Club President Anny-Sandra Hamel - President Changeover
Rotary Toronto Meeting Friday, June 21th, 2024  
President Anny-Sandra's Farewell Speech

Chers amis Rotariens et invités​ – Bienvenue!

Welcome to our traditional changeover meeting: the last meeting of the year 2023/2024, the 113th year of the Rotary club of Toronto!

Perhaps dreaming is not so bad if one dreams good dreams and makes them come true – Paul Harris

While I never in my wildest imagination dreamed of being president of this great club, it has been a good dream come true.

I would like to begin by thanking each one of you here present today, Rotarians and non-Rotarians for the support and encouragement you have given me over the last few years. I want to express my deep gratitude to the entire membership of our club, for giving me the opportunity to be part of the club’s leadership team for the past 3 years and to serve as your President this past year. I am truly honored.

Many of you were instrumental in making this year, a great year. I would like start by thanking my Board of Directors (and if you are present, please stand when I say your name).

Lori Brazier, Pauline Lyons, Marcy Berg, Maureen Bird, Neisely Eugene, Alanna Scott, Peter Simmie and Daniel Massicotte.  My recognition goes to Lori as an outgoing Director after serving for 3 years and Alanna for serving for 1 year. 

A special thank you to Kurt Kroesen who extended his mandate by 6 months on the Club Board and Executive as interim Treasurer until we found our new Treasurer in Jeff Pollock. Thank you to Jeff, for taking on this important role.

Binoy, Dauna and Jayson in your capacity as President-Elect, Vice-President and Immediate Past-President, I say MERCI! We had good synergy, listened to each other’s point of views, collaborated as a team, made decisions and then moved forward. I truly enjoyed working together with you as a team and thank you for being part of my year as President. 

As a club, we pride ourselves in seeking out projects that can have meaningful impact within our community. During the past year, we have been able to tackle many projects. This could not be done without the hard work and commitment of our Chairs, Co-chairs and Leads of our various committees and working groups. Because of your dedication, we have once again reached out and connected with our community. They have done tremendous work this year and deserve to be recognized. 

Many new members with no specific roles or titles have stepped up and made an amazing impact on the club’s activities and were part of the many successes we had this year. I can think of Nathalie, Kai, Altaf, Christine, Stu, Pheing to name a few. Merci

To the Foundation President, Richard White and the Foundation Board Members (Jeff Dobson, Brian Westlake, David Hetherington, Blair Spinney, Binoy Luckoo, Dauna Jones-Simmonds, Maureen Bird, Peter Simmie, Jayson Phelps, Bert Steenburgh and Rick Goldsmith), thank you for your contributions and dedication. 

Research & Appeal has done a fabulous work at reviewing grants which were approved by the Foundation - surpassing the $1Million dollars goal we had this year. This is the part that many of our members don’t always hear and see. But the reach, our Club and Foundation has in helping agencies and organizations to serve their clients, is not to be understated. 

As I look back on my presidential year, there are many things for which I am proud about our club. But I have to say that my number one is the positive trend with our membership growth. Because, membership growth and membership are the key to a strong club as members are our lifeblood. As of today, including our 4 new members, our membership is at 191 members! We had 38 new members joining our ranks this year! This is a net gain of 22 members since July 1, 2023. I would like to thank the Member Engagement Committee for their dedicated work and for the many initiatives organized in the last 2 years such as Ask Me Anything and R2R. It really made a difference. We don’t build or rebuild a club overnight.

An increase in membership also comes with an increase in attendance. Although we are not to the pre-Covid numbers, we have seen a small and steady increase since last summer. Of course, today is merveilleux to see a full room like this. And I wish for Binoy, to conduct most, if not all our meetings next year, in this room. But for this, we need to you to be present twice a month. 

