Thursday, December 8, 2016

Raising awareness through advocacy about Alopecia Areata!

Our Rotary Speaker for December 6, 2016 was Deirdre Nero, a proud board member of the National Alopecia Areata Foundation ( NAAF) and a friend to several members of Rotary Club of South Miami!

The topic, going into today, was how to use advocacy and awareness to change negative things in your life into positives. Deirdre's negative is Alopecia Areata, which is an autoimmune disease that targets body hair, ALL body hair including nose hairs and eyelashes.

When you meet Deirdre, you wouldn't guess that she's bald, she wears a very realistic wig, however, to make a point, as the lecture began, she took her wig off (she named her wig Christine) then placed it on the nearest table. One of the Rotarians (Ellen Book), remarked not by shock, but by pure honesty and genuineness, when she plainly stated, "You are beautiful"!

This is a key point, frankly, one that shouldn't be dismissed nor overlooked. For, one of the issues with this autoimmune disease, (which can affect a person at any age) highlighted by Deirdre, is this feeling of a loss of beauty, or loss of femininity among women, and of masculinity among men. This mental anguish leads to anxiety, depression, bullying among children and even cases of suicide. However, beauty isn't determined by hair style, whether you have a full head of hair running the length of your back or are bare bald, it doesn't matter, nor does this define beauty, for true beauty is in the person.


Deirdre went on to tell her story how as a young woman her hair loss began. Up until age 21, Deirdre actually had a full head of thick hair. Then one day, as she brushed her hair, she noticed this perfectly round bald spot, of course she freaked out and was petrified, not knowing what caused this (at the time she never heard about Alopecia Areata). Finally, after going to several doctors and dermatologists, she found out and heard the confirmation, "You have Alopecia Areata, and there's nothing we can do."

Currently there's isn't any known cure for this autoimmune disease, and frankly, not much in the way of awareness. For example, Deirdre, while shopping in the grocery store without her wig, often is mistaken as a cancer patient, so instead of buying produce, she often will go into a lecture about Alopecia Areata.

Alopecia Areata, isn't related at all to male pattern baldness, as this affects all body hair. And, there's a randomness to this type of baldness. Fortunately there's no discomfort with this hair loss, other than possible itchiness. Although for those that want to regain their eyebrows, they have to have cortisone shots, which are very painful. However, having eyebrows, does make a big difference, for facial expressions actually do depend on our eyebrows.


It is through advocacy, where we can raise awareness! Hair loss of this type is traumatizing, for when you lose all of your hair, you may not even recognize yourself in the mirror. Deirdre, decided to do something about this by finding out more through attending the NAAF conferences. At first, she would stay in the back of the room as she heard the stories of other people who suffer from this disease and the dramatic mental anguish this causes. Now, Deirdre proudly serves as an advocate and legislative liaison for the NAAF.

Recently Deirdre was instrumental in introducing the bill HR 4989, a cranial prosthetic medicaid coverage enhancement act, through her congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. And, Deirdre is working on supporting new legislation through an approach that not only treats Alopecia Areata, but also other related diseases. As the cure for one related autoimmune disease could lead to the cure for another, a promising domino effect.

Additionally, through this advocacy, we can reduce instances of bullying for children suffering this disease while addressing school dress codes that may restrict the use of wearing a hat or scarf. Truly this kind of advocacy gives voice to those who were previously unheard!

To find out more on how you can help visit:

That you Deirdre for raising our own awareness of Alopecia Areata through your continued advocacy!

By Jeff McNabb

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What does Rotary mean to you? An interview with Rotarian Ernesto Lafontaine.

Ernesto Lafontaine currently works as a business consultant in the food industry focusing mostly on individually owned restaurants or schools and locally managed institutions that serve food. Ernesto, also helps to organize the homeless outreach group, Los Servidores del Servidor, in South Florida. Ernesto explains what attracted him to our Rotary club.

Question, “What drew you to Rotary?”

