New Generations Service
By nurturing youth, Rotarians can provide the skills young people need to succeed as future community leaders. Youth programs provide Rotarians the opportunity to develop their own leadership and communications skills and also provides for many incredible moments!
(As part of its New Generations Service, District 6490 conducts an essay contest. “Between Hope” by Elizaveta Fehr was the winning essay. “Standing Up For What Is Right” by Amina Gurmen placed second.)
By Elizaveta Fehr
Eureka High School Freshman
We held our breath as she leaned forward, her curly, golden hair shining under the classroom lights. “That’s when I raised my broom and swatted him with the end of the bristles!” As she floundered her arms comically, expressions lit up her face. We shook our heads at her, grinning and casting each other those I-think-she’s-gone-crazy looks. Had I known this human would be the one to drag me out of my deadening stupor, I may not have experienced the potential she saw in me from the beginning. The story I was itching to tell might still be at the bottom of my sock drawer, collecting dust on its cover and hoarding faded words on its page.
That year, I realized that sometimes it takes a story to inspire a teller just as much as it takes a teller to inspire the story.
With that said, my third grade self was bursting with quiet aspirations. As the writer that I was, and that I still am, my constant desire to put words on a page shifted me into a perpetual search to find a channel that could satisfy my hunger. It was that year that I was about halfway into my first novel, but writer's block the size of a skyscraper planted itself right onto my words and refused to budge. I was stuck. I was defeated. My dream was standing there right before me, yet it remained just beyond reach. I needed my drive. I needed that pursuit once again, that yearning to find the words that so desperately lost themselves in the darkness.
The words that so desperately lost themselves, that is, until one special someone discovered them again. It was a class day, and my third grade teacher, Mrs. Houch, sat on her wooden stool near the bookshelves. My black binder, concealing my manuscript, was resting on her lap as she introduced to the class what she was reading. I fidgeted in my seat and looked nervously down at my hands, awaiting the sound of my words to fill the dead classroom air. She opened the cover and began to read. Brilliantly, my words spilled out as a cascade of pictures, sounds, and colors. Hearing them being spoken out loud by my teacher was indescribable, as if one nudge could make them just as real as they had been in my head.
Just like she promised, Mrs. Houch read my manuscript to the class little by little every day. Each time, I relived every part of myself I had thought I would be the only one to ever hear. After she finished, she urged me to continue with the story. I, on the other hand, was skeptical. Regardless, her persistence wouldn't leave my head. I decided to continue with my book despite the writer’s block that was besetting my ability to put life back into my characters.
After three years of hard work, I came home from school to a brown box sitting with my book inside of it. There my book was, finished and published. I ripped open the box and grabbed the top book of the stack. My eyes scanned to the middle of the dedication page.
“To Mrs. Houch, for encouraging me,” I read to myself, and I smiled, closing the words that were once touched by a teacher who saw them in print long before I did. Looking back, her encouragement helped me to enter a writing contest hosted by our local television station, WTVP. I sent a short story in, and to my surprise I ended up receiving second place and was invited to read it on television with the rest of the winners.
Walking into that studio with my plaid skirt and fuchsia tie, bewildered to the core, the familiar face of my proud third grade teacher greeted me among the crowds of spectators. My teacher had come─golden hair, kind face, and all. She was the storyteller who let me tell the story, the inspired who encouraged the uninspired. Mrs. Houch had come to see me pour out my heart and soul into the minds of everyone around me when, in the first place, she was the one who poured out her own heart and soul into mine.
Standing Up For What Is Right
By Amina Gurmen
University Laboratory High School, Urbana
The first time I had ever truly known what discrimination felt like was during the early fall of this school year. Coming from a practicing Muslim family, I began to wear the headscarf (also known as a Hijab) when I was thirteen years old. Wearing the Hijab was never a burden; I was still able to do the things I loved while practicing my faith. Even playing sports was never a problem, and I participated in numerous clubs and teams.
One sport I particularly liked to play was volleyball, so naturally I signed up for the sport as soon as I had been admitted into the high school I currently go to. I was really looking forward to participating in the school volleyball team with my teammates and playing against other teams from other schools. Things were going very well and we travelled almost every weekend to play against other schools. One day, we were scheduled to play against an out-of-town school. When we got there, I excitedly got ready for the game and put on my jersey with the other girls in the locker room. As we conversed with each other and gave each other motivating pep talks, my coaches walked into the locker room and asked to speak with me privately. Confused, I followed them to the back of the locker room, where they informed me that I was not allowed to play because of my Hijab.
