Member since August 1990
Colleen has been a member of Rotary since 1990; she was nominated for membership by RCW current president and Colleen’s long time friend - James Austin.
James thought Rotary would be an organisation that Colleen could contribute to, a place where she could meet lots of amazing people and where she could get involved with new activities. She didn’t know a huge amount about Rotary before hand, she was aware of the club but it was a fairly steep learning curve for her, albeit a good one!
Being only the fifth women member at the time she joined, Colleen’s first impressions were that it was a club of corporate men who would sit at their set places, at their set tables and talk business, “you couldn’t have the kind of conversations we have today,” she explains.
Colleen doesn’t want to sound derogatory at all, because they really were fantastic Rotarians, but it did seem to be a bit of an “old boys club.” Wellington City was, after all, much different in the 1990s, but now that many of those big corporate organisations have gone off shore the membership demographics of Rotary has subsequently changed significantly.
While back in the old days fundraising may have been easier Colleen believes that Rotary has in fact changed for the better.
“Rotary has to change if we want the movement to continue,” says Colleen, and it’s with initiatives such as the associate membership pilot programme that are facilitating and allowing this important change.
“We have to keep up with the environment,” says Colleen and with the latest influx of members who are balancing out the gender imbalance and lowering the average club age it seems Rotary is on the right track for success. Colleen hopes that Rotary continues to grow and diversify. She believes “we have to look a little wider, expand our thinking - and the changing membership is helping with that.”
Newer members value the wisdom and knowledge of the older members, “those members” says Colleen “are the ‘unsung heroes’ and have done some amazing things – we can learn a lot from them.”
But she also believes that we must recognize the importance of young people to the future of the club. She uses the students of Christchurch as an example of people who got out there, lent a hand and did what they had to. “They may not want to join a club,” says Colleen “so we must find ways to attract these young people, it’s a really interesting dilemma.”
Colleen’s favourite memory is from November 2009 when she went over to America to compete in the New York marathon; during her time over there she also attended the annual Rotary day at the United Nations. With over 16,000 people from 46 different countries Colleen had the unique opportunity to meet some amazing people; scholars, ambassadors and Rotarians from all over the world.
Maybe most touching of all was hearing head people of the UN acknowledge some of the great projects Rotary are involved in and giving their thanks.
Another favourite memory of Colleen’s is her trip last year when she and William Sommerville went to the Solomon Islands and presented one of the villages with a $20,000 cheque to build a school for deaf children, which will ultimately help those individuals participate in their community and no longer be outcasts.
Although Colleen has always been keen on justice for all and living in an egalitarian society, she believes that Rotary has influenced and enhanced her life by exposing her to aspects of life she might not otherwise been exposed to.
“Vocational visits help to make you a better person, less judgmental, and more understanding,” says Colleen “they also make you appreciate how hard it can be to change things.”
To Colleen ‘Service Above Self’ means putting others before yourself and doing the best you can. “You can’t help others if you haven’t got your own life in order,” she says “it makes you think about the way you run your own life and makes you appreciate what you have.”
“We are very lucky in NZ - we have the ability to help others,” says Colleen.
Attending the weekly Monday lunch is one thing Colleen enjoys about being a Rotary member. “I really value getting away from the office, getting to see and talk to people and catch up with the latest Rotary activities,” she explains “it’s my Monday ’me’ time.”
Being associated with Operation Heartbeat –a project which is providing a number of ambulances with defibrillators, is another aspect of Rotary that Colleen appreciates, “it could well save lives and we’re really making a difference, it’s great to help and be part of an amazing organisation such as Wellington free ambulance.”
“The nicest thing about being president,” said Colleen when asked about her role last year “was actually being the president! You wouldn’t expect it in such a large club. It’s not the kind of thing that falls to every person.”
Colleen, as she should be, is very proud of her presidency, it’s a big job and it was a very busy time for her “it was only after tidying my desk, that I realised how much of my work time was spent on Rotary activities,” she admits a little sheepishly. However, she’s very happy to be seeing some of the benefits, such as the Resilience Forum, come out of the planning session that was had and the strategic plan she put in place during her time as president.
Overall, Colleen enjoyed her time as president, feels like she has made her mark and was more than happy to hand over the responsibility to James at the end of her one-year term.
Although her time as president is over, Colleen is not done yet, “I’ll be with Rotary for awhile longer,” she laughs - and just like her old Te Puke High School motto and what Rotary International president recently encouraged Rotarians to do in an email, she will continue to “aim high.”
Written by Vanessa Higham - Communications Intern 2011