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Burlington Rotary Clubs honour members who put service above self

Burlington's residents and businesses supported the community throughout the pandemic and beyond
Rotary Club members, Paul Harris award winners, and politicians gathered at on Thursday to celebrate their accomplishments.

The people of Burlington have proven time and again that they will go the extra mile to make their community into the best version of itself that they can. 

On May 16, a few of those people were recognized during the Rotary Club’s 2024 Community Service Awards. The awards were presented to members of the Rotary Club of Burlington, Burlington Lakeshore, Burlington Central, and Burlington North. 

Mike Benninger, Jon Davey, Chris Galante, Renaldo Barca, Scott Johnston, Anne Koopman, and Melanie Warrington were each honoured in front of the crowd gathered at Burlington's Holiday Inn.

“Rotary has given a lot of time – and dollars – to our cause,” Davey, domestic programs manager at GlobalMedic said. “This nomination was totally unexpected, because you aren’t doing these things for the awards, you do it because there is a need and you feel an obligation to help your community.”

GlobalMedic has provided disaster relief and humanitarian aid for more than two decades. Davey was a key player in building relationships between GlobalMedic and several GTA businesses that helped with aid, including the Burlington Food Bank. 

The Paul Harris Awards serve as a beacon of service for those who embodied the club’s motto – service above self. Previous winners include U.S. president Jimmy Carter, and astronaut James Lovell, who commanded the Apollo 13 mission. 

Harris was one of the founders of the Rotary Club, and the third president of the Rotary Club of Chicago. Today, there are more than one million Paul Harris fellows. 

The service above self motto is what drives Rotary members to kickstart their initiatives. 

“I started this with my cousin Scott, and it was one device per month just as something to do,” Michael Benninger, founder of Halton Tech for Teens said. “Then it became two, and then we started the charity. I knew I’d be wrapping up my own business, then all of a sudden the pandemic hit and I had 50 people requesting devices in my inbox.”

To date, Benninger and the team has donated more than 300 devices including laptops, phones, and tablets to those who otherwise wouldn’t have access to them. He added these devices allow students not only to complete coursework, but socialize with one another. 

Halton Tech for Teens is also committed to keeping potential e-waste out of the landfills. 

“A new computer creates about 4-500 pounds of waste, whether it’s for the mining of batteries, or the glass for the screen, there is waste,” Benninger said. “Very rarely do you actually wear out a computer, you want something bigger, stronger, faster, whatever, but they don’t wear out.”

Following opening remarks, guest speaker Patricia Torsney, former Burlington MP, and current Inter-Parliamentary Union permanent observer to the United Nations, spoke about growing up in a Rotary household, the time it took for the club to allow women to participate, and the world’s political climate. 

“In my first terms of office, we had 17 public meetings where we brought people together to discuss immigration, finance, justice, you know – the easy stuff,” Torsney said. “These weren’t easy topics, but by and large we found a way to discuss them in a respectful manner and to share our ideas.”

She added her office on Brant Street used to have chairs for people to take a rest for a few minutes as they were running errands, but many MPs require their doors to remain locked nowadays for their own safety, including Burlington MP Karina Gould's office at Burlington Centre.

Torsney's speech highlighted the safety issues that exist today for MPs that were unheard of just a few years prior, and specifically the abuse that women in politics are facing.

“There are six countries in the world that have more than 50 per cent women in their parliaments, and they are diverse countries,” Torsney said. “About eight years ago, we became concerned with some of the reports about their experiences. We looked into it in 2016 and published an important study on sexism, harassment, and violence toward women. The results were staggering. Some 81 per cent of women from all countries and regions reported they’d experienced psychological violence, and 44 per cent said they’d received threats of death, rape, beatings, or abduction.”

In the last few weeks, Oakville North-Burlington MP Pam Damoff announced she is not running for re-election due to threats and harassment, and several female Halton government officials signed a pledge of support for women in office. 

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Chris Arnold

About the Author: Chris Arnold

Chris Arnold has worked as a journalist for half a decade, covering national news, entertainment, arts, education, and local features
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