Each year, Rotarians around the world get excited about the new year’s Rotary theme. In January, Rotary International president, R. Gordon R. McInally, revealed his theme for 2024: “Create Hope in the World.” When club materials were unveiled for presidents-elect in March, Rotary Club of Edmond’s president-elect, Chris Berry, couldn’t wait to
get to work.
First, Berry modified the theme for Edmond: “Hope! Creating Hope in Our Community.” Then, he immediately embarked on making hope a priority for his tenure. He’d seen his community change during the COVID-19 pandemic and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
“COVID was definitely one of those knock-out punches that hit everybody. We’ve seen a lot of people bounce back from it
and they’re still bouncing back from the impact of it,” Berry said.
As district executive director at YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City, he saw the pandemic’s impact first-hand.
“For me, I think where I’ve seen the biggest impact is going to be on kids. They lost so much by not being able to go to school, to see their friends or participate in activities. And what we’re seeing now, not that we’re completely back to normal, but we’re starting to see some normalcy. Hopefully, we can overcome some of the negative we’ve seen over the last few years.”
Berry can’t put an exact finger on COVID’s effects, but he notices a difference in youth who attend the Y.
“It just seems like the kids are different during the last three to four years than I’d seen previously— not in a good or bad way—it’s just you see some of the impact that’s taking place in their lives. I don’t know if they don’t have hope, but I think whatever we can do to create and add more hope in their lives, to me, is something that doesn’t put a limit on the future,” he said.
The pandemic also had an impact on club participation in the community and the level of giving by members. So, Berry looked at the club’s community efforts and saw an opportunity to rebuild.
“There were five or six organizations we were able to support with grants. We were able to give out more scholarships to high school seniors, I would like to see us get back to the level of giving that we were previously able to do for our community,” he said.
Berry has already seen action in just a short time. Recently, the club, with the help of a community grant, raised funds and volunteers to provide equipment and supplies for its adopted school, Scissortail Elementary. Rotary volunteers also helped build a garden for students there.
And, thanks to a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a local foundation which matched funds, the club provided support to Edmond Public Schools Foundation’s “DonorsChoose” program. The club funded 50 projects submitted by teachers in the district.
Berry is also frequently incorporating hope into meeting programs. At least twice a month, he brings in speakers from organizations which provide hope to their stakeholders. One of the first speakers was renowned hope science researcher, Chan Hellman, from the University of Oklahoma. Hellman’s research is being used around the world and in several
Oklahoma institutions.
If anyone knows how hope works and how to give it, it’s Berry. One example is through his work at the YMCA where his team creates pathways to hope by providing opportunities to witness sports at the highest level, whether it’s through attending Oklahoma City Thunder or Dodgers games or taking young kids to see high school stars.
“We want them to know that “Hey, we’ve got a future. That could be me in a few years if I do the right things,” he said.
Berry believes building pathways to hope in the community through providing opportunity and support will steer the club on the right track.
“We’ve got a club made up of a lot of awesome members. And we have the power to truly change the tide and create more hope, I think, for everybody in our community—whether it’s for youth and adults— even if it’s for each other. So, I think if we come together and put our minds to it and are willing to work for it, we can make an incredible difference,” he said.
Hope can be found at Rotary Club of Edmond each Wednesday at St. Luke’s Methodist in Edmond. The program begins at noon. www.edmondrotary.org