Ernesto, “It’s very simple, I was looking for a group of people who wanted to help their communities, to get in touch with other individuals who wanted to give of their time and or resources to helping others, where the motivation wasn’t solely religious nor solely for business networking. While I believe religion and business are important, neither of these two focuses are everything. And so, I was looking to find a group that was in between the two concepts.”

Question, “What does Rotary mean to you?”

Ernesto, “In general I have found most humanitarian help comes from religious or governmental groups, however Rotary gives me the avenue to reach out to more people to be able to access more resources and to have more opportunities than these groups, which are somewhat limited in their scope and reach. And, business organizations are more about how I can help “me”, but I’m not into me, I’m more into others, the disadvantaged.”

Question, "What is service above self to you?"

Ernesto “I’ve never been into myself I’ve always thought that I have a greater purpose in life, helping other human beings that have trouble fending for themselves. I’m one individual of the many and life cannot consist in only fulfilling my material needs. That concept goes back to when I was a kid, I’ve always liked helping people.

Ernesto on some of his background, “I mean I went to school and studied business, but I never understood this concept about me, me, me where everything has to be focused with YOU, and where your life is only about making money. I always wanted to help people, I was back in Canada then looking for meaning, and that was it, I decided to leave and that’s when I got involved into going overseas. Initially going out to Peru.”

Ernesto continued, “In Peru, I worked as a business consultant for the Canadian government and because of my business background, I was sent to an area in the middle of nowhere to help local farmers improve their economic situation. For example, the main group I worked with would grow coffee, and once a year they would harvest their crop. When that happened, the banks and local merchants would get together and take advantage of them, by manipulating the market and paying pennies on the dollar for their crop. And so, these farmers were always starving, because they just never had enough.

I came in and helped organize them, I set up a small bank which they controlled, where they could save their own money and this gave them a mechanism to obtain loans and grants from foreign entities and governments. I created a fund where they would be able to finance themselves and bypass the local merchants. “

Question, “What was your earlier service like? Did it resemble a micro loan program?"

Ernesto, “Yeah, kind of but a little bigger than that and the loans were guaranteed by the crops. Once the product was sold at a fair price on the international markets they would pay off their loan and pocket the difference. After I set it up, it worked so well that the United Nations noticed and offered me a job. They had a project where they would offer local farmers substitute crops to the Coca leaf and they had to figure out a way of making these other crops economically viable.

Back then the Terrorists and the Narcos were working together and our project competed with the illegal cocoa leaf industry. Because of the success of the work I’ve was doing and the project overall, I was put on a list "to get rid of" and that’s how I ended up here in Miami.”

Ernesto on Rotary in Peru, “I always saw Rotary as a bunch of old men, if you will, just writing checks. But, through my Peru connection I saw they really did a lot of good, humanitarian work and that’s how I was brought to Rotary here. Through Rotary I can combine my efforts, my passion for helping people, with other people with similar interests, like our club. We’re out there, we all want to do more and by working together we can, because by ourselves, we can only do so much. I find Rotary to be a place that opens those doors, creating more opportunity to help!”

Question, “What would you like to see Rotary do?”

Ernesto, “I would like to see us get more of our clubs together and work more on collaboration, enabling us to get more done. There’s so much need out there, there’s so many things to do. And as I mentioned, one person, two people just can’t do it, this is a community effort. And, I’d love to be able to organize different clubs to work together on a common goal.

And what drives me, isn’t necessarily cleaning the streets or beautifying our communities, but more of that human contact. Being able to give someone that little helping hand, making their day. Giving a person in need something that will bring a moment of peace and happiness to their lives. Or, perhaps teaching our migrants workers how to manage whatever little money they have so that predatory lenders don’t take advantage of them. It’s a serious issue because a lot of these migrant workers send their money to their families in another country or cash their checks outside the legitimate financial system and pay dearly for the service.

There’s so much work to do, so much, we just need more people involved.”

Thank you Ernesto for all of your good work and for your continued service above self!

Interview by Jeff McNabb

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The "Do's and Don'ts of Rotary" (a lecture by Rotarian, Roy Gonas)

November 8th's surprise Rotary Luncheon!

