram. She has been able to fill all the club officers posts, and is in contact with a wide number of clubs both in the UK and abroad. She raised the profile of her club when Rtn Tony Jordan, who has mentored her, arranged for her to speak from the stage at the recent District Conference in Scarborough, sharing the platform with another Rotaract member from India.

Penelope’s Rotaract Club has been able to join with other organisations running projects that require volunteers, for example helping the Rotary Club of Headingley with tree planting and pumpkin carving for polio day, a local residents’ association running organised litter picks, and an organisation in the city centre distributing food to the homeless on Friday nights. For the future she plans to team up with ‘Societies into schools’ helping with projects such as a community garden at St Peter’s School in Leeds. Through Instagram Penelope has been partnering with clubs in India and Brazil, and is hoping to arrange cultural exchanges.

Penelope was recently able to take advantage of a university research and leadership scholarship which provided her with the opportunity to join a team of volunteers for a month in Mexico City, helping to run a recycling project. On her final day she was able to join in a visit to a retirement home to bring some presents and comfort to lonely residents on Grandparents Day. The home is in need of renovation, which she hopes will provide the focus for further international involvement for the club.

The trip to Mexico was inspirational. Penelope told us of an ancient ‘soul cleansing’ ritual she was invited to take part in. She got anointed with various herbs and then joined others in a tent for what sounded like a two hour sauna session. She said it was ‘cool’ and she emerged inspired by the Brazilian saying, ‘leave flowers behind’. She interprets that as meaning try to do good, and make a difference by your contribution.

Penelope is clearly a dynamic and committed Rotaractarian. We hope her club continues to flourish after she completes her degree, and we look forward to meeting her club mates in the future. We are promised a significant Rotaract presence at the Beer Festival on 31 March/1 April 2023.

Get in touch with Roundhay Rotary Club:

0113 266 6203