There is strength in unity, let's work together for a better world. - Paul Harris

I have been privileged to witness the incredible power that lies within the unity of this club. I have witnessed the importance of individuals coming together and working collectively towards a common goal – building a better world, both locally and globally. By setting aside personal differences, embracing diversity, and pooling our strengths, we can create a sense of belonging which helps build on our desire to be of service to others to create hope in the world.

It is by continuing to build a strong club, with active and engaged members that we will be able to continue the club’s great tradition. When each and everyone of us find our place, our calling, when we feel we belong to our club, when we feel connected, when we are working towards a common goal, which is one of helping others and making our community become a better place, that’s when we do great things!

The greatest gift you can give someone is your time. – Paul Harris.

As our club continues to grow, the club’s leadership has acknowledged several times that we are changing, adapting. The Rotary Club of Toronto is a welcoming club and a club of action which I believe is the reason why our membership is once again growing steadily. We encourage fellowship. We care for each other’s well being. We do give each other a chance to develop professionally and personally so that each of us can spread our Rotary wings. The Rotary Club of Toronto continues to change and reflect the times, and demographics of the city of Toronto. The opportunities and needs of our members and community will shape the direction we take over several years, and I would relish the chance to continue to be part of this ongoing change. We value diversity: we had a great example of that 10 days ago with our multicultural event. We have vibrant, talented and involved new members that are reshaping and reinvigorating the Rotary message, who we are and what we stand for. This is worth celebrating.

Rotary International’s theme this year, under President Gordon McInally, was Create Hope in the World. One of his main objectives was to break down stigmas around mental health and strive for a more connected world.

When I took on the role as president of the club a year ago, my objective was to highlight the environment and wellness and mental health. I also wanted to provide our members occasions to serve in the community. To this end, I am proud of the projects we have endorsed and supported throughout the year, for example: volunteering with Sistering (both in their kitchen and at a community event), sewing reusable menstrual pads for young girls and women in the Dominican Republic and removing invasive plants. 

Mental Health was an area of focus and I am proud to say that, through Research & Appeal, we have supported several agencies/organizations such as Sherbourne Health, The 519, Boots on the Ground or Gilda’s Club which all have a component that touch on mental health. The subject of Mental Health is vast and diverse, and I would hope that our club will find ways to promote and continue to advance this particular field in the future.

The foundation upon which Rotary is built is friendship; on no less firm foundation could it have stood. – Paul Harris

Fun is a combination of fellowship and friendship. Bringing fun and connection into our club was one of my key objectives for the year especially as we transitioned out of Covid.  

I certainly had lots of fun during my year as president, when I reflect back there are a number of meetings and events I fondly remember. 

Our Caribana theme meeting last August with everyone dancing and having fun listening to the steel pan band. That was fun, wasn’t it?

I remember Marie Henein drawing a big crowd when she came to speak of her book: Nothing but the Truth. I was a bit nervous as this was the biggest meeting attendance we had in a long time.

What about that February evening when Ian Dobson shared with us his views about the future of cities in a post-Covid time. It was somewhat of an intimate gathering, but it was oh so very interesting and generated a very passionate discussion between our members.  He is worth inviting again!

We also hosted a special program for International Women’s Day lead by our Vice-President Dauna, where we also welcomed 2 prominent Toronto women as Honorary Members of this club: our Mayor, Olivia Chow and Dr. Jean Augustine.

Talking about Dr. Augustine, we hosted the screening of a documentary about her life. And we had the honour of Dr. Augustine attending the event and answering questions at the end. This was a first for our club to highlight Black History month.

As we have been navigating the aftermath of Covid for the last 2 years, we had to reconsider projects and events we had been doing for years or even decades. We had to pivot and come up with new activities and/or fundraisers.

It is worth mentioning:

  • The Holiday Hampers Party lead by Don Bell and his crew. This new formula has worked very well and a great night was had by all at the Balmy Beach Club. And the fundraiser allowed for 500 hampers to be donated on behalf of our club.

