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Serving Others in Wake of Tragedy

How my experiences in Toastmasters and Rotary changed my life, and others’.

By David Jones, DTM


“Man

When I joined Toastmasters, I was already doing public speaking. Two or three times a month I was presenting to drivers who had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. I told the story of how my wife of 29 years, Judy, was killed by a drunk-and-drugged driver while returning from a college visit with my 17-year-old daughter Lara.

My wife had been an ordained minister and served as Director of Children’s Ministry at our church. I was speaking to continue her ministry and attempting to save lives by convincing my audience to not drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I felt that if I could save lives by telling her story, it would have made Judy very happy.

In 2011, three years after my wife’s death, I joined the Trailblazers Toastmasters Club in Dublin, Ohio, to become a better speaker, so that I could do my best to convince my audiences to change their behavior. A year later, I joined TriVillage Rotary Club, in Columbus, Ohio, after I married my second wife, Diane, moved into her house, and wanted to make more friends in my new community.

Along the way I served in just about every club officer position—in both organizations—and worked to help my Toastmasters club earn education awards. When the time came to pick a project to complete my Distinguished Toastmaster award (DTM), I wanted to do something meaningful. This is where my Toastmasters and Rotary worlds melded.

I decided to work on a Rotary International project to provide water for a village in Uganda. I picked the village of Namabasa because a friend of mine, Linda McKanna, had been supporting this village for the last 12 years—visiting once or twice a year—and her stories about the lack of basic services for people there brought tears to my eyes. This ended up being a multi-year project, totaling 110,000, resulting in four solar-powered wells feeding into two 5,000-liter storage tanks, and new, hygienic toilets at the local school.

For the final steps of my project, I made a trip to Namabasa, visiting the site of each well and meeting the people who would be drilling and installing the wells. It was amazing to meet the people of the village and the local Rotary Club. I also gave a Toastmasters leadership seminar the first week I was there, followed by a Speechcraft workshop the second week. This helped tie Rotary and Toastmasters together in a project to help children in Uganda, a project dedicated to my first wife, who had found her calling in children’s ministry.

Meeting the children in the village was an emotional experience and made me glad that I had chosen this venture as my High Performance Leadership project. My two weeks were spent installing a hand-pump well, giving a month’s food to 110 families, and distributing 250 pairs of shoes that my grandson Matthew had collected at his school.

Back in Ohio, I gave speeches to 17 other Rotary clubs and a Rotary District convention to raise the funds for the project. I attended International Conventions for both Toastmasters and Rotary to meet people from other countries and talk to experts in water projects.

In January 2021, the Rotary-based global grant I had submitted was approved by the District Foundation Chair in Uganda, and it is now being evaluated by Rotary International leaders. Hopefully, it will be approved and implemented this year, providing clean water for over 2,500 people to improve their health and allow them more time to work and provide for their families instead of queuing in line for the pumps.

At the 2019 Rotary International Convention in Hamburg, Germany, I was in the front row when Toastmasters’ then-International President, Lark Doley, and Rotary’s then-International President, Barry Raskin, announced the Rotary/Toastmasters Alliance. I was elated that my two favorite organizations had decided to form a relationship. I am now the District 40 chair for the alliance and will present at an upcoming training session for 200 Rotary President-Elects, demonstrating how Toastmasters can help them become better speakers and leaders.


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