The Rotary Club Northcliff

Humble Beginnings

Bill Kemptner was the first president of The Northcliff Rotary Club and under his inspiring leadership the club soon started looking around for its first major project. After some investigation it was decided to partner with a welfare organisation that helped the blind earn a living through basket weaving.

Unfortunately, the market for woven baskets had fallen in recent years, so letters were sent off to Rotary clubs around the world, asking for suggestions on how to improve the situation. Replies came from India, Malaya, North Africa and many other countries. The consensus was that the future lay in mechanised sewing machines that could be used to produce clothing.

Armed with this insight, Northcliff Rotary kicked into action and organised several fund raising initiatives. Soon three sewing machines were purchased and cleverly modified by Northcliff members to make them easier for blind people to use. After some training the machines were officially handed over in May 1974 and the recipients were soon generating income for themselves.

Rotary Ann’s

Until 1989 women could not become Rotary members. To make up for this, the wives of Rotarian’s organized their own group, called the Rotary Ann’s. They hold separate meetings once a month and undertake their own program’s to provide a service to the community. In the words of one outspoken Ann, this formidable collection of ladies manage to accomplish more than their male counter-parts in half the time!

The Northcliff Rotary Ann’s certainly live up to this boast. They are very active with local old-aged homes in the area, regularly providing fresh linen, toiletries and food to the residents. Their Golden Girls project is also a great success, where a group of senior citizens are brought together twice a month to knit for the under-privileged. First initiated in 1982, the Golden Girls have delivered hundreds of warm woollies to the Choc Ward at the Johannesburg General Hospital. the Door of Hope in Hillbrow and the Babies Behind Bars program.

The Northcliff Ann’s are also an integral part of any Rotary fund raising activity. In 1985 they managed to raise a staggering R11 000 for Rotary International’s Polio Plus fund by organizing a fête. They also arrange cake, book and jumble sales and craft markets.

With the proceeds from these activities, the Ann’s have donated soccer balls, netball’s and other sports equipment to local schools. They have given television sets, linen, slippers and carpets to Jordan House Aged Home in Westbury. They make regular donations of food and clothes to the 9-11 Refuge in Newlands and have sponsored three guide dogs for the blind.

If that weren’t enough, the Anns have also redecorated the trauma unit at Fairlands Police Station and they regularly assemble comfort bags full of clothes and toiletries, which are handed out at clinics and trauma centers. Not to mention their work at the Bosmont Church soup kitchen, their participation with the St Laurence orphanage or their involvement in The Star Seaside Fund.

Finally, it would be remiss to ignore the Northcliff Anns’ Matric Dance Dress project. By arranging for the loan of high-end dresses, suits, accessories and shoes, many needy kids in the community are given the opportunity to go their matric dance decked out in the outfit of their dreams.

In their own words, the real strength of the Anns is that they are a distribution channel – sourcing materials and making sure it gets to where it is most needed. For example, they have struck a deal with Southern Sun Hotels in which the hotel group donates all their old linen that is about to be replaced.

The good work of the Ann’s is supported by various members of the community and nongovernmental organizations. In this way, the Ann’s continue to give back to the community – for no other reason other than it feels good to help.

Membership of the Rotary Ann’s is certainly emotionally fulfilling, but it is also about friendship and a sense of belonging. With their resolute camaraderie and dedication to being useful, the Northcliff Ann’s have made a major contribution to Rotary and beyond.

Youth Exchange and the Interact Club

Many people first hear about Rotary through its famous youth exchange program. Northcliff joined the program in 1980 and has hosted around 20 students from ten different countries. In return, as many learners from schools in the Northcliff area have been supported to visit various overseas destinations for an once-in-a-lifetime experience.

This year-long cultural exchange programme is a hallmark of Rotary and the rewards are ample, for students and host families alike. But there are also several lesser-known program in place for people who want to take advantage of Rotary’s international reach.

The District Youth exchange program, for example, was created for countries that are not part of the long-term initiative. Under this initiative, short exchanges of between six and eight weeks are arranged on a direct family-to-family basis. Northcliff has organized about six of these exchanges each year since 1988.

Then there is the Ambassadorial Students program. These special individuals are chosen for their outstanding potential and sent overseas to further their studies. As with other exchange program, Rotary organizes accommodation and, when possible, facilitates admission to the relevant educational facility. In this way, promising university students are assisted to realize their dreams of postgraduate study.

One of Northcliff’s notable Ambassadorial Students is Dr Claudine Storbeck who is now a renowned expert in sign-language at the University of the Witwatersrand.

With the Group Exchange program teams of four or five students are sent out for some practical work experience in their chosen field. Whether they be farmers, builders or doctors, these students benefit from a month of on-the-job training – all facilitated by Rotary.

In addition to these exchange program, the club realizes the importance of developing future leaders – hence the hosting of the annual speech competition at five primary schools in the area.

Furthermore, the Interact Club is based at the Northcliff High School. Membership is open to all learners and their activities include cultural and social evenings hosted throughout the year as fundraising initiatives in support of various community projects around Northcliff.