The Vermillion Rotary Club met for its weekly meeting on Tuesday at noon in its usual venue, the Freedom Forum on the USD campus. After a noon meal of meatloaf and the trimmings, the meeting was opened by President David Lorenz, who led in reciting the Boy Scout prayer and the Rotary Four-Way Test, which is a Rotary list of moral standards for our professional and personal lives.
Our opening songs of "You're a Grand Old Flag," and "Vive Le Rotary" were led by Joe Edelen and were sung acapella.
President Lorenz also welcomed four Vermillion High School seniors to our meeting, who introduced themselves and spoke about their plans for the future. After some good-natured ribbing, for which fines were levied by Sergeant-at-Arms Al Pravecek, Barry Vickery introduced our program.
This week's program was presented by the A.W.O.L. program at the University of South Dakota, a program that quite unlike the military acronym meaning "Absent With-Out Leave," provides an "Alternate Week of Off-campus Learning" for students by providing educational opportunities to travel to different cultural areas of the world and of the United States.
The purpose is for the students to learn to interact with these different cultures and cultural situations while seeking to provide some help to the folks living in those situations. Our program was introduced by Jacquie Lonning, who serves as the coordinator for academic engagement in the university's Center for Academic Engagement, and as advisor for the A.W.O.L. program which also has its own executive board made up of interested students. Donielle Gustafson, Americorps Vista member and staff advisor for the AWOL program, assisted in the presentation.
The center of the AWOL presentation on Tuesday were reports from students who participated in the program over the Christmas break. Eric Wiedenman spent Jan. 3-11 working in inner-city Chicago, learning to work with inner-city poverty and gang issues in the Chicago community. Eric spoke of several programs seeking to reach inner-city youth and how the experience was life-changing for him with respect to what he plans to do with the rest of his own life.
Jessica Kokesh spent the same dates in the Central American country of Belize, in the area of San Ignacio. Here she and the other 15 members of the USD AWOL group spent their days in hard labor as they cleaned up and painted school buildings, worked to plaster a building made of sandbags, helped lay irrigation pipe, and helped build a road to a new orphanage being run on very limited funds. She felt that her contributions were worthwhile and found much to learn in the culture of the area.
After the presentation of this interesting program, which gave new meaning to "AWOL" to many of our Rotary members, we closed with the usual singing of the first stanza of "My Country 'Tis of Thee."