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Rotary members excited to host first major conference in over 20 years

“Hope and Mental Wellness” is the theme for this year’s Rotary International District 5550 Conference, which takes place on Friday, May 10 and Saturday, May 11 at the Exhibition Company’s Convention Centre.
The Moose Jaw Wakamow Rotary Club is hosting a major conference this May that will attract nearly 200 people from across Canada. Supporting the conference are Glenn Hagel, organizing committee chairman, and Sonja Susut, governor of Rotary District 5550, both from the Wakamow club. Photo by Jason G. Antonio

It’s been over 20 years since Moose Jaw hosted a major Rotary Club event, but this spring, the city will welcome hundreds of Rotarians for a conference focused on promoting healthy communities.

“Hope and Mental Wellness” is the theme for this year’s Rotary International District 5550 Conference, which takes place on Friday, May 10 and Saturday, May 11 at the Exhibition Company’s Convention Centre.

The Wakamow Club — with support from the clubs of Moose Jaw and Assiniboia — is organizing the annual conference, which will attract nearly 200 members from Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northern Ontario to learn and socialize with others who share the Rotary motto of “service above self.”

“We’re looking forward to this. It’s going to be a big event for us … ,” said Sonja Susut, governor of Rotary District 5550 and member of the Wakamow club. “We’re pretty excited.”

“We’re placing a lot of emphasis on Moose Jaw … . We’re drawing people who are engaged in hope and mental wellness (from) here,” said Glenn Hagel, conference chairman and member of the Wakamow club. “And we’re hoping that it will be an inspirational experience (for everyone).”

The last time Moose Jaw hosted a district conference was around 2000 when the district governor — who normally resides with the host club — from Regina asked the two Moose Jaw clubs to host because they hadn’t before, he said. Meanwhile, this is the first time a district governor is from Moose Jaw. 

Scheduled speakers

May 10 starts with opening ceremonies, followed by Della Ferguson with Journey to Hope giving the keynote address. Next is community artist Laura Hamilton, followed by a presentation about how Aboriginal reserves have hope through clean drinking water. 

There will also be vendors and a silent auction, while dinner and entertainment at the Western Development Museum close the evening.

Day 2 sees community athlete Lisa Franks, a Paralympian gold medallist and world record holder, speaking about overcoming adversity, followed by Judge Clifford Toth and Meagan Jasper discussing the theme from a court- and addiction-related perspective.

Maryse Carmichael, Moose Jaw’s city manager and a retired Snowbirds’ commander, will be the day’s keynote speaker.

Meanwhile, the organization’s “Ripple Effect” initiative will focus on building hope in communities, while Rotary youth exchange students will talk about the future.

The evening concludes with a dinner, program and social.

An international project

The Ripple Effect Program has been providing educational support in Guatemala for 25 years because residents are poor — rural residents live in poverty — and the education system goes to only Grade 6, Hagel explained. With 75 per cent of the population undereducated, many use their thumbprint as a signature. 

The presentation will focus on stories of what the program has done for Guatemalans, he continued. While international clubs fund the program, clubs on the ground provide the volunteer labour. 

Meanwhile, the government provides food to schools while mothers prepare lunches, which is sometimes kids’ only meal of the day, Hagel said. If food is left, students take some home.

“So, it’s a whole different world from the one we live in,” he added. 

Conference theme

Scotland’s Gordon McInally is this year’s annual Rotary International president, and for the yearly theme, due to his brother’s suicide, he chose “Create hope in the world,” which the conference organizing committee paraphrased for the event, Susut said.

Since depression is often hidden and there’s a stigma about asking for help, McInally wanted clubs to learn more about this disease and offer people help, she continued. Based on her travels across the country, she believes communities are doing that.

“Rotary isn’t scared to deal with big issues … ,” said Hagel, pointing to polio eradication efforts as one example. 

Susut praised Hagel’s efforts in chairing the organizing committee for the past 18 months. She noted that planning is finished and it’s now about implementing those plans, including preparing the venue. 

“It’s been a collaborative experience. It’s been Rotarian planning,” said Hagel. 

Instead of voting on decisions, the committee has decided issues using consensus, which, while slower, means everyone feels included, he continued. Furthermore, the group wants attendees to leave feeling the conference was inspirational, educational and time well spent. 

The committee is “very, very proud” of Moose Jaw — which is why it selected many local professionals to present — and wants to share the community with others, Hagel added. It also wants Rotarians to know how great tourism is here. 

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