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September 27, 2003

ENTHUSIASM spurs new Rochester Deaf Rotary

From: Rochester Democrat Chronicle, NY - Sept 27, 2003

By Greg Livadas
Staff Writer

(September 27, 2003) — Enthusiatic members of what may be the first community service organization of its kind in the country wasted no time performing their first good deed: passing out dictionaries Thursday to fifth-graders at Rochester School for the Deaf.

John Beiter, provisional president of Rochester Deaf Rotary, wanted to start a local Rotary club for those with a hearing loss after reading about a similar Rotary club that formed in Japan last year.

“Here I am wondering why doesn’t Rochester have one,” said Beiter, who is hard of hearing. With many thousands of people with a hearing loss living in the region “it made no sense” that a Rotary Club for the deaf hadn’t formed here, he said.

After several conversations with Rotary officials locally and nationally, including support from past district governor Don Alhart, “I said nothing will happen if no action is taken. So I decided along with a few others’ blessings to establish the club on July 1,” said Beiter, who has been a member of the Lima, Livingston County, Rotary for six years.

So far, eight members have joined the club. At least 20 members are needed for the club to be recognized and chartered. Until that happens, they’ll remain on provisional status.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t hold meetings, hold chicken barbecue fundraisers or do community projects. They were warmly greeted by students at Rochester School for the Deaf.

“This is my dictionary,” Beiter told students as he held up a worn book of his. “I’ve had it for over 15 years. If you don’t know the spelling, look it up in here.”

The children thumbed through their new dictionaries as they looked up words. Elliot Fellows, 11, of Clifton Springs, Ontario County, asked whether the paperback book was his to keep. When he was told yes, he raised his hands in the air in joy and sported a wide grin while penning his name inside the cover.

Two other members of the new club — John Haynes of Henrietta and Michele Randall of Ogden — joined Beiter at the school Thursday.

Randall, who is hearing, is learning to become a sign language interpreter. “I wanted to involve myself in the deaf community,” she said.

Haynes was active in a local Lions Hard of Hearing Club but that club folded a few years ago for lack of interest and participation. Finding enthusiastic people to commit to attending meetings regularly could be a challenge, he said.

Rochester Deaf Rotary meetings have been held at 5 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at Alpha Lutheran Church of the Deaf, 1969 S. Clinton Ave., Brighton. Traditional Rotary clubs meet weekly, something Rochester Deaf Rotary will have to look into before being chartered.

Teresa Hall, governor of the local Rotary District 7120, which has about 3,000 members in 68 clubs from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border, is impressed with the drive Beiter has.

“I’ve never seen the enthusiasm I’ve seen from this group,” Hall said.

Still, there are things Beiter still has to learn. For starters, Rochester Deaf Rotary can’t be exclusive — it can’t limit membership to only those with hearing loss or who know sign language.

Rotary started in 1905 as a men’s association for fellowship and friendship, said Theresa Nissen, a spokeswoman for Rotary International. It evolved into members wanting to do community service and has the motto “service above self.”

In 1989, women were welcomed as Rotarians.

Now, Rotary is open to anyone, from students to retirees with a common desire: “They’re wanting to give back to the community and to the world,” Hall said.

Membership historically was intended to include a good representation of business and professional leaders in the community. Annual dues could range from $50 to $400 a year, depending on whether meals are included, Hall said. Members so far in Rochester Deaf Rotary have taken turns bringing dinner for the other members.

Dues would be required once the club gets chartered, although Beiter said he’s unsure of the amount his members would pay.

Normally, members attend the Rotary club in or adjacent to where they live or work. The exceptions to the geographic boundary requirement are special interest Rotary groups, where the common thread of members is something such as their ethnicity or language.

Other special interest Rotary groups include Koreans living in the same American community and residents of Beverly Hills, Calif., who speak Farsi.

There are 1.2 million Rotarians throughout the world, but statistics are not kept regarding deaf members or clubs, Nissen said. Beiter said he’s aware of two other deaf Rotary clubs, one in Japan and one also just starting in Canada.

Beiter has lofty goals already for the club, including a student exchange program involving deaf youths. He also hopes those working at or attending the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college of Rochester Institute of Technology, will also become involved in the club.

And one day, he hopes Rochester Deaf Rotary will be able to help open independent housing where deaf and hard-of-hearing senior citizens may spend their final years.

But first, the club needs to get its 20 members and become chartered.

“In order for this club to be successful, we have to get this population of people to not think they’re different,” Hall said. “Just because they don’t use voice as their primary communication, they’re not any different than me. If this Rotary club meets at the right time for you, you should join it if you have the interest.”

To join What: Rochester Deaf Rotary. When: Meets from 5 to 6:30 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesday of each month (next meeting scheduled for Oct. 14, with a guest speaker from Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Victims). Anyone is welcome to drop in. Where: Alpha Lutheran Church of the Deaf, 1969 S. Clinton Ave., Brighton. Next fundraiser: Pancake breakfast, $5 for adults, $3 for children younger than 10. 8 to 11 a.m. next Saturday, Oct. 4, at the church. Contact:

Copyright 2003 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.