ZELIENOPLE — It's the first time the Rotary Club of Zelienople has met in person since the coronavirus pandemic began in March.
But the 35 Rotarians and guests who gathered for dinner Wednesday night at the Rotary Shelter in Zelienople Community Park had cause to celebrate together.
Aside from the annual changing of the guard ceremony that ushered in the new chapter president, the club applauded co-Rotarians of the year Tom and Marie Grant for their combined volunteer efforts.
Rotarians also welcomed Rotary District 7280 Gov. Ken Fleeson as he passed the torch to club member Beth Marshall.
“Normally, that would have happened ... in May,” said Kathy Corcoran, who will take over the Zelienople presidency in July.
The May ceremony was canceled because of coronavirus.
The district governor induction ceremony wasn't the only thing the Zelienople Rotary club — and others across the state — have had to adapt.
“We've been having Zoom meetings since March,” Corcoran said.
Corcoran said while meeting virtually isn't the same as meeting in-person, it's allowed the club to reach Rotarians internationally. The club has had virtual guests from as far away as the Netherlands and Saint Martin.
“It's exciting,” Corcoran said.
What's also exciting for Corcoran and other Rotarians is the fact the club has sewn more than 500 face masks since the start of the pandemic.
The project originally began as a way to offset funds lost because of the cancellation of the club's annual Shamrock Shuffle race in the spring.
For a suggested $5 donation, people could receive a handmade mask.
“It's helped us to recover a little bit,” Corcoran said.
But making masks has evolved into more than a fundraising effort, according to Corcoran. The club has given masks to those who don't have the money and has started sewing ones from custom-designed Rotary fabric.
“I've already filled an order for Toronto and Florida,” Corcoran said. “Our outreach is growing.”
During the changing of the guard ceremony, Fleeson presented the club with a certificate of gold achievement for volunteer efforts made during the year.
Fleeson said the usual criteria for the award was adjusted to reflect the pandemic's influence on operations.
“We had to grade on a curve,” Fleeson said.
Despite challenging times, the Zelienople club met 26 of 32 criteria. A gold recognition is the highest certificate a club can achieve.
“This has always been a great club,” Fleeson said.
Corcoran recognizes she's taking over as club president at a unique time. Not only is the club dealing with the effects of a pandemic, it's entering its 97th year of operation.
Corcoran sees that as an opportunity to boost service efforts and outreach.
“Every month, we're going to do 97 of something,” Corcoran said.
Corcoran told her fellow Rotarians Wednesday she plans to launch a kindness campaign next year to promote peace and camaraderie.
She kicked off her campaign by distributing “kindness rocks” during the ceremony. The stones were hand-painted with inspirational messages.
“Leave it where someone else will find it and will be inspired by the message,” Corcoran said. “Being kind is nothing new to Rotary.”
Corcoran said the Zelienople Rotary is looking forward to a future free of pandemic barriers.
The club plans to make the Zelienople park its temporary home during the summer, with meetings conducted both in-person and virtually.
“We'll reassess at the end of the summer,” Corcoran said.
In the meantime, events and activities will be adapted when possible to help the club maintain its commitment to service.
After all, a Rotary should always be in motion.
“We have to find different ways to serve,” Corcoran said. “I think now more than ever, being kind is so important.”