As one of only 19 people serving on the Rotary International Board of Directors, Stephanie Urchick has the opportunity to visit clubs in the 115-year-old service organization, well, internationally.
“One of the advantages of traveling for Rotary is you always see things that are happening that make you think, wow! That’s such a great idea. I bet I could bring that back to my own area,” the North Strabane Township resident said.
Shortly after the start of her two-year term on the board, Urchick traveled to the Land Down Under as a representative of Rotary International’s president, Mark Daniel Maloney of Alabama.
“When I was in Australia, I had the privilege of visiting a project of a Rotary Club that was gift to their community, really,” she said. “They were doing a singing project, and it was meant for people in their community who had a need for socialization around music, people who were ill, who maybe had Parkinson’s or cancer, or who were widowed or widowers, or who were simply lonely.”
Sufficiently inspired, she shared the concept with members of the McMurray Rotary Club, of which she is a member.
And starting Jan. 10, musically inclined club members including pianist and music teacher Pam Linnon-Flinn will lead a program called Afternoon Tunes With McMurray Rotary and Friends. Sing-alongs are scheduled from 2 to 3 p.m. the second and fourth Fridays of each month at Peters Township Public Library.
The program in Australia, led by Rotarian Leon Moore, started with five stroke victims and participation has grown considerably in the subsequent nine years.
“This group sings for that hour and just enjoys each other’s company, and they come back week after week after week,” Urchick reported. “Now, the Rotarians aren’t exactly medical practitioners, but I can certainly say that’s really a form of musical therapy.”
A Rotarian since 1991, Urchick has devoted a substantial amount of time and energy to helping people in various parts of the world.
For example, when she served as governor of Rotary District 7330 in 1998-99, she spearheaded a project to purchase mammogram machines for a hospital in Poland.
At the time, the survival rate for cancer patients in the United States exceeded 75 percent, but in Poland, more than half were dying.
“It wasn’t a matter of them having more cases of cancer. It was that they didn’t have any early detection,” Urchick explained. “And I was so pleased that every single club did something to help support that.”
The regional district now is designated as No. 7305 and encompasses an area including Allegheny, Greene and Washington counties. One of Urchick’s roles as a director is conducting trainings for governors-elect, and this year that includes fellow McMurray member Al DeLucia, a Bethel Park resident who will lead District 7305 for a year starting in July.
Urchick actually was the first woman to serve as governor of District 7330, just a decade or so after Rotary International got with the times and started allowing female members.
The change in policy occurred when the late Chuck Keller of the California Rotary Club was RI president, the only Western Pennsylvania resident so far to earn the distinction. Keller, in fact, served as a mentor to Urchick when she joined his club.
“Women have always been a part of Rotary, even when they weren’t officially known as members. They were supporting their spouses,” she said, and in many cases took more active roles in their clubs’ endeavors.
Today, nearly 30 percent of Rotarians in the United States are women.
“The gender equality is a good thing, because the world reacts to men and women differently, and I think the balance of having two different genders in an organization is superb,” Urchick said. “That’s why I also support Rotary’s initiative now for diversity and inclusion. The more perspectives we get, the better we are.”
Prior to her election to the board of directors representing Zones 33-34 – an area stretching from the western half of Pennsylvania south to Florida, into the Caribbean islands and to Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana in South America – Urchick chaired Rotary International’s strategic planning committee, which developed a plan called “Transforming Rotary’s Future Through Strategic Change.”
“Our process now is about getting that information down to the clubs, so the clubs know how to do it and how to translate it so that it will make sense for what they’re doing locally in their communities,” she said.
For instance, Rotary clubs generally raise money to donate to various worthwhile organizations, but she would like to see the results of the philanthropy understood in greater detail.
“We need to take that a step further, and go back to those organizations and say, how do we measure what the donation did?” she explained. “We have to get better at showing what the impact is of what we do.”
The strategic plan also addresses making membership more flexible to better accommodate people’s schedule. Examples include online “e-clubs” and satellite clubs that operate on a basis that works best for members, rather than the traditional once-a-week Rotary meetings.
The goal, Urchick said, is to “try to make it easier for people to come and experience the magic of Rotary.”