The Beach Rotary Club – Above Yourself Service on the Beach : One area I really wanted to focus on in my portrait of the Beach environment was the spirit of local charity and community assistance. One of the organizations I interviewed, the Pegasus Community Project for Adults with Special Needs, left a deep impression on me. This is a day program for adults with developmental disabilities who also run a local thrift shop on Kingston Road to generate funds and provide program participants with practical work experience.
Marie Perrotta, founder and executive director of the organization, explained to me that one organization has strongly supported her initiative over the past few years: the Toronto Beach Rotary Club. So he put me in touch with the President, Barbara Dingle, whom Sandra Bussin had also mentioned to me regarding the restoration of the Gardener’s Hut. But more on that project in a moment.
One cold February day, Barbara welcomed me into her home and we sat down to chat for a few hours. Barbara started by giving me some general information about the Rotary Club. Rotary International is the oldest service club in the world. Founded in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois, by a lawyer named Paul P. Harris who wanted to recreate the friendly spirit of his small-town education.
This concept spread throughout the United States and by 1921, Rotary Clubs had formed on six continents. The 1943 London Rotary Conference which promoted cultural exchange and international education was part of the inspiration for the creation of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1946, which illustrated the impact of Rotary International on a global scale.
The main motto of the Rotary Club is “Service Above Yourself”, and its 1.2 million members worldwide in more than 200 countries provide humanitarian services, promote high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build peace and goodwill in the world. This organization is non-political, non-religious and open to men and women of all cultures, races and beliefs. Rotary’s main goal is to serve the community and around the world, raising issues such as children at risk, poverty, hunger, the environment, illiteracy and violence. Youth programs and international exchange opportunities are also supported.
Rotary International is organized in local branches, and the Toronto Beach Rotary Club is a fairly recent addition to the Rotary family. The club was chartered in 1999, initially as an offshoot of the East York Rotary Club which had been around for more than 60 years. Barb explains that the Toronto Beach Rotary Club is a breakfast club, and members meet once a week on sunny Tuesdays and early at 7:15 a.m. at the Balmy Beach Club which generously provides their amenities.
Barb herself connected with the Rotary Club about 4 years ago when a friend introduced her to the club. About half a year into his membership, he visited various retail stores during fundraisers, and from his interactions with merchants, he realized the amount of respect and cache that a membership in the Rotary Club conveyed. Suddenly the door began to open easily, and people began to listen to his fundraising proposal.
Barb explained that she wanted to be involved in the community, but
not sure where to start. Multiple visits to the Beach Rotary meeting
opened the door to the kind of opportunity he was looking for. Barb says
that the club meets once a week for an hour, not a very long time
commitment, and adds that many people may initially be afraid of
committed to volunteer work. Barb deeply felt that an hour a week was
worthy of most of us and clarify that you can get involved as
as little or as much as you want in club activities. Time limit
Our lives change from month to month, year to year. Barb adds that “if you have the desire to give back to your community and play a small role in
helping humanity on an international level, the Rotary Club has
infrastructure to make it happen”.
When he first joined, he had no idea what a Rotary Club was, and he learned that every Rotary Club around the world works on two levels: raising funds for and assisting local community organizations, and engaging on a global level to support serious international causes.
At the international level, the Rotary Club supports a wide range of humanitarian, intercultural, and educational programs and activities designed to improve the human condition and advance the organization’s ultimate goal of global understanding and peace. Internal initiative last November at Quigley’s Pub and Bistro, a popular restaurant in the Beach and a strong supporter of local charities.
Quigley’s generously donated a gourmet four-course dinner for 50 guests that was accompanied by local guitarist Tom Price. A keynote speech was given by Scott Fairweather, the CEO of The Canadian Landmine Foundation who is also a Rotarian. A Clear-a-Landmine Raffle was held, and the top prizes, a watercolor painting donated by generous community supporter Ann Francis Oakes, and a day of golfing fun at the Toronto Hunt donated by Graham Sanborn went to two lucky winners. In total $2500 were raised from this event and presented to the Canadian Landmine Foundation.
In addition to international causes the Toronto Beach Rotary Club
is very involved in supporting the local Beach neighborhood. The Club’s annual
“Bowl for the Beach” Bowl-A-Thon provides funding to the Pegasus Community Project , as well as scholarships to local high school students and after school programs, and The Haig Family Resource Program. This year the Bowl-A-Thon will be held on April 21 at the Thorncliffe Bowlerama, and Barb indicated that the event is always great fun, and many different groups from the community participate.
