A Bold Commitment by a Bold Club: The Wilmington Strategy Committee

Written By Sarah E. Brown


A dialog at the Ronald McDonald House with Rita Landgraf, former Secretary of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, on the health of health in Wilmington

In 2014, during the preparation for the Centennial Celebration of the Rotary Club of Wilmington (RCW), three members of this club (Dave Fleming, Wil Sherk, and Mac Sommerlatte) pondered what the role of this club could be in the second hundred years of its existence. With the resources of the club, the influence, and connections members could make, these three men proposed that the club could and should make a measurable impact on the turn around of Wilmington into a model city. Because the needs of the city were so great, it would be a daunting task and not one that could be accomplished by this club exclusively. On the other hand, the goal would likely not be achieved without the help of organizations like the Rotary Club of Wilmington.

These three men prepared a vision statement of Wilmington as a World Class City.

Wilmington will be a city where

  • all people are valued and respected
  • there are safe streets and neighborhoods
  • there are prepared and hopeful youth
  • strong school systems that work for everyone
  • new and growing business with a spectrum of jobs
  • a rich variety of culture and leisure opportunities
  • affordable quality housing
  • healthy and credible local government
  • high quality health care
  • strong citizen leadership
  • effective public transportation systems

The leadership of the club (Peter Horty, Michael Arrington, Pam Cornforth) adopted this vision statement and committed the club to work on it, even if it took the next 100 years.

I live and work in Wilmington, and it was this ongoing, sustained commitment to a big audacious goal that attracted me to join the Rotary Club of Wilmington in 2015. I immediately joined the Wilmington Strategy Committee—the group that became the initial think tank to understand the key issues in our city, the underlying root causes, and where the Rotary Club of Wilmington could plug in to make sustainable change.

I chaired this committee for the 2017/2018 Rotary year. In preparation, we held a club-wide strategy meeting on May 18, 2017 to get club feedback for our focus. The club told us that day:

  • To do a few things and do them really, really well. To understand if we are doing that, we were asked to have medium term metrics that help us to assess if our efforts are making an impact and doing so in a way that creates sustainable change.
  • Rotary Club of Wilmington members are often very busy people, so members would like ways to engage that can be accomplished in small bite-sized pieces.
  • In terms of the attributes for a world-class city, members asked that our emphasis be first on prepared and hopeful youth and secondarily on improving the economic opportunities in Wilmington (new and growing business with a spectrum of jobs)

With this in mind, the Wilmington Strategy Committee focused on:

  • Developing short term and medium term goals for Stubbs. We decided that we wanted to focus on goals like improving 3rd grade reading proficiency levels and reducing suspension rates. Unfortunately, plans for Stubbs changed as the Christina School District announced plans to consolidate schools and convert Stubbs into a pre-K and family resource center. So WSC’s goals changed to determining how best to support Stubbs families in the transition—including networking with other volunteer organizations working in the school.
  • Enhancing and expanding Stubbs work to address other factors that research has shown could impact these medium term goals. Here we focused on population health as it impacts a child’s ability to learn, and we commenced to learn as much about this as we could.
  • Expanding Stubbs work to improve economic health of Stubbs families. Following a dialog with the Peers Mentoring Center, we embarked on shaping projects to work on the economic well-being of those returning to these neighborhoods from prison. This will be a cornerstone of service work in the 2018/2019 Rotary year.
  • Continued to educate our club through programs and dialogues. We held 4 dialogs: 1 on education in Wilmington and proven models from other communities that could be used to improve Wilmington Schools, 2 on population health, and 1 in collaboration with the Peers Mentoring Center on opportunities to assist returning offenders to the community.
  • Worked with RCW committees (Community Service, Centennial Park, Youth Services, Charitable Giving) to coordinate activities and make best use of club resources. This has resulted in the combination of the Wilmington Strategy Committee and the Community Services Committee going forward to enable us to better use club resources. In addition, we developed a strategy document and matrix to assist in the evaluation of future RCW projects.
  • Forged a partnership with Habitat for Humanity through a spring Rock the Block event. We engaged with Eastside residents in an effort to improve the look and feel of this community-thus getting to know these individuals and their goals better.

In summary, the “think tank” now takes on the mantle of ongoing community service in pursuit of Wilmington becoming all that it can be.