By Anabella Bonfa, Rotary Club of Irvine, California, USA, with Anthony Bonfa
My husband and I and our teenage son Anthony all volunteer at 30 or more projects every year. We consider ourselves a Rotary family. All three of us are hands-on because we come from a smart club that engaged our son in Rotary projects at a young age.
We all enjoy Rotary because it gives us a joint activity where we can spend time together with mutual friends, contribute our individual talents, and create a better world. My club went out of their way to include Anthony from day one. This is how he explains it:
“My first experience with Irvine Rotary was when I was 9. My mom had just joined the club and she started taking me to every volunteer project with her. I didn’t know what to do to help at first. Don Kennedy was the president of the club that first year and he changed everything for me by putting me to work.
“I remember being at a local food drive where we were collecting food donations outside a grocery store. Don reached into his pocket, pulled out $40 and told me to go shop in the store for “food samples” to put on our display table. That same day, Don told me I was old enough to count all the money and checks, about $400 worth and I became his official accountant. I had a great time shopping and counting money as you can see in the photo (right).
“At the local dental clinic, Don asked me to put together a “play area” with toys so that kids waiting hours to get dental work could play while they were waiting. I brought my collection of Hot Wheels, Legos, and Beyblades and set up a coloring area.
“All year long Don made me his “special helper.” I’ve helped every year since. Now that I’m 16, I have volunteered at more than 70 projects and experienced all kinds of things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I’ve built houses in one day for families sleeping on floors in Mexico, helped people see for the first time with free glasses, and even cooked waffles for the Marines. Rotary has grown my understanding of my own community and others abroad.
“This year, I chaired my first Rotary project, running the same food drive where I volunteered with Don the first time. We lost Don to cancer a couple of years ago, but he taught me well and I think chairing the food drive honors his memory.”
Engaging kids doesn’t just mean putting them to work. Cisca, another club member, donated points to make Anthony a Paul Harris Fellow. Other members arranged to have District Governor Kevin come present him with his Paul Harris pin and honor his volunteer service. Bret taught him how to keep score at a baseball game. Other district governors have given him the opportunity to practice his public speaking skills at district conferences. He appreciates his Rotary mentors and friends and considers many to be his “extended family.”
Anthony’s Rotary opportunities have changed his life. When he was 12 and in heavy competition to join his school’s robotics team he was chosen as the captain to manage the team because he was the only kid who 1) had public speaking experience 2) had regularly worked with a team of volunteers and 3) understood how to manage money in a project.
In high school he has been a multiple recipient of the Prudential “Spirit of Community Service” award which will bode well in future college applications.
Anthony’s presence at service events encourages other parents to join our club and gives us a “family-friendly” vibe. We also regularly invite local high school students and Rotaract members at the University of California, Irvine, to our service projects and we go to their projects to support them in return.
We, as a club, honor our youth and we believe if your club does too, you will attract younger Rotarians and build the next generation of Rotary leaders who will continue your club’s work for many years to come.