The Need to Serve

Potomac Rotary Offers Opportunity to Give Back, After Seeing Others Do the Same

Describing Rotary International is a bit like describing superheroes: full of eye-popping stats and seemingly impossible achievements. Rotary is 114 years old. It is the only non-governmental organization with a seat at the United Nations. With 1.2 million members and more than 35,000 clubs worldwide, Rotary is the world’s largest civic organization and yet it sums up its reason for existence in three words: Service Above Self.

It’s that motto that led John Reid to join. A project specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, John is also serving as the current president of the Potomac Rotary.

“I felt that need to serve,” he says.

John grew up in Kentucky where he looked up to older family friends who were Rotarians.

“I admired them. They did things in our community," John says. "It was time for me to be more involved in the community.”

John joined the Potomac Rotary a few years ago and is serving as the 2019–2020 president.

Tom Pratt, the public relations chair, felt a similar pull.

“I’m from a background where ‘service above self’ is a mantra,” he says of his youth in South Florida. “I did a lot of community service as a kid, and I looked to continue that.”

Tom, the director of organizational leadership and development for CNSI, has been a Rotarian since 2006. Tom works in Rockville and joined Potomac Rotary in 2018.

There are several Rotary clubs in our area; each club is autonomous and has an individual vibe. Clubs often work together on joint projects. Matrix of Rotary meetings, events and projects are designed for flexibility and to appeal to members of all interests. Any Rotary club member can suggest a project to be supported.  

The 2017–2018 Potomac Rotary president, Anila Khetarpal, instituted a 40 Under 40 program in 2017 to attract younger members by lowering membership fees, adapting millennial-friendly digital tools and reducing time commitments. Anila is now the club’s secretary.

“I am driven to make sure Potomac Rotary is as diverse as the Potomac community,” Anila says. “Potomac Rotary supports local and global projects.”

Currently, the Potomac club’s members range from age 35 to 85.


Rotary International inspires youth through Interact Clubs at the high school level and Rotaract clubs at the college level.

“We put out a youth call to action to prepare them for service,” John says. “As a result, we see more youth and more women.” 

Regarding Interact, Tom adds, “We help them understand the role service plays around the world.”

Tom says Rotary teaches Interact students how to be leaders in the community, how to approach problems, how to get involved, how to organize and plan and how to get the word out.

“We call it the three Ts: time, talent or treasure—so, by serving, you are giving your time, expertise or money. We guide the Interact students to run at least one service project of each of the three Ts in a school year. They can raise money and give it away, and they have to have a project that is physical like packing food at a food bank, and they give their talents. For instance, a musician can teach someone else how to play, or a person strong in math can tutor someone.”


Potomac Rotary members gather for breakfast on the first and third Wednesday of each month. These events typically attract a few dozen Rotarians who come for food, fellowship and to hear a guest speaker address a variety of topics. The last Wednesday of each month, the group holds a happy hour.

“We just get together and do not talk about fundraising,” Tom says. “The second Wednesday of each month is for a service project.”

He says this can be anything from sorting and folding clothes for the needy, cleaning up a park, helping St. Martin’s Food Pantry, the Nourish Now Food Pantry and more.


In recognition of World Polio Day in October, Potomac Rotary will be engaged with other local and district Rotary clubs in support of the international effort to eradicate polio. According to, Rotary has been working to eradicate polio for more than 30 years and is a founding partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which has reduced polio cases by 99.9% since the project to vaccinate children began in the Philippines in 1979. Dr. John Sever, a Potomac Rotary member, started that global effort. Even Gates Foundation partners with Rotary on global projects.


John says other Rotary projects are as simple as presenting third grade students with personal dictionaries and as complex as digging water wells in Togo and providing locals and access to clean drinking water. The Togo wells project was a multi-year project. 

“The beauty of Rotary is that we have access to international partnerships with other clubs,” John says. “A small club can request a grant on an international level or district level to match funds raised by the clubs. We raise money, and it can be matched by the Rotary International Grants, as long as there is a good plan.” 

A good plan starts with having a sound strategy for deciding who to serve.

“We look for what best serves the needs of the community,” John says. 

Anila adds, “There is no money in Rotary work, but it’s worth a fortune.” 

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