ST. GEORGE — After several months of coxing, corralling and convincing Washington County to raise public interest, the Rotary Satellite Club of Southern Utah Veterans is a reality.
Although the club — operating under the umbrella of the Rotary Club of Dixie Sunrise — will not be formally recognized until Tuesday when its application is formally submitted to Rotary District Gov. Linda Sappington, it’s full steam ahead for the 12 Southern Utah residents who have stepped up to the plate to help form the service club.
Retired United States Navy Cmdr. Doug Graham has been appointed as the club’s first chairman. As a military intelligence officer, organizational skills are Graham’s forte.
Graham said in this day and age, it’s important to acknowledge the importance of service to country and service to community.
“As I get older, I ask myself what have I contributed,” he said. “Through this club, I thought maybe I can contribute a little bit more … especially to the veterans’ community. When given the opportunity to help other veterans it was definitely something that I knew I wanted to become a part of.”
The idea to form a rotary club specifically destined to help Southern Utah’s veterans community was a collaborative effort between St. George resident and retired U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer David Nelson – chairperson for service projects with the Rotary Club of Dixie Sunrise, as well as the other 45 other clubs across the state – and Utah Rotary’s District Gov.-elect Jose Velasco.
This is a new concept for Rotary, with only two other veteran-oriented clubs in the United States: one in Texas and one in Minnesota.
“One thing unique that we can bring to the table,” Nelson said in a previous interview with St. George News, “is the ability to tap into a vast network of contacts spread throughout Rotary International’s global reach.”
Nelson said this new club specifically for veterans is a big deal.
“My motivation is to give back to a specific group that I think possibly is underserved,” he said. “There are other organizations out there that can help veterans, but are the veterans going to know that they are out there and how to take advantage of their services? The answer in some cases is ‘no.’”
Another question, Graham added, is whether the services are going to be delivered quickly.
“Most often the answer again is ‘no,’” he said.
Graham said the goal of the new Rotary club is to become an organization that facilitates the right things to happen quickly, expanding the portfolio to help veterans now and in the future. Of particular attention will be providing help for the more than 100 Southern Utah homeless veterans, veterans contemplating suicide and veterans facing legal challenges.
“We are looking at a whole range of things that we’re interested in,” Graham said. “I don’t think we can focus on just one overlying issue moving forward. We can discuss what is most important and who wants to be involved in individual projects.”
Rotary started in 1905 with the vision of Paul Harris, a Chicago attorney who formed the first club in his hometown. The goal was to bring together professionals from diverse backgrounds to develop lifelong friendships.
Over time, Rotary’s mission has become more of a humanitarian-based service club.
Today, Rotary International is made up of 33,000 clubs located in more than 200 countries and geographical areas, forming a global network of 1.2 million business and professional leaders who volunteer their time and talents to make a difference in people’s lives.
Even before the new club’s initial formation, Southern Utah veterans have been hard at work helping others.
In the spirit of taking care of their own Washington County’s veterans have already helped those in need, including a national guardsman who broke nearly every bone in his body during a parasailing accident.
The service member endured multiple surgeries and is still facing the possible amputation of his foot, and members of the fledgling Rotary club and others in the military community have brought to bear their collective strength to help the father of two children under the age of four.
“This veteran is in a wheelchair and unable to work,” Nelson said. “We found out that he was hurting for food, hurting for diapers, hurting for wipes, hurting for money.”
After several well-placed telephone calls by members of Rotary Club of Dixie Sunrise the same afternoon four boxes of food had arrived, diapers and an envelope full of cash.
“This is the kind of power Rotary has,” Nelson said. “It’s different than a lot of other organizations. Rotary, as much as people think has a lot of rules and is an old guys club, is really an organization that has a lot of contacts and moves fast when it has to. We are all here for service to our community.”
With the move to create a dedicated Rotary club targeting veterans’ needs, change is inevitable, Graham said.
“I’m excited about this,” Graham said. “We’ve got some things planned that will be pretty nifty, and we have some people that are absolutely dedicated to the cause, which is great.”
To mark the Rotary club’s formation, the club will host a celebration Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Nelson’s Wash, 1598 Ironwood Drive in SunRiver. Membership applications, along with the club’s formal application will be handed off to Rotary District Gov. Sappington.
Snacks, beer, wine and light refreshments will be served.
After the official handing over of applications, Nelson said it will be “time to get to know each other, tell sea stories, discuss the future of the club, express concerns, and anything else that comes to mind.”
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