In 1989 the Council on Legislation voted to eliminate the requirement in the RI Constitution that membership in Rotary clubs be limited to men, and women were welcomed into Rotary.  Look how far we've come....
First let me say that I am not some crazed women's libber bent on proving that 'anything men can do I can do better'.  I can't and I know it.  Some things I can do swell, some not so much.  And I know full well I can do some things that most men cannot do as well as me too.  I'm good with that sort of division of labor and I think it is perfectly nice when a man stops and holds a door for me just because I'm a girl.  That is just being chivalrous and courteous.  It isn't some sort of slight to my abilities and exactly how it became one for some people is beyond me.  Life is a busy street and we are all traveling it together...sometimes in opposite directions, not carbon copy equals but rather complimentary partners on the same road. 
That said......women were finally welcomed into Rotary 25 years ago and frankly it wasn't with open arms in all cases.  But we've sort of grown on you fellas a little I think.  Then last week I got an email and when I opened it up my jaw dropped.  It contained the picture below.......
I slipped onto our website and scanned the Rotary RSS feed - surely you remember RSS (Really Simple Syndication) that I told you about a month ago.  It's that odd looking column of text down the right side of our club website that changes all the time with cool Rotary stories. I have to admit that this one didn't catch my attention when it appeared: Photo Essay: Rotary's 2014 Women of Action.  I was like yeah whatever, here we are women in Rotary, aren't we splendid....and I skimmed right past it.  But the photo had upped the stakes just a I was intrigued because I knew something important about that lady sitting in the photo shaking the hand of Tina Tchen at the White House.   
Who hasn’t, at some point in their life, shouted out from a mountain or canyon ridge to create an echo?  As children, we loved to hear our echoes and would have contests to see who could make theirs go the longest.  It was just a child’s distraction – or was it?  Yes, it was fun to shout “hello” really loud and hear your own voice calling “hello” back, but beyond the frivolities of childhood, an echo is an affirmation of your own existence.  You may think you have never done this, never created an echo.  You would be wrong.  Every Rotarian – each and every one of you has created an echo whether you know it or not.   So I hope you will indulge me while I tell you a story..... 
At the age of 18, a young Albanian girl named Agnes left her home in Macedonia to travel to Ireland to train as a missionary.  After a few months of training she went to India to begin her missionary work.  It was a calling that would last her entire life and ultimately change the lives of countless impoverished people.  In India she took her vows as a Catholic nun, and in 1931 that young girl who would later be known as Mother Teresa began teaching in St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta.  Though she taught with great dedication at the school, her heart and soul was being pulled to the community beyond the walls where people lived in desperate poverty.  Finally in 1948, she requested and was granted permission to leave the school to devote herself to the poor of Calcutta.  With no money or source of funding she started an open air school for the children of the slums.  By 1950 she was granted permission to establish a new order called the Missionaries of Charity to care for those who had been lost by society.  Today they have spread throughout the world and provide help to the poorest of the poor, shut-in’s, homeless, and victims of natural disasters. 
What does this have to do with you as Rotarians?  It's all in the echoes.  Mother Teresa helped many people who have been paying it forward ever since – she created an echo!  And one of those people was a little girl she taught way back when in India.  You may not recognize the name of that little girl but I can tell you something about the woman she became – Past District Governor Deepa Willingham: a fellow Rotarian and friend, and she is that amazing woman in the picture, sitting in the White House being honored for establishing the Piyali Learning Center for girls in India that is one of the most successful and endearing Rotary projects I have seen to date.  She has saved the lives of many young girls who would have been sold into prostitution; she was a keynote speaker at the Rotary International Convention in Birmingham England in 2009; she is the recipient of a number of humanitarian awards; she is currently embarking on a mission to create similar projects in Mexico and Honduras; and she was able to do it all because of an echo created long ago in India and a little help from a few farsighted men back in the 1980's.  As a child she was instilled with a dream to end the horror of the desperately impoverished and make this world a better place.  Rotary's acceptance of women into their ranks and the encouragement we all receive from other Rotarians gave her the platform from which she could make that leap and spread her wings and fly.  She is a sweet, warm, generous lady who Lights up Rotary every time you get near her, and Dave and I count ourselves very fortunate to be considered her friends.
Though the initial purpose of Rotary was not philanthropic, those who joined soon saw the potential of sharing their own good luck with those less fortunate. Most of you worked very hard to get where you are in life, but that has not blinded you to the fact that somewhere along the way, someone did something nice for you that influenced your life for the better.  As Rotarians, you expend a lot of effort repaying kind acts that were done unto you by extending acts of generosity and kindness to others less fortunate.  That is paying it forward.  What we do for Sarah's House – paying it forward. The scholarships we give to the kids at Old Town High School – paying it forward with the hopes that they will someday repay the act by helping someone else.  The work we do and the donations we earn for Crossroads Ministries, Animal Orphanage, and countless other organizations – all paying it forward hoping that someday those who you have helped will find themselves in a better position and be able to help others.  You are standing on the mountain top shouting as loud as you can:  creating an echo that transcends time and space and is being heard around the world. 
There are others out there like Sarah....women Rotarians who, with a dream and lots of help from fellow Rotarians both men and women, have created echoes in this world that will continue to reverberate for many years.  Those men way back in 1989 who decided, albeit sometimes grudgingly, to let those pesky women join Rotary, started an echo - an echo that is evidenced in Photo Essay: Rotary's 2014 Women of Action.  Maybe they didn't expect much of us back then - maybe they did.  Either way, we didn't let them down and as co-travelers with them on the same road, sometimes in opposite directions but always partners with the same destination, we have all been paying it forward together ever since.
If you'd like to read the whole story about Rotary's 2014 women of action, you can go on the RSS feed on our club website, or just click on the picture above.  If you would like to read more about the amazing success story of the Piyali Learning Center click on the PACE logo below.