Rotary Club reaching out for younger members

Many people may still imagine Rotary to be their fathers’ club, where older businessmen meet for lunch meetings and discuss that week’s agenda.

The Rotary Club of Miami Brickell is different, thanks to its president and co-founder Clayton Solomon.

Solomon, an associate at the law firm Hogan Lovells, founded the club with about 10 other members because he was looking for a younger demographic. Since then, the club’s membership has grown to 41 members with an average age of 41 -- significantly younger than the national average.

The Brickell club meets in the mornings and during happy hour to reach more people. Rotary chapters across the country are making similar changes to attract younger members.

“Tradition can sometimes hold you back and Rotary has made a concerted effort to attract younger members,” Solomon, 30, said.

Solomon became interested in humanitarian issues after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and caused widespread devastation. He was in his first year of law school at the time when he heard about Rotary’s ambassadorial scholarships. He received a graduate level academic scholarship with a humanitarian focus through the Rotary Club of Coral Gables, and studied human rights law for the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

Gables Rotarian Yolanda Woodbridge met Solomon when he was interviewing for the scholarship. Woodbridge, he said, is his Rotary mother.

“He’s like my favorite son,” she said. “He’s just amazing for someone so young.”

Woodbridge, who’s been president of her club, works with Solomon at district conventions. She expects Solomon to be a district governor one day. Their district includes Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties, as well as four clubs in the Bahamas.

The Brickell club works with local shelters for women -- the Safespace Foundation and Lotus House -- as well as Miami Dade College at Wolfson’s Rotaract, a Rotary service club for men and women ages 18-30.

“We’ve been trying to work with as many organizations as possible,” Solomon said. “They have different missions but both serve poor communities and women.”

With Safespace, a foundation that provides safety and support to victims of domestic violence and their children, club volunteers dedicated a weekend to beautification and hosted a barbeque at the end. The Brickell club has been working with Safespace since the club’s founding.

As for the future, Solomon hopes the club grows in size and continues ongoing projects like Safespace.

“In three years, we’ve built a young, energetic and flexible club with members from a wide range of professional and personal backgrounds,” he said. Eventually, he wants the foundation to raise more than $25,000 that will support local and international projects within Rotary’s six areas of focus -- peace and conflict resolution, disease prevention, water sanitation, education and community development.

Solomon’s term as president ends in July, as does MDC’s Rotaract President Michelle Ampie’s. Ampie also founded her club and became president a year ago when she realized she couldn’t be in Interact, Rotary’s service club for high school students, anymore. The club has since then grown to about 20 members.

“He was the easiest person to approach,” Ampie said of Solomon. “He understands young Rotarians.”

Ampie, 20, agreed that younger Rotary clubs aren’t stuck on tradition, and that’s something that’s prevalent in her district. “It’s a new generation of Rotary,” she said.

Rotary, she said, has given her a sense of global understanding first-hand. “It’s helped me see how easy it is to connect with people around the world.”

A fundraiser held at an art gallery in Wynwood, for example, increased member attendance. About $2,000 was raised to help build affordable housing in Guatemala.

“Involvement in the community is more hands-on,” Ampie said of the Brickell club. “They work in big groups and are able to welcome people from everywhere.”

In addition to a younger average age, the Rotary Club of Miami Brickell is about 45 percent women, substantially higher than most clubs, Solomon said. Its membership includes interior designers, teachers and even a Methodist pastor, among other professionals.

“One of the neat things about Rotary is that it’s not every day I get to interact with people from different professions,” he said.

For more information on the Rotary Club of Miami Brickell, visit http://www.rcmiamibrickell.wordpress.com.