Fellow Rotarians, Roy Gonas, was the "surprise" lecturer on National Election Decision day. Roy's theme, the "Do's and Don'ts of Rotary," is an extremely helpful subject for those new to Rotary. In fact, Roy has been a distinguished Rotarian, holding the title of a Distinct Governor as well as several other titles over the course of his nearly 40 years in service to Rotary. Who better than Roy to conduct this lecture?
Roy began by emphasizing proper Rotary etiquette, something he admitted himself to violating at least 82 times! The first point Roy made is that we're a club, not a chapter. We as individuals are members of this Rotary club, but not of Rotary International itself. The actual member of Rotary International is our Rotary Club of South Miami.

Business and Rotary
Did you know that while we are associated with being a business organization, there can not be any solicitation within the club itself? This practice helps us to stay on point in our shared community mission. We all have our own projects and our own goals, and then as Rotarians, we have our shared Rotary goals, such as our Art Festival and our community service projects. Solicitation confuses the issue. We're not here to simply do business, we're here to network to intellectually and sometimes physically combine our efforts.
Skip the Honorifics and Titles
As Rotarians we are all equal, and while some of us have titles, those titles only serve the function of heading up certain committees and shouldering certain responsibilities. A Rotary title after-all is more of a focal point, not a rank. So, when we introduce new visitors in hopes of them becoming Rotarians we should introduce them to our fellow Rotarians by first name only, not through title.
Club Demographics
In this club, there is what we do privately, there is what we do as a profession, and there is what we do as Rotarians. From an ethical standpoint, we should keep these varying interests separate. And yet, there can still be a significant cross over, personal ties to the projects our Rotary club sponsors , and skills built through professional experience and through hobbies better enabling us to assist our club. Ultimately, we're Rotarians because of this like-minded approach and passion, this desire to improve our community by using our specific skill sets. This is why it is a good thing and why we are encouraged to have this mix of different professions, as the more varied the proficiency, the more we can be capable of as a club.

While we can't have any solicitation, there's no harm to doing business together outside of Rotary. And, it is true and ethically correct not to have any special financial privilege through our Rotary association. Yet, there is that special personal privilege and mutual respect we build for each other through our shared experiences, where we build these better friendships enabling us, inspiring us, to build better communities.

Thanks Roy!

-by Jeff McNabb
(edited by Frankie Berti)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Helene Dudley, of the Colombia Project

Pictured: Helene Dudley accepts the 2013 Lillian Carter Award (Photo credit: Amber David Collins)

November 1 2016 - Today's lecture featured Helene Dudley, a decorated Peace Corps volunteer, and a member of the Rotary Club of Coconut Grove. This passionate Rotarian introduced the micro loan program known as the Colombia Project. Additionally, in recognition of her Peace Corps service, she received a Presidential Lifetime Service Medal and the Lillian Carter Award from President Jimmy Carter

The Colombia Project ( now a part of the TCP Global program ) provides help, through these micro-loan programs, pro-bono assistance focusing on marginalized communities like in Colombia and around the world. In effect, an ingenious sustainable design that actually "jump starts" whole communities with minimal help to locally based small businesses. 

The loan cycle begins with donations, and in fact is supported 100% through these endowments. The money is then distributed to the loan recipients, the TCP Global administrative partners then mentor the small business owners and collect the loan repayments. Half of the loans payments collected go into a permanent loan pool. This system establishes a lasting, sustainable loan account that will serve the community in perpetuity, rebuilding not only businesses but whole lives.

This project is a joint Peace Corps and Rotary International effort, and Helene mentioned that the two organizations share in fundamental philanthropic philosophies, so much so, that she believes that Peace Corps volunteers should become Rotarians once their time of service is done, further enabling and sustaining good will through this association of like minds. 

The motto behind this Colombia Project is one that should be adopted worldwide for indeed "A little help goes a long way!"

article by Jeff McNabb

Sunday, October 30, 2016

What does Rotary mean to you?

Larry Boudon, (Pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church) in an interview with Rotarian Frankie Berti, discusses the influence Rotary International had on his life...

