Books for early readers

Jeff and Barbara Orth launched a special project to bring books to 10,000 schoolchildren.Photo: Nick Lovejoy

To those who are unfamiliar, Rotary International may seem like a secretive organization whose unusual spoked gear adorns roadside signs and whose purpose is elusive and understood only by its members. But for more than a century, Rotary has been a place where working professionals and community members meet to exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships. The group’s early practice of rotating meetings among the offices of each member is what gave rise to their name.

“Whatever Rotary may mean to us, to the world it will be known by the results it achieves,” said Paul P. Harris, founder of the 1905 Rotary Club of Chicago, the man who started it all.

More than 110 years later, the international Rotary organization boasts 1.2 million members and clubs throughout the world.

Since 1979, a major goal of Rotary has been the worldwide eradication of polio, and they have very nearly succeeded. To date, only two countries are left to be inoculated: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Children in America don’t even know what polio is,” says Jeffrey Orth, owner of Integrated Financial Benefits Network in Gilroy and a Rotary member.

“This will be only the second time in the world where a disease will be eradicated. Smallpox was the first one, and this will be the second one.”

Since joining in 1999, Jeff has served the organization as Gilroy club president, foundation chair, assistant governor and new generations chair.

Less than two months ago, he became governor for district 5170, which includes 53 clubs and 3,750 members, covering the area from Oakland to San Juan Bautista.

Jeff says he joined Rotary “because the leaders of the community were Rotarians, and I had a fledgling financial planning business I was getting off the ground.”  

Shortly after joining, Jeff was invited to a luncheon attended by a number of South Africans who had personally experienced the difference Rotarians make throughout the world.

The Rotarians had recently visited South Africa on a mission to provide much-needed treatment for those suffering from cleft palates.

Several children expressed their gratitude at the luncheon, then an older gentleman stood and explained the impact the organization’s humanitarian mission had on his life.

The man said, “It was the first time in my life that I was able to kiss my wife, or anybody.”

After his statement, Jeff broke out in tears. “I lost it,” he says.

Looking around the room, he saw the same teary-eyed reaction on the faces of the other club members, and knew he’d made the right choice.

“That’s the moment that I became a Rotarian. There’s a difference between joining Rotary, and becoming a Rotarian,” says Jeff.

“Somehow it penetrates your heart. It’s good before, but it’s so much sweeter afterwards.”

Barbara Orth, Jeffrey’s wife and director of client services at Integrated Financial Benefits Network, agrees.

“Rotarians all over the world are just friends you haven’t met yet, that’s the way it feels, and that’s what’s neat.”

Although she’s not officially a Rotary member, Barbara supports her husband and what he’s doing.

Following Rotary tradition, the district governor, or his/her spouse, may launch a special project during their year-long term.

When it came time to pick a project, Jeff chose Barbara’s brainchild, Read Me a Picture, which promotes visual literacy by providing every kindergartener and first grade child in District 5170 at least one book they can call their own.

To reach the goal, Barbara secured a deal with the Gilroy Barnes & Noble bookstore that agreed to a 25 percent discount on all the books purchased for the program.

“She did a marvelous job coming up with not only a really great project, but a great way to sell it,” Jeff says.

A little more than a month into the project, donations are nearly $6,000. By Jan. 30, 2017, they expect to have raised $100,000. With the cost of each book at $10, the donations should provide enough funds to purchase 10,000 books, which will be distributed to the 53 clubs.

Barbara will collect the donations, purchase the books and distribute them to the clubs.

“They know their city better than anybody else, and often they have a relationship already with schools in their district that need support,” she says.

Barbara’s background in art and her love of reading were the driving force behind this project to promote visual literacy, vocabulary development and art appreciation, as well as offering book ownership to children who otherwise might not have that opportunity.

According to the California Department of Education website, “the single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to reading prior to beginning school.”

After collaborating with the experts—classroom teachers—Barbara selected four books to be distributed to the children; Can You Find It; I Spy—An Alphabet in Art; Come Look With Me—Animals in Art; and Come Look With Me—Exploring Landscape Art with Children.

Inside each book will be a special bookplate, a reminder of the gift from the Rotary Club.

“It’s a great way to build visual literacy and vocabulary. That’s what you need to do when you read, to have comprehension you need to be able to anticipate what’s coming, and visualize what’s going on in the story,” Barbara says.

Jeffrey is not only impressed with his wife’s idea, but with how well it’s been received by the district clubs.

“My kudos to Barbara for selecting the program because when you see the clubs act more like a team, and less like individual entities, that’s very exciting for a leader,” Jeff says.
Jeff’s business card contains this message: “I joined Rotary for business & fellowship. I stayed to change the world.” During his term as district governor, both Jeff and Barbara aim to do just that.

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