My initial feeling was shock and disbelief. I was puzzled as to why this particular school we were playing against had such a rule, when the other schools we had our games at did not. I was determined not to be left out of the game. While my team warmed up, I went straight to the referees and asked why I could not participate. They told me that according to the IHSA (Illinois High School Association) rules and regulations, players were not allowed to wear any “extra” apparel – aside from the jersey, sneakers, and kneepads – while they were in the game. I was confused. I had been playing for IHSA for some time; all of the clubs and teams I was in before I began playing for the school team belonged to the IHSA organization. Crestfallen, I retreated to the bleachers and sat out for the rest of the evening. Nothing could have been done to change the minds of the referees. All the time the game was in progress I was anticipating how my school might handle the situation. Surely there had to be something they could do so that this would not happen again. There would be future games at other schools, and one or more of them might have the same rule.
My teammates were more than supportive that night. When we all got home from the game, they immediately informed their parents and families, who emailed the head of our high school’s sports department. My parents called the school to ask what could be done about the incident in order to rectify the situation. Everyone’s main concern was that this would and should not happen again.
Later that week, I scheduled a meeting with the head of the school’s sports department. He showed me some IHSA documents, and inside one of the rulebooks, I found one rule stating that no “extra” articles of clothing could be worn during games. It turned out, many of the coaches and organizations I played for tended to bend that rule because I wore it for religious reasons. However, the head of our school’s sports department emailed the IHSA organization about officially changing the rule so that Muslim girls could wear the Hijab. He immediately received a reply stating that they were more than willing to make that change.
Although it was a trying experience, I am glad that I took action to make playing sports possible for everyone. Because of what had happened to me that day, Muslim girls are now officially allowed to participate in IHSA sports wearing their Hijab.
Here are other New Generations Service activities in the district:
Interact is a service club for teens, and District 6490 has several Interact clubs – all affiliated with high schools:
- Central Catholic High School, Bloomington – sponsored by Bloomington-Normal Sunrise Rotary
- University High School, Normal – sponsored by Bloomington-Normal Sunset Rotary
- Champaign Central High School – sponsored by Savoy and Champaign-Urbana Sunrise Rotary
- Champaign Centennial High School – sponsored by Champaign Rotary
- The High School of St. Thomas More – sponsored by Champaign West Rotary
- Charleston High School – sponsored by Charleston Rotary
- Clinton High School – sponsored by Clinton Rotary
- Danville High School – sponsored by Danville Sunrise Rotary
- Gibson City High School – sponsored by Gibson City Rotary
- Litchfield High School – sponsored by Litchfield Rotary
- Marshall High School – sponsored by Marshall Rotary
- Monticello High School – sponsored by Monticello Rotary
- Nokomis High School – sponsored by Nokomis Rotary
- Normal Community High School – sponsored by Normal Rotary
- Paris High School – sponsored by Paris Rotary
- Pontiac High School – sponsored by Pontiac Rotary
- Rantoul High School – sponsored by Rantoul Rotary
- Robinson High School – sponsored by Robinson Rotary
- Urbana High School – sponsored by Urbana Rotary
- Vandalia High School – sponsored by Vandalia Rotary
- Interact and Early Act Committee – This committee works with Rotary Clubs to implement and foster the development of Interact and Early Act Clubs.
Chair: Art Drake (Normal), firstname.lastname@example.org
Rotaract Clubs are service clubs for adults age 18-30. Most of the Rotaract Clubs in District 6490 are centered around colleges or universities, but we do have one community based Rotaract Club. Learn more information about Rotaract Clubs.
- Rotaract Committee – This committee works with Rotary Clubs to implement and foster the development of Rotaract Clubs and work with Rotaract Clubs to help them achieve their goals.
Chair: Nick Voss (Champaign West), email@example.com
Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA)
RYLA is a weekend retreat where high school students learn about leadership and team-building. The teens work together in groups on projects as well. Learn more information about RYLA.
- Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA) Committee
Chair: Roxanne Johnston (Rantoul), firstname.lastname@example.org
Rotary Youth Exchange
District 6490 is very active in the Rotary Youth Exchange program, which involves hosting international students in the U.S. and sending our local students to study abroad. These exchanges have a powerful, lasting impact on the students and host families alike. Learn more about Rotary Youth Exchange.
- Rotary Youth Exchange Committee -- With the aid of designated club-level Youth Exchange Officers, this committee assists eligible high school students (Inbounds and Outbounds, 15-17 years of age 1 year prior to departure) in applying for and completing a year overseas as Rotary youth ambassadors representing their country, community and Rotary Club.
Chair: Terry Weir (Marshall), email@example.com
Here are other District 6490 committees that help carry out the mission of New Generations service:
Global Grants and Peace Scholars – The District Scholarship Committee functions as a subcommittee of the Foundation Committee. It has the responsibility of recommending to the District Foundation Committee the types of scholarships the District offers.
Chair: Tom Hodson (Champaign West): firstname.lastname@example.org
Literacy and Education – This committee is responsible to work with clubs to implement local and international literay projects, continue to build a relationship between the clubs and the Illinois Reading Council, distribute Cardinal Care Funds and assist in any other items dealing with Literacy and Education.
Chair: Janet Ellis-Nelson (Champaign), email@example.com