Our 2019 Service Above Self Honorees
Carol Burmeister, Individual SAS Award
     Carol started “Vegetarians in Motion” 31 years ago as a local non-profit designed for education and support for those seeking a healthier, more environmentally friendly lifestyle.  She served as President and Editor of the monthly publication called, Vegetarians in Motion.   Inspired by Frances Moore Lapp’s book Diet for a Small Planet sometime in the 1970’s, Carol began to explore the relationship of meat consumption in affluent societies and the swollen abdomens of starving children.   So Carol decided to become a vegetarian.  She shared what she knew with others and created “Vegetarians in Motion.”  Carol quickly became an advocate for the vegetarian movement and was recognized as an expert in vegetarian nutrition in Northern Illinois.  She assisted both the Dr. Dean Ornish Program to prevent heart disease as well as the CHIP program to assist in veggie meal planning.  That organization is still active today with over 300 subscribers.
     In 1998 Carol founded a “Bread for the World Chapter“ in Rockford.  This organization is an advocacy group dedicated to alleviating hunger throughout the US and the world.  “Bread for the World” advocates for food resources, access, and security and lobbies Congress for the enactment of various bills to support hunger causes.  Carol prepares agendas, prepares the minutes of meetings and keeps members aware of bills being presented in Congress.  The Rockford chapter of “Bread for the World” is still active today and meets monthly.
     Carol also co-chaired the reintroduction of  “The Mayor’s Hunger Luncheon” held last year in October after a 10-year hiatus.  Carol will once again serve as co-chair for the 2019 event.
     The 2018 “Mayor’s Hunger Luncheon” was recreated after a “Bread for the world’ meeting because members wanted to do something locally to support the cause of hunger in our community.  It had been more than 10 years since this annual event had been held.  Our current mayor agreed to support the re-launch of “The Mayor’s Hunger Luncheon,” and Carol’s influence resulted in the success of the event last year.
     One of her supporters who has known Carol since the 1980’s tells us that Carol also supports the Rockford CROP Hunger Walk and the Rock Valley Food Pantry. Besides her devotion to healthy live styles and healthy nutrition, Carol has made donations to poverty organizations, donated to matching gifts campaigns and she encourages others to be generous as well.
     Carol Burmeister takes no credit for having established several sustaining efforts in our community that have impacted many individuals.  Carol is the personification of humility.  She does what she does out of the goodness of her heart. 
     Carol is truly an example of Service Above Self.
Valeri DeCastris, Individual SAS Award
     Let me begin to tell you just a little about Valeri for she has done so much for so many. 
     Valeri is a relentless and tireless social activist as exemplified by her notable achievements during four decades of community volunteerism throughout Illinois, and her hometown, Rockford, has been fortunate to benefit form her altruism.  Here are just a few highlights of her effectiveness as a change agent.
     As an undergraduate student in biology at Southern Illinois University, Valeri served on boards for social justice organizations.  She testified to state agencies in Springfield and in Southern Illinois and helped to create an Energy Division in city government. Carbondale’s Mayor appointed Valeri to an advisory position in city energy planning and then Valeri set up an oil-recycling program on campus while a graduate student.
In Springfield – where she went at Zeke Giogi’s suggestion – Valeri became more involved in politics and helped create a peace center and fair-trade goods store.  While there she served in leadership positions on several notable non-profit and political boards and was elected to the Citizens Utility Board.  But she missed Rockford, her hometown.
     And when she did return to Rockford she chose to move into a home that had been her own father’s parent’s home on Cunningham Street.  Valeri’s family had lived in this home for 95 years.  It required lots of refurbishing and required lots of time.  The impact on the neighborhood was astounding:  it was reinvigorated. 
     Southwest Rockford contributions?  Valeri helped plan the design of the Morgan Street Bridge; lobbied for improvements to south Main, and served as the first executive director of SWIFTT, the organization that works to empower and enhance south Rockford.  Following in the footsteps of her family who were members of the St. Ambrogio Club since the 1930’s, Valeri spearheaded the Sister City program with Ferentino, Italy.  Other results of her efforts include obtaining a $10,000 grant to provide lights around St. Anthony’s church for its bronzed statuary Memory Garden depicting school children.
