Along with a full-time job, a fitness business on the side, and a slew of volunteer commitments, salesman Dirk Manley has taken on another responsibility: modernizing the image of the local Rotary Club.
Manley, 36, is vice president of the downtown Boise Rotary Club, a 140-member group that meets every Thursday at noon in the Hoff Building’s Crystal Ballroom for lunch, songs, and a talk by a business or community member.
Manley’s not representative of the Boise Rotary. Although some of its denizens indignantly deny this, right now the group really is predominately made up of the retired or soon-to-be retired; when I was there for lunch recently, I chatted with a nonagenarian. But there are also 20, 30, and 40-somethings scattered in the crowd, and these are members that Manley and other Rotary leaders would like to see more of.
Accordingly, the downtown Boise Rotary has started something called the Rotary Satellite Club, a group for younger members that aims to meet the schedule of busy working people by getting together every other Thursday after work, instead of weekly at lunchtime, and that costs $400 to join, instead of the nearly $1,000 needed to attend the original Rotary every week.
Among worldwide service groups and volunteer organizations, Rotary is a giant, with 1.2 million members in 200 countries and a history that goes back to 1905. The Idaho district, which stretches between Ontario, Ore., Soda Springs, and Salmon, has 1,750 members. Rotary’s primary goal is the eradication of polio, although it provides a huge range of public service projects scholarships, youth exchanges, and other services in many areas. It’s resolutely non-sectarian, non-partisan, and open to all.
Manley was drawn to the Rotary while working for a professional baseball team in Missouri. He liked the Rotary’s overarching goal of service and the “four-way test” that members are asked to apply to their deeds: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? And will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Among other things, in recent years Boise Rotarians have traveled to Sierra Leone to help with a poverty-reduction strategy using the root vegetable cassava, helped in Ecuador with a water project, and sponsored a microcredit project serving the Esmeraldas Province in Quito.
Members of the Boise club also teamed up with the Quetzaltenango Rotary Club of Guatemala on an agricultural technology project to make a high protein maize more available to children, with the goal of reducing malnutrition and stunted growth, and have pitched in on projects in Ecuador to help schools with special need purposes, and provide assistance on public sanitation projects.
Leadership at the Rotary is a perfect fit for the personable Manley, whose day job is in sales at Black Sage Technology in Boise, and who also runs a fitness program called KegFit that offers a social circuit training workout and a beer at Woodland Empire Brewery. He also teaches CPR and was the event chair for an American Cancer Society fundraiser called the Boise Suitcase Party in March.
With the Satellite Club, Manley plans to offer classes on “adulting,” as he calls it, doing the type of things you don’t learn in college or from your parents. He plans to have lunchtime speakers on topics that appeal to young professionals like hiring a lawyer, buying your first house, filing your taxes, and starting a business.
While education is the goal of those classes, the overall idea behind Rotary is service, something that Manley thinks his generation is already passionate about. As a recruiter for Rotary, he emphasizes that Rotary allows its members to take any idea they have for a project and make a difference with it.
“There are resources if you have an idea,” he said. “There are grants you can get through Rotary. If you want to do a water project in Ecuador, we can make it happen.”
He’s also practiced at dispelling common myths about Rotary, such as that it is a religious organization (meetings open with an interfaith prayer).
“It’s the largest non-denominational, nonpolitical organization in the world,” he responds to that one.
To questions about whether it’s mainly for older people: “I’m not old.”
As for the fact that at least in Boise, Rotary now appears to be the domain of older white men, he says, “The people there are there for the right reasons: service above self. And all those old people there … how much experience do they have? A lot.”
The Satellite club has no upper age limit; Manley said he knows of a 70-year-old who plans to attend because it fits in better with his schedule than the luncheons. He’s holding a kickoff for the Satellite Club at Payette Brewing on July 29th.
Meanwhile, he’s talking about Rotary to everyone he meets, which is a lot of people.
“A lot of people talk about the things they want to do. But at Rotary they don’t just talk about doing good; they actually do it,” he said.
Anne Wallace Allen is editor of the Idaho Business Review.