"I actually participated in two Rotary-sponsored exchanges. The first was a "grand exchange" between our district in Western PA and West Germany in 1976. More than 100 kids aged 14-18 (I think) went to West Germany for a month in the summer of 1976 as part of an overall effort to establish permanent exchanges between that country and our district. It was the first time I had been on a plane or traveled outside of the US (Canada excepted). A friend of mine and I stayed with families in Hamburg and they took us to Berlin (still divided), Heidelberg and Freiberg. It was an awesome experience and played an important role in my decision two years later to be an exchange student.

In my senior year at Port Allegany Area High School, I decided I wanted to be an exchange student. When I applied I listed France, Switzerland, and Sweden as the countries to which I would like to go, in that order (I had studied French in high school and my last name is French). Rotary suggested Japan, but that fell through. Next they said Ecuador and that also did not pan out. Finally they said Colombia and that is where I went in August of 1978. As I said at the meeting, it was a year that completely changed the course of my life. I stayed the whole year with a wonderful family who also sent one of their kids to the US as an exchange student (Philly area). I attended two different schools, learned Spanish (to the extent that I double majored in it during college), and fell in love with Colombia and Latin America. When I started college a year later I focused as much as possible on Latin America, especially during my MA studies at the University of Virginia. After UVa I ended up in DC, working for a non-profit called Council on Hemispheric Affairs. I later got a job as a journalist with Agence France-Presse (AFP), where I used both my Spanish and French. I returned to school at UM in 1992 and focused on Latin American comparative politics and international relations. After a few years teaching as an adjunct at various DC-area schools, I landed a job at the Library of Congress, working as editor of the Handbook of Latin American Studies.

So as you can see, that one year as a Rotary Exchange Student influenced my life for many years.

As for how I see Rotary in the world, I have been away from it for too long to say anything authoritative. But one thing I will say is that it builds bridges around the world, not only through the exchange programs but through links that are established between different clubs around the world. And the more we get to know our neighbors, the more likely we will be at peace with them."

Interview by Frankie Berti

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A lunch meeting with John David of David PR Group

October 4, 2016 

Today's meeting began with concerns about Hurricane Matthew, a concern reinforced by both the recent trajectory switch of the storm and the worries about its growing intensity. Due to this concern, attendance was down as compared to prior weeks as a few missed the meeting, understandably, due to storm preparation.

Our speaker, John P. David, focused on another kind of storm, a tempest that could change and stay with us for an entire lifetime, namely, our online reputation. John David's company, David PR Group, a public relations firm which is based in Miami, works to restore damaged online reputations, for if left unchecked, a damaged online presence can destroy not only your business but also your personal life.

Mr. David began his speech by asking for a show of hands, quickly checking to see those with an internet presence, pointing out, that in this day, you are without a doubt, off the grid if you don't at least have a website, you are practically invisible to potential clients, especially, I suspect to those versed and raised in this internet focused age beginning with Generation X on forward to Millennials.

John laid out a few basic fundamental internet posting guidelines. Guideline number one, don't document everything! More specifically, in regards to respect, beginning with self respect, from there, once you respect yourself, then you can understand the necessity of respecting others. And yet, we have been lacking on teaching this vital lesson as we have this disturbing practice of people posting their "private parts", a trend that just adds to the current level of unchecked voyeurism, where these implicit photos are then forwarded on to others ( the ultimate sign of disrespect ).

Ultimately, this lesson of "respect" is a good one to follow, the best one, for if we respect everyone as human beings first, then we can find a pathway that could lead to not only the elimination of malicious internet posts, but an elimination of malicious, sadistic, acts of inhumanity.

The day ended with Rotarian, Ernesto Lafontaine finally winning the growing club pot, he picked the right card! In my opinion, I think Ernesto's win is a win for everyone, as his winnings are going to his homeless outreach program! Additionally, Rotarian Reggie Laroche, brought in a bag of clothes adding to our growing collection for the Homeless outreach program to take place in downtown Miami on October 14! Thanks Reggie!

Originally posted by Jeff McNabb