     Valeri’s activism and volunteer contributions did not go unnoticed by a Rockford mayor.  She was appointed to the city’s brown fields advisory task force.  She is credited with creating the Ethnic Village Neighborhood Organization and building Immigrants Park at the former site of an abandoned gas station and boarded up home at the downtown gateway to South Rockford.
     Those are just a few of her many contributions.  She most definitely has left her effective mark on southwest Rockford.  I would hope that she experiences great satisfaction when she drives through that part of our city and recognizes what she has helped change.
     Valeri is truly a possibility thinker who always asks, “why not?” and looks for innovative, progressive solutions to society’s issues.  Rockford has no better friend than Valeri, and she is most deserving of this recognition for her selfless work undertaken over several decades that has helped to transform our city and state.
     Valeri is Service Above Self.
Mariel Heinke, Individual SAS Award
     Mariel Heinke was a member and chair of the Rockford Police and Fire Commission form 1996 to 2005 during Charles Box’s administration.  She led the Commission in a new non-partisan direction toward greater diversity in both departments in order to be more reflective of our citizenry.  Her tenure ended after 9 years.
     Mariel is currently President of the Board of Directors of Seventh Street Coffee, Inc., or better known as Katie’s Cup.  She has served in that capacity since 2013.  As president, Mariel assumed a number of volunteer roles needed to keep the operation financially solvent.  The outreach to the neighborhood by re-developing the old Lantow Pharmacy begun by Zion Development was handed over to the Katie’s Cup board after Zion Development decided they didn’t want to be in the coffee bar business.  So Mariel drew together volunteers with whom she had worked in the past and found other volunteers who were drawn to this key project in Midtown.  One of the main reasons for pursuing the ongoing operation of Katie’s Cup was to shore up the neighborhood but also to provide Christian outreach to all in the neighborhood and other parts of Rockford.   “Katie Luther,” the namesake for the Coffee Bar, was known for her hospitality to all.  The atmosphere that was created is best described as “a place to gather for coffee and food an discussion...without the pressure of “moving on”  but rather “stay as long as you like.”
     Mariel took on many tasks as president of the Katie’s Cup board with lots of help, of course.  Some of those tasks included supervising and recruiting paid baristas; organizing and overseeing fundraising events such as the dessert bar gala.  Mariel was instrumental in recruiting volunteers to shop and cook a variety of food offerings in order to save on the budget.  And Katie’s Cup entered the rental business!  Because the coffee bar is closed evenings and weekends, groups and organizations can rent either of 2 rooms.  A very diverse group of people and organizations are rental customers.  If the meeting rooms are available during daytime hours, they, too, can be rented for nominal fees.  In fact, our own Rotary Academy meetings are held there. 
     Katie’s Cup itself is used as a destination for meetings.  Among those taking advantage of that aspect of this coffee bar are Transform Rockford, card groups, a book club, Bible study groups and ministerial groups plus others.  It’s a very busy place!
Mariel has been instrumental in seeing the implementation of the above in order to make Katie’s Cup a sustainable venture in Midtown. 
     In the words of one of her supporters, Mariel has held numerous positions of service in our community, including serving as Executive director of Rockford Lutheran Ministries.  She has also supported Habitat for Humanity, Becca’s Closet and Park Players.  Her supporter says, “I have seen Mariel involved in every aspect of creating and supporting a family atmosphere/community meeting place for Katie’s Cup.  Mariel has promoted the use of Katie’s Cup as a family urban oasis:  a library, an outlet for the display of local artists’ work and as a place where all points of view are welcomed.”
     Mariel is not satisfied unless she and Board work to solve problems
 and conscientiously serve the mission of Midtown by continuing to make Katie’s Cup the place to be when on Seventh Street.
     Mariel and Katie’s Cup go together.  And, Mariel, Mariel and Service Above Self go together as well.
David A. Kelly, Individual SAS Award
     Donald A. Kelley has been a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity for over 9 years.  He has been a build team member on 9 different building projects.  Just recently he has taken on the role of Team Lead.
     Donald is also a Deacon for his church.  In that role he has been Deacon of Properties for 4 years; a co-Deacon with his wife in his church’s Out Reach Ministries.  He is a member of his church’s choir; a member of the Singing Brothers, and a member of the Worship band.
