Connecting with the world

ST. JOSEPH — The St. Joseph-Benton Harbor Rotary Club’s Student Mentor Program and its founder, Jackie Huie, continue to garner worldwide attention for their efforts to connect young people with successful professionals in many fields.

Rotary International’s website has profiled Huie and the program she helped launch in 2007, that has grown locally and has been adopted by Rotary groups all over the world.

“I got a letter from a girl who came from a poor background, and through the program, she got a chance to meet with an attorney in town,” Huie, president of JohnsonRauhoff, a multimedia company in St. Joseph, told Rotary International. “It inspired her and gave her confidence to go to school and study law. She got accepted into four law schools and is on her way to becoming an attorney.”

Huie has made presentations at International Rotary conferences in Portugal and Brazil about the Student Mentor Program, and recently received a call from Panama.

While this online article was being put together, Huie received a call from photojournalist Monika Lozinska, with the Rotary International office in Chicago, who was interested in doing her own piece on the mentorship program.

Huie sent Lozinska profiles of students who had participated and who had been in touch with an associate editor of National Geographic Traveler magazine in Washington, D.C., with prima ballerina Misty Copeland in New York City, and author Rinker Buck, among many others.

Lozinska was so impressed that she will come to St. Joseph this spring to collect video sound bites from the students and their mentors. Jeff Fettig, president and CEO of Whirlpool Corp. and one of the first mentors to sign on, has agreed to be interviewed, Huie said.

The interviews, when completed, will be posted on the Rotary International website.

The mentorship program is just one of the efforts by the St. Joseph-Benton Harbor Rotary Club to connect with young people, to encourage them to perform community service and to explore career options.

The club has Interact groups with more than 200 Interact members at four area schools, and 40 will travel to the Dominican Republic this summer to install water filters and take part in a medical mission.

This month the Rotary Club will sponsor a “Career Speed Dating” event for area high school students to speak with people from several fields. Among the guest participants will be Michael Smiy, a Southwest Michigan native and now a Hollywood film producer who will talk to students via Skype.

“It’s important for Rotary to make an investment in young people,” Huie told Rotary International. “My own daughter is in Interact because of my membership in Rotary. I think her world is broader, and she looks at the world differently. We all do, because of what we’ve learned through Rotary.”