Another popular initiative is the Free Movie for Seniors, a weekly free
movie night at the Fox Theatre, a real landmark in the Beach and the
oldest continuously running movie theater in Toronto. In addition, a
Christmas lunch donated by Quigley’s Pub and Bistro was held for the
seniors at St. Aidan’s Church. More than 300 seniors enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner, and Quigley’s generosity was much appreciated
Barb also explained a major community effort that has left a lasting legacy in the Beach: during the late summer / early fall of 2005, renovations to the Gardener’s Cottage (the historic Kew Williams House) were undertaken as a joint project by the City of Toronto , spearheaded by City Councilor Sandra Bussin, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Toronto Beach Rotary Club. The Gardener’s Cottage is a treasured landmark at the foot of Lee Avenue, and was in need of repair.
One of the major strengths of Rotary is that each club is comprised of a
cross-section of vocations. By drawing on the club members’ wide variety
of skills and connections, amazing good work is accomplished. ace a
long-term collaborator with Canadian home décor queen Debbie Travis, and
a past associate editor for House and Home Magazine, Barbara Dingle had
the perfect idea: to restore this treasured Beach icon together with a
group of talented local designers who each took over one section of the
buildings. The verandah, the entrance hall, the parlor, the dining room,
the kitchen, the upper hallway, the girl’s and boy’s bedrooms, the
bathroom and the master bedroom were all authentically restored and
decorated by different designers to reflect the Queen Anne period. A
large number of merchants and business people donated everything from
labour, paint and lumber to fabrics, draperies, lighting, plants,
accessories and furniture for the project. More than $70,000 worth of
goods and services were donated, and the entire Beach community came
together to restore a beloved neighborhood icon. The results are
For three weeks in September and October of 2005, Barbara and her team put together the “Dream Tour” which provided the public with an exceptional opportunity to view the designs and the contributions of the local designers and merchants. A beautiful full-colour magazine was put together to showcase the project, the history of the Kew Williams House and each section of the building that had been so lovingly restored.
Funds from tour ticket sales were donated to Toronto East General Hospital’s Mental Health Program for Children and Adolescents. In total a donation of $15,000 was raised and passed along to the Mental Health Crisis Unit at Toronto East General Hospital – a true demonstration of an entire community coming together to make positive things happen.
Another big event in the works is an Annual Rotary Lobsterfest in the Beach. The Toronto Beach Rotary Club together with the East York Rotary Club is planning a fundraiser where people can feast on a fresh lobster dinner with all the fixings, listen to some great music and play games.
The event will be fun for the whole family. Proceeds from this fundraiser will be donated to the Woodgreen Community Services Homeward Bound Program – a program dedicated toward helping women acquire life skills, computer skills, a community college education and employment training so they can learn to provide for themselves and their children.
Barbara added that the Toronto Beach Rotary Club is a small club, but it has done huge things for the entire neighborhood. The club has many volunteers, loosely referred to as “Friends of Rotary” who are not full-fledged members, but who love to donate their time to help out. At the moment the club is looking for new memers and has started advertisements with the headline “Do you need Rotary? Rotary needs you.” Barbara describes her volunteer work with the Rotary Club as an extremely rewarding experience.
She explained that joining is quite simple: a prospective member would come out to the breakfast meetings for several weeks in a row to assess the fit with the Rotary organization. At the end of this trial period they can officially join and become a regular member.
The reasons for joining are many: not only does the Rotary Club provide the opportunity to serve and support local and international causes; it also provides a great realm for friendships and business development. The special events run by the club offer an opportunity for personal growth, leadership and ethics development.
In addition, exposure to community and global programs provides learning opportunities for greater cultural awareness. All in all it’s a win-win situation, for the individual, for the club and for the communities, locally and abroad, that are supported by the Rotary Club.
Naturally I also needed to inquire into Barbara Dingle’s connection with the Beach. Together with her husband John she moved into this area in the fall of 1975 because they saw the Beach as a great place to bring up children. Their children Geremy and Emily attended local schools where their love for music and drama was fostered along with strong academics.
She added that the Beach today is an area on the move, similar to 30 years ago. Everyone is renovating and “a spurt of youth” is being injected into the neighborhood. The Beach is an eclectic mix of teachers, artists, professionals and people from all other walks of life, “a great tapestry of people and a very egalitarian place”, to use Barb’s words.
Barbara obviously loves the neighborhood, and together with her friends at the Toronto Beach Rotary Club she has chosen to give back to organizations in her own community and to needy people around the world.