     He serves as a mentor and tutor for students from the Maud Johnson School every Tuesday night
     His work with Habitat for Humanity deserves special acknowledgement.  When working on building a house, Donald’s commitment has involved everything from arranging for tools, storing tools, assigning individuals to teams, personally swinging a hammer, paint brush or roller; snapping chalk lines; lifting roof trusses; digging dirt and coordinating with frequent Habitat Report meetings..  He also arranges for the beneficiary family equity building time. And Donald arranges for the care and feeding of the build team on workdays.
     His nominator captured the essence of Donald A. Kelley with these words:  The things that have caught my attention most about Donald is the absolute joy he personally brings to the Habitat for Humanity effort.  It’s not a hobby or a past-time or a chore.  It’s a JOY! 
     Donald is a joyful spirit with a strong work ethic and he has an unselfish servant’s heart accompanied by his musical skill and founded on faith. 
     Donald A. Kelley.  Rockford Rotary is proud and pleased to present you with our Service Above Self award.
"March for Our Lives"
     And now we are about to present our final Service Above Self Awards.  These truly are “awards” because they go to individuals who were instrumental in bringing “March for Our Lives” to Rockford in March of last year.
     At this time I’d like to invite all the “March for Our Lives” students to join me on the stage.
     Last year you all were nominated for an award but at that time our club had did not have a way of recognizing an “event.”  So this year our Board of Directors decided that each of you was to be recognized by receiving your own individual Service Above Self award.
     Here’s why the Board made that decision.  Your work on the “March for Our Lives” event entailed some very impressive coordination that culminated in an event that set a precedent for our community.  Here is what the nominator said about you:
     These students are so impressive, not only for what they’ve accomplished in a very short amount of time – only 2 & ½ months – but also for the manner in which they've performed.  They acted in perfect harmony with the 815 Choose Civility pledge: I pledge to conduct myself in a way that is honest, respectful, considerate and kind, even toward those with whom I disagree.
     They also embody what Rotary tries to accomplish by putting bclubs in schools and colleges:  up and coming civically engaged volunteers. 
     This is what this group of young people did.  They worked with school administrators to gain permission to protest gun violence in schools by walking out at 10:00 am March 14, 2018.   The walkout lasted 17 minutes, or one minute for each of the victims in February’s 2018 high school shooting in Florida.  Next they planned and executed the “March for Our lives” in downtown Rockford at 1:00 pm on March 24, 2018.  Our Rockford March was timed simultaneously with the March for Our lives in Washington. 
     To their credit they received a $5,000 grant from Every town for Gun Safety for use on the march and other activities. The March – strictly student-inspired and student driven – attracted approximately 1,000 people.  And they didn’t stop there.
     They organized an anti-gun violence Town Hall, “to create a culture of change. “   The Town Hall was held April 4, 2018 at East High school and observed the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shootings.  The panelists were significant:  Rockford police officers, the Mayor, aldermen, legislators and candidates running for office. 
     These students are “doers, not complainers.  They are articulate, thoughtful and caring.  They don’t bulldoze.  They wanted to bring people into the conversation.  They believe change can be accomplished. 
     In their words... “Let our voices be heard.  Gun violence doesn’t discriminate.  Voting is Important.  Take a holistic approach to finding solution.  It’s about holding elected officials accountable.  Having a discussion is always the first step in a democratic proceeding. “
     And finally, in the words of the nominator with whom we cannot disagree:  With leaders like these, there is reason to feel optimistic about our community.
     Congratulations to the students of “March for Our Lives”: Rachel Alvarado; Simon Davis; Sarah Grall; Meg Larson; Alondra Lavariega; Hannah Ramirez-Porter; and Pranav Volety.
     This is the first year that Rockford Rotary is presenting the Mary-Stuart Carruthers Community Impact Award.  Here is how that award came into being.
     You just heard me describe the work of several students who so successfully made an impact in our community.  They were nominated by Mary-Stuart last year.  At that time – when she submitted her nomination –she is reported as saying to the Service Above Self Chairman, “well this nomination is going to create some havoc for your committee.”  And it did!  The Service Above Self committee didn’t know what to do with the nomination because it wasn’t’ about an individual; it was about 8 individuals, and it was about an event!
