Community Matters

Toronto welcomes Rotarians from around the world

The philanthropic spirit will be alive and well in Toronto this summer when the city hosts the Rotary International Convention from June 23 to 27. The event will see the participation of 36,000 Rotarians from around the world, including up to 300 members from Italy. “Rotarians will exchange ideas, celebrate accomplishments and learn how to best serve their communities,” says Neil Phillips, head of Rotary District 7070 in Toronto. “We all aim to support each other to make the world a better place; in the end that’s what it’s all about.”

Peggy Boccia, a retired high school teacher and member of the Toronto Earlscourt Rotary Club – once headed by her late husband, Dr. Aldo Boccia – explains, “One of the main aims of the conference is to share ideas, but more so to keep the momentum going, to keep the passion for the rotary alive, because it has made such a difference in the world. We want to ensure that this service and help continues.” It all began in 1905 when attorney general Paul Harris founded the

Rotary Club of Chicago bringing together professionals of diverse backgrounds to exchange ideas and help their communities. Today, Rotary International comprises 1.2 million individuals with 34,000 clubs in over 200 countries worldwide. While each club has preserved the founder’s mandate to focus locally, Phillips points out, “Each club also has a commitment to be engaged in an international project.”

One of Rotary International’s most notable projects is the reduction of the polio disease worldwide. Alongside global partners, Rotary International has helped to decrease the number of polio-endemic countries from 125 in 1988 to three in 2018. Other initiatives include providing a mobile cancer screening unit in Chennai, India, where women have a high mortality rate due to late diagnosis, and training farmers in West Cameroon to increase their crop yields.

These types of outreach programs are what attracted Ralph Chiodo. The president of Active Green + Ross Tire & Automotive Centre, who is well-known for his philanthropic causes, joined the Rotary Club of Etobicoke in 1987. “I was invited by a friend to a weekly meeting,” he recalls. “I was totally impressed by what was going on and became a member.”

Chiodo and his club launched the Toronto RibFest in 1999, an event for which he served as chair for the first 15 years. “It’s organized mainly through sponsorship and total community involvement, all volunteer, with 100% of the proceeds going back to the community,” he says. Trillium Health Partners, Women’s Habitat and Kids Against Hunger are some of the organizations that have been helped.

Aside from his local club, Chiodo is also an honorary member of the Rotary Clubs of Amantea and Rogliano Valle del Savuto, both located in Calabria, Italy. “Rotarians are expected to visit their club weekly, and if you can’t do it in your city, you are expected to visit the club in the city where you are staying,” explains Chiodo. “I go to Italy so often that I became an honorary member of the two clubs in southern Italy.”

The synergy between rotary clubs led to a life-saving initiative. “The Rotary Club of Etobicoke made a major donation to the Association of

Voluntary Italian Blood Donors, and in partnership with the Rotary Club of Amantea, and other clubs in Italy, we were able to establish a mobile clinic to provide medical assistance in the small towns up in the hills where there were no resident doctors or hospitals,” explains Chiodo. During the earthquakes in Amatrice in 2016, the clinic provided aid until additional medical assistance arrived.

These types of initiatives are the outcome of working together toward a common goal, points out Tony Cipriani, a former member of the Rotary Club of Toronto Black Creek. He says that the upcoming Rotary International Convention in Toronto is sure to create meaningful relationships and opportunities. He notes, “When the Rotarians come together, it’s something powerful.”