A WORLDWIDE MISSION: New Zealand visitors give back to St. John

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, March 3, 2020

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LAPLACE — Rotary Club members are action-takers who create change not only in the local community, but also across the globe.

Eleven Rotary International members from New Zealand were met with beautiful weather Friday morning as they planted trees at the dog park inside the Thomas F. Daley Memorial Park in LaPlace.

They enjoyed a full cultural experience through Rotary’s Friendship Exchange. Their two-week stay included Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, a journey to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a stop in Covington and sightseeing in the River Parishes.

The itinerary included plantation tours, a swamp tour, a taste of local cuisine and a visit to Historic Riverlands Christian Center in Reserve.

East St. John Interact Club members Kayla Coleman and A’Kyri Paulding help Rotary Club member Donna Buxton of New Zealand plant a tree.

The tree planting was the New Zealand group’s service activity, according to Cheryl Millet, a longtime member of the LaPlace Rotary Club. She was excited to host the New Zealand Rotarians and introduce them to local culture.

“Rotary is all about Service Above Self,” Millet said. “In the Rotary Friendship Exchange, up to 12 people will come to a country here and we, in turn, will go to their country and spend about two weeks there.”

Marilyn Stevens was the team leader of the New Zealand group. They made the trip across the world, close to 16 hours by plane, to see the impact of Rotary’s global mission.

All Rotary Clubs at the community level contribute to international projects as well. Just as LaPlace Rotarians hosted auctions to fund polio eradication efforts, Rotary Clubs across the globe have supported local efforts.

Stevens recalls Rotary members stepping up to send donations to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Another worldwide project involves water sanitation in India.

“Worldwide, we do heaps of stuff, and it’s really nice to go to different countries and see what this organization that we belong to and contribute to does so well,” Stevens said.

New Zealand visitors Tim and Yvonne Orrell are happy to serve St. John.

Rotary also sponsors a National Youth Exchange Program, according to Stevens. Like the adult Friendship Exchange, it serves to help Rotarians enrich their own lives and the lives of others.

“It’s to learn about other cultures, understand differences and to accept everybody with their differences,” Stevens said.

St. John the Baptist Parish was a definite change of scenery from Stevens’ home in New Zealand, where she lives approximately 10 minutes from the coast and 10 minutes from the mountains.

New Zealand has representation from a variety of cultures, including the indigenous Maori people who keep their unique Polynesian culture alive to this day.

Stevens said the local people are very environmentally conscious and careful not to use plastic straws or grocery bags. Most of the power on the temperate island is generated by water and wind.

There was a lot to love about the River Region and New Orleans, Stevens said, and several members have discussed returning for their next holiday.

Donna Buxton was among the group of 11 who traveled from New Zealand. She joined Rotary to find a purpose within her local community, and her favorite part of the exchange was connecting with likeminded people.

Some of those kindred spirits were a little younger than the rest. Members of East St. John’s Interact Club, the high school equivalent of Rotary Club, were present to help the visitors beautify the St. John community.

A’Kyri Pauling said Interact members always strive to give back.

“Our goal is to help others without getting anything in return,” Paulding said. “We don’t do it for that. We just like to make the community better and help other people.”