     So after last year’s Service Above Self event, the chair and Mary-Stuart continued to work together in order to create something that would recognize a community event and those who worked on it.  After much “deliberation” – and if you knew Mary=Stuart you know what that means – a set of criteria was established and the community impact award was created.  The criteria Mary-Stuart helped create and approve are:
     Impact:  Why is this community impact event important?
     Breadth of Work:  How many individuals or organizations have been affected by this effort as a result?
     What was the goal of this community impact event?  Was it achieved?
     What was involved in the planning process? How many individuals or organizations were involved?
     Future plans:  What would need to be changed if the event were to be held again.
     We lost Mary-Stuart Carruthers earlier this year.  Because of her involvement and dedication and work on a community award, the Board approved naming this award the “Mary-Stuart Carruthers Community Impact Award.”  We are pleased to have this history.
     The recipient of this first annual award is the Catholic Women’s League.  At this time I ask that representatives of that organization join me on the stage while I share the work that you have done that makes your organization and people in it so deserving.
     In your nominator’s words... The impact of the Catholic Women’s League is twofold. It has provided support for immigrants working to find a new home in our community and to long-time residents struggling with poverty, illness and loneliness.  The members through volunteerism have become better neighbors, better family members and better member of our community.
     The Catholic Women’s League has provided financial aid and volunteer womanpower to social service agencies, care facilities and individuals continuously since 1909.  Service is and always has been provided to people regardless of race or religion.  “Loving service to those most in need in our community” is the mission.
     The Catholic Women’s League is celebrating 100 years of service to Rockford this year.  While the main focus of this organization’s efforts was in SW Rockford when it started helping immigrants, today the Catholic Women’s League now supports agencies throughout our community.  $30,000 was raised at a fundraising event, and that included donations from individual members also. The money raised is used to provide financial support to organizations throughout our community.  Here are just a few such organizations that have benefitted from the Catholic Women’s League generosity:  Rock House Kids, Cornucopia Food Pantry, St. Bridget Food Pantry, Veterans’ Drop in Center, She-Vets, Project Under Share, Gigi’s Playhouse, Maya’s house, KFACT, Pitney Place, St. Vincent DePaul, Pregnancy Care Center, Rock River Food Pantry, CASA, Remedies Renewing Lives, Families in Transition, Children’s Safe Harbor, St. Elizabeth Center and NAMI.
     There are 18 active committees within this organization.  Those committees and others create and deliver blankets, quilts, wheelchair bags, walker bags, shawls, pillows, bibs and other personal and handmade items to care facilities every two weeks.   Facilities such as River Bluff Nursing Home, Carries Lyn Children’s Center, MELD, Asta Care, Walter Lawson’s' Children's Home and others. And weekly visits to a nursing home have been ongoing since 1978.  In December over 150 fleece blankets are delivered to agencies that request them at Christmas for the children organizations serve. 
     Since 1909 the goal of the Catholic Women’s League has not changed:  to promote and increase the social, religious and intellectual growth of the women involved.  And this organization has adjusted to the times by creating and appointing various committees to meet the contemporary needs of our culture.  And when needed, committees have been dissolved. 
     When funds are to be disbursed, the Disbursement Committee volunteers visit facilities; talk to directors; and establish relationships with the agencies in order to determine whether monetary donations are most needed.
     Other volunteer involvement includes a major fundraising committee consisting of 18-20 members who meet for 5 months in preparation of the organization’s major fundraising event.  The Blanket Workshop in December of each year involves about 125 women.  There are members of the Outreach Committee, the Sewing Guild, and the standard Membership and Mailing committees. 
     At monthly board meetings new opportunities to serve our community are constantly being evaluated.
     The success of the Catholic Women’s League is because of its mission and the devotion of its more than 600 members from throughout Rockford, Loves Park and surrounding communities of Byron, Durand and South Beloit.
     In the words of one of its supporters, “the Catholic Women’s League goes about its business very quietly, very efficiently and with litter fanfare...Since 1909 these ladies have been exemplifying the highest standards of Service Above Self.”  
     We are fortunate to have with us two members of the Carruthers family.  Karen and Evie will you please join me on stage so that you may present this award.
     Please join us in congratulating the 2019 Mary-Stuart Carruthers Community Impact Award recipient, the Catholic Women’s League.