  • The return of the Children’s Holiday party after a 3 year-hiatus at a new venue, the Mariott Hotel, which we also used for our Club’s holiday party. This was the 92nd edition of our club hosting this signature event. I even shared a few dance steps with Mayor Chow and the children. Thank you to Mark McQuitty, Bill Empey and their team for reactivating this party.

  • L’Arbre du Souvenir. Year 3 is when the Tree of Remembrance fundraiser reached a new level. We had great community outreach and we intend on building from it. We now have a team of 20 eager members (!) and we will host our 2nd meeting next Tuesday morning. 

As you saw from our Tree of Remembrance party of May 1st, we are also working at strengthening and developing partnerships with the City of Toronto and other organizations. The Rotary Tree of Remembrance fundraiser has the potential to have us connect with our clients and the communities we serve in so many new and exciting ways. All of these potential new partnerships we hope, will shine back positively on our Club and Rotary. Michele – hold on to your hat! 

  • Our primary fundraiser for the last 14 years has been the Steam Whistle event, lead almost single handedly by Fabio Ventolini. It is a well attended evening and I have even noticed repeat guests over the years that I have volunteered. That is a sign of a well run and appreciated event. 

  • One novelty this year, as we embrace social media, was the creation of a WhatsApp group for our members. Thank you, Jayson, for this initiative. To date over 70 members have joined the WhatsApp group and it has been a great tool to communicate on events, projects as well as sharing pictures. All members are encouraged to join and belong to this group. If you are not part of it and would like to, please let me know

As I near the end of my talk, there are a few more people I want to thank. Our Past Presidents for their role as monitors at club meetings, but also for their support when I reached out to tap into their experience and wisdom. I would like to personally thank, Susan Howson, Susan Hunter, Bert Steenburgh, Richard White, Michele Guy, Kevin Power, John Fortney and Jayson Phelps. 

To the President of the Rotaract club of Toronto, Levi Greene. Levi had a place at our Board meetings this year and was a pleasure to collaborate with. Our Rotaracters are working hard at increasing their membership but through it all, our younger partners remain very active in their goal to serve others.  

To Bill and the entire staff at the National Club, thank you for your great service and delicious meals. 

A special word of appreciation to Sarah and Essam, for your assistance and help with a number of aspects of my role and for the club. I enjoyed working with both of you.

I am also grateful to Carol, our Executive Director, who coaches us with our presidential responsibilities long before we take the Presidential oath. Carol is a great source of knowledge and to use her expression, keeps all the parts moving together. Merci Carol. I have learned much from you these past 3 years and enjoyed working with you. 

Finally, I do have to acknowledge the support I have received from my family: my two daughters Marissa and Arianne who even took part into the organization of my Presidential Roast. I loved having both of you attending a few Rotary events. I hope I have inspired and empowered you to become great leaders and embrace the philosophy of service above selves.

My last thank you goes to our newest member, and as of next Monday, a new Canadian citizen, my trusted private advisor and wonderful husband: T.P. It is cliché, but so very true: I would not have made it through this year if it wasn’t for your unconditional support. You have been amazing! Thank you T.P.

To our new members: I hope you have felt welcomed. And to all our members: I hope you continue to feel like you belong here.

True leadership is about inspiring others to be their best selves – Paul Harris

I will, as a Rotarian, continue to reach out my hand in fellowship and kindness. As I leave the role of President, I will, as a Rotarian, continue to create an environment that fosters growth, innovation, and collaboration. I hope that our club’s leadership team will continue to uplift and empower members, enabling them to achieve personal and professional goals, thereby insuring that collectively we celebrate the successes of our club. 

I will leave you with this quote by the Dalai Lama which I saw at the Rotary Club of Toronto Tibetan anniversary last week:

If you contribute to other peoples’ happiness, you will find the true meaning of life. The key point is to have a genuine sense of universal responsibility.


President Anny-Sandra Hamel