Community club aims new thrust at helping veterans
At its bimonthly meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 9, the Rotary Club of Floral Park Bellerose announced plans for a new initiative aimed at helping returning veterans assimilate back into their communities. Since its inception in 1952, the Floral Park-Bellerose club has worked on “local, national and international projects that address today’s challenges: illiteracy, disease, hunger, lack of clean water,” said club president Richard Burgess. Now, Burgess and his fellow Rotarians are looking to augment their community service with a program developed by Vietnam veteran and Glen Cove Rotarian Louis Falco, who gave the keynote speech of the night.
“We had a discussion last year about veterans being an underserved population, and we wanted to reach out to those veterans through Rotary,” said Robert Donno, a 39-year Rotary veteran, who formerly served as Rotary District Governor for the Nassau, Queens and Brooklyn District, which comprises 42 local clubs, and is currently a member with the Rotary Club of Manhasset. Donno, who was a guest at the meeting, founded the Rotary’s Gift of Life program in 1975, which to date has helped 14,000 children worldwide who suffer from heart defects and other similar or allied illnesses.
Falco opened his presentation with a self-penned poem titled A Soldier’s Faith. Inspired by George M. Cohan’s musical rendition of Over There, Falco said he didn’t realize at the time that Cohan was also a Rotarian. “So there’s a little bit of a link here.” His poem ends with: “No matter how long it takes. We will welcome them home.” That final verse is the backbone of Falco’s initiative.
Falco is working on a source manual, which he said will be available in PDF format in a few weeks, that provides information for returning veterans to get the help they need, primarily finding a job and dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “This is our way of bridging the gap for our soldiers coming back, so they know that their country cares for them. We can do all of the parades we want, but once that parade is over, it’s over,” he said. “A lot of these kids don’t have a job. [They’re] doing 11 tours, 15 tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Why?” Because they do not have a job to come back to, he asserted.
“We need to bring them back. Let them know that we care. There’s a reason why George M. Cohan was a Rotarian, because what he did with that song … he popularized it and it united a nation to do something about a horrendous war [World War I]. They knew then what we need to know now.”
The Rotary’s role in this? For Rotarians to bring the manual, to returning veterans and help them thumb through it to get the help they need. Falco noted that 22 percent of returning veterans suffer from PTSD. He questioned how they can assimilate back into society without treatment. Currently, two means of treatment that have proven successful are transcendental meditation and Tai Chi, Falco said.
The Department of Labor “has opened up its Rolodex” to help returning veterans find jobs. In a similar vein, the Floral Park-Bellerose Rotary Club, as well as other local clubs, will host business-card swaps to seek out job opportunities for disabled veterans.
Falco noted that the Rotary gives 100 percent of the proceeds it collects to its charities.
In addition to its focus on veterans, the Floral Park-Bellerose Rotary is also focusing on youth programs. The chapter is working to send four local high school sophomores to a Rotary Youth Leadership Academy weekend in Wading River in March 2012. The goal is to instill the organization’s essence at a young age, thus empowering youngsters with a sense of humanitarianism and leadership. Burgess said the club’s three-year goal is to establish an Interact Club, which is Rotary International’s service club for young people ages 12 to 18.
The Rotary Club of Floral Park-Bellerose meets on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 5:30 p.m. at Fiore Restaurant on Tulip Avenue in Floral Park. The club welcomes new members. For information, contact club president Richard Burgess at (516) 413-9129.
“There’s basically two kinds of people in this world: the givers and the takers. I’d like to think we’re givers, and we just want to make this world a better place,” Burgess said. “And we’ll do it one person at a time.”