Leslie Vanholten, Director of Grants and Outreach for Humanities Kansas, relishes talking about the humanities. The core of her message is this statement from the Humanities Kansas website: “We believe that stories carry our culture and ideas change the world.”
Defining the word “humanities” is often difficult. Many associate it with a high school or college survey course in literature. But Vanholten broadens the concept, emphasizing that “the humanities help us understand what it means to be human — to seek connections with people and place. As we draw on our diverse histories, literature, ethics and cultures, we see more clearly who we are as people and define ideas that will shape a future worthy of generations to come.”
Humanities Kansas is a non-profit funded primarily by the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH). NEH was established in the late 1960’s as a part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. The Kansas entity was established in 1972. Money from the State of Kansas and from private donations make up the balance of the annual budget.
Humanities Kansas distributed grants to fund a variety of initiatives. The primary criteria is that the humanities needs to be central to the proposal. Many rural communities take advantage of the Speakers Bureau to stimulate ideas among residents. Others use the book discussion leaders provided in the Talk About Literature program. Museum on Mainstreet brings displays from the Smithsonian Institute on the road to small-town Kansas. Collaboration on “Words of a Feather” has brought poetry and art together in a small book that has been placed in hotel rooms and cabins at state parks, on food trays for Meals on Wheels recipients, in local arts centers, and elsewhere across the state.
Steve Evans, retired architect and member of the City’s Multi-Modal Transportation Committee, introduced a proposal for a new pedestrian/cyclist bridge crossing over the Kansas River. Steve, an avid cyclist and resident of North Lawrence, has long had concerns about pedestrian and cyclist safety on the bridges crossing the river. He and other people who shared his concerns formed a work group called RiverFront & Center to discuss the issue.
Steve explained how the present walkways on the bridges are narrow and congested. The southern end of both bridges are particularly hazardous for pedestrian and cyclist traffic. The work group developed a new bridge proposal that not only could solve congestion and safety issues but also serve as an aesthetic asset for the river front area.
Kent Williams, an artist, architect, and urban aesthetics collaborator, presented several illustrations and details on three possible bridge designs. Kent spoke of the historical importance of the riverfront area and of the great potential for making it a focus of development and activities as many other communities have done. All of the proposed designs would be ADA accessible and connect with the Lawrence Loop trail, the downtown, City Hall, green space and parks, and other cultural amenities.
Also in attendance in support of the new bridge concept was Sujoy Dhar, an architect and urban designer, and City Commissioner Courtney Shipley. The City Commission will hear a presentation on the Kaw River Commons bridge concept on September 21st.
District Governor 5710 Vern Henricks strives to make an impact. His resume is impressive, but most notable is his commitment to serve in ways that make a difference in the world. The theme for Rotary International this year is “Serve to Change Lives,” fitting neatly with Henricks’ personal philosophy.
Henricks has stepped forward in the past decade to assist a school in Haiti financially. As a member of its board, he worked to place native-born, business-oriented Haitians into leadership. He has donated to a Rotary youth program in Haiti to provide school supplies to the children. He speaks enthusiastically about meeting with a Rotaract Club in Haiti and about a non-profit based in St. Louis that provides “Med and Food for Kids” in that country.
Now Henricks is focused on making an impact as District Governor. One way of doing so is to work toward continuity of ideas and programs. To that end, Henricks is convening past and upcoming District Governors in District 5710 for regular conversations.
He also believes that Rotarians can do better at communicating what we do, so he intends to launch a podcast where Rotarians can find updates about District activities. The District 5710 website will begin to feature the work of particular clubs each week. He encourages clubs to undertake tangible service activities because such efforts are what will attract younger adults to join Rotary.
Henricks encourages all Rotarians to attend the District Conference set for October 21-23 to learn more about what Rotary is doing locally, district-wide, and internationally.
Rotary Youth Leadership Awakening (RYLA) winner Ian Rhea and his mother Joy Rhea were guests at the August 18 meeting of Lawrence Central Rotary.
Each summer Lawrence Central Rotary sponsors a high school student to attend RYLA, an intense leadership training experience held on the campus of Kansas University. Local leaders presented information and moderated activities for the student participants. Leadership presentations included learning about civic engagement, Rotary Youth Exchange, and Rotary, Rotaract and Interact.
Although RYLA was conducted by Zoom this year due to the pandemic, there were some in-person events: rock climbing, and tours of the Dole Institute and the Lied Center. Participants did a small group problem-solving exercise about creating strategies for addressing the “brain drain” in Kansas. They also did a service project: putting together and distributing hygiene kits.
Ian will be a high school sophomore this fall and hopes to be a fire fighter some day. He is active in student council and marching band, volunteers at the local food bank, belongs to 4-H and participates in church activities. Ian reported that the best part of the experience was interacting with the other kids. He added that RYLA made him think about the importance of public service.
Hearing from RYLA students always makes for a popular program. Thanks to Leticia Cole for her work recruiting and coordinating with our RYLA winners.
Kyle Haugen, a member of the Prior Lake , Minnesota Rotary Club, provided an update on Rotary’s efforts to eradicate polio at the club’s first face-to-face meeting in many months. Kyle comes from a family of Rotarians and has served as a former District Governor. He has been active for a number of years in the End Polio Now project raising funds and advocating for the cause. Kyle shared his personal experience of traveling to India in 2019 to participate in an immunization drive.
Rotary’s commitment to eradicating polio started with a grant in 1979 to immunize the children of the Philippines. Out of that initial effort, the Global Eradication Initiative was created. In 2007, the Gates Foundation joined the cause, pledging to spend two dollars for every dollar spent by Rotary.
The eradication effort has utilized 20 million volunteers working in 200 countries. Some 15 billion dollars has been spent, and spectacular success has been achieved. The focus is now on Pakistan, where there have been no new cases since January, and Afghanistan where there are only a handful of remains cases.
Polio Plus needs continuing assistance to finish the job and to provide related health measures in countries at risk, but the goal of eradication is truly within reach.
The mood was celebratory as Lawrence Central Rotary met face-to-face for the first time in many months. Members wore masks except when they were eating, other wise it was business as usual. Thanks to the good work of the ad hoc technology committee, a new computer and camera system was employed. The new equipment makes it possible for members and future speakers who can’t attend in person to participate in a meeting.