Paul Harris Fellow: Vince Simonetti

Vince Simonetti (L) receives his award from Wade Gresham (R)

Vince Simonetti has beeen a member of our club since 2003 and the only person to own the classification of a music shop owner.  Vice also owns the largest privately held tuba museum in the world.
He still shows off his musical talent especially when he and Meg hang out at Wal Mart playing and singing, probably raising more money for the Salvation Army than anyone else in our club.
Vince is a dedicated Rotarian joining in many activities of the club as well as leading our Rotary Singers as they present special music at various meeting.  His wife, Ethel who attends meetings often, also frequently sings with the group. He and Ethel can also be seen working together for Rotary at Centerfest.

Presentation: Betsy Kessler – DPAC Group Sales

Following an invocation from Rotarian Kim Blair, the awarding of Paul Harris Society honors to folks integral to Croasdaile Village Retirement Community and finally the Rotary induction of John Blanton by fellow Rotarian Eric Benson, the day’s speaker, Betsy Kessler from DPAC group sales was introduced by Rotarian Carver Weaver. 

Carver Weaver introduced Betsy to the Club

Betsy and her DPAC team are behind the group pricing rates that the Rotary Club has been able to secure and allow more than 20 children from East Durham Children’s Initiative and several International Rotary Youth Exchange students to attend the Aladdin performance this past autumn. 

 Originally from the Philadelphia area, in 2008, Betsy became the first hire at the DPAC as a sales representative. In November that year, DPAC opened with four shows and has grown that number into 8. Since its inception, it has consistently ranked top 10 in the nation in sales and ended 2019 ranked third.  [Read more…]

New Member: Brian Alvo

Brian Alvo is the Founder of NextGen Center. The concept of service is the cornerstone of Brian’s career path. That service began as a civilian analyst with The United States Marine Corps — and then as Executive Director of a nonprofit educational foundation in Nicaragua. With an MBA from Duke University, Brian has over 10 years of diverse professional experience spanning multiple industries. As a Director of Corporate Development at LabCorp, Brian led strategic teams to realign and grow divisional business into national programs. He was also the VicePresident of Business Development and Strategic Accounts at one of the fastest growing technology companies in Durham – where he helped grow the company from 14 to 50+ team members in less than 2 years’ time. Brian is sponsored by Elisabeth Wiener. Welcome, Brian!

Paul Harris Fellows: Peter Jacobi and Katina Rogers

L to R: Dr. Peter Jacobi, Katina Rogers, Anna Jones, Kay Gresham


Dr. Peter Jacobi practiced family medicine in Durham for decades before recently retiring. He joined Rotary in 2017. One more great thing that Andy Barada did for our Club was to bring Peter to us. When Peter was inducted, he said one of the things he likes – REALLY LIKES – about Rotary is that we are an organization that wears our patriotism and tolerance on our sleeve. He believes the Rotary Foundation teaches us that anyone can be a philanthropist. He appreciates that the Foundation affords us the opportunity to combine and multiply our resources then bring those combined resources back to our local community.

Katina Rogers joined our Club not quite a year ago. However, she attended her FIRST Rotary meeting at the age of 14 with her Fatherand helped translate for him as he received an honor from a Rotary Club in Omaha. Katina now has a home renovation companyand also a handcrafted purse and accessory line in Durham. She has been very active with our Club this year. It’s always exciting to award our new members, as is the case with Katina.

Program Report: The Helius Foundation – Geraud Staton

President Todd Taylor celebrated “Jewish Awareness Day”, as a tribute to Rotary’s ecumenicism, and Vince Simonetti’s as the best (and possibly only) tuba museum in the world. (Peter Morcombe won the raffle, the fourth time in two years. Investigations are continuing…)

Geraud Staton, President of the HELIUS Foundation, with his wife as a guest, was introduced to a full Rotary house by Julie Wells.

HELIUS was founded in 2015 as a new way to help poor black entrepreneurs in Durham.  Durham has a history of black affluence. At the beginning of the 20th century, the city had the highest number of black millionaires per capita in the country. But now 22% of African Americans in Durham live below the poverty line. (Not that these two numbers are incompatible, as the current debate on income inequality shows.) 

HELIUS aims to help poor people who are already engaged in some entrepreneurial activity to expand and consolidate it.  The aim is to encourage social mobility in a region where it is low.  There are many reasons that Durham lags. Redlining and intentional racism are two. But perhaps more important is the effect of repeated setbacks. Geraud told the story of psychologist Martin Seligman and his poor dogs, severely shocked into “learned helplessness” — not that we need suffering canines to know that repeated failure can deter.

HELIUS is successfully countering these bad effects.  They begin with a ten-week program for all, followed by individualized help. HELIUS has a 91% success rate; 64% end the program earning a fair living wage. HELIUS has worked with small enterprises like the teashop Jeddah’s Tea to improve business practice and reduce debt.

In answer to questions, Geraud responded:

Q: What do you think about reparations because of the wealth difference between whites and blacks A: It could work if done properly. Q: How do you choose clients? Poor people, already engaged in “potentially legal” business of some sort. Q: Where does capital from. A: Do not borrow if possible. better to start small. “Kiva Trustee” gives small loans $2-19K. Q: How do you get clients? Almost always by referral. HELIUS is funded by donations: foundations; most now are from corporations – who hire many of our clients. Q: Do you have a list of good ideas? Yes! Q: What is your oldest business? A: 7-year-old company, floundering at first, now OK. Our participants range in age from 14-71 (the latter an artist).

Submitted by JS

Christmas 2019 Musical Program


Rotarians and Guests at Monday’s Holiday Celebration were treated to a very special presentation by students and staff from R.N Harris Integrated Arts/Core Knowledge Magnet School. Introduced by Rotarian Steed Rollins, Jeremy Tucker, new Director of Arts Programs for Durham Public Schools, spoke of the school’s focus on “integrating all subjects with music, dance, drama, visual and literary arts to engage every student in memorable learning.” The program, which Tucker referred to as the A+ program, “essentially ‘levels the playing field’ for all students that attend RN Harris.”

5th grade violin students performing with their teacher Ann Bauer opened the performances. They began with simple exercises between themselves and the teacher and gradually moved to more complex melodies and rhythms. This use of “Suzuki Method” techniques allows students with varying training to experience success in playing from the very beginning.

Student singers and dancers presented music and dance selections from Frozen, which Tucker explained was based on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen” and the ballet “The Nutcracker.” The program closed with a demonstration of the Samba dance rooted in the Brazilian Culture and the Mamba which is based in the Cuban culture. Dance Teacher, Toya Chinfloo and Music Teacher, Elizabeth Vick, directed the music and dance selections.

The enthusiasm, joy and focus of these young people under the direction of their teachers was thrilling and heart warming. As a former Music Teacher, who taught this level in public schools for a short time before moving on to another career, I know how difficult it can be to achieve the level of accomplishment we saw today. I’m also aware, as an amateur musician, how much it means to experience the success that these young people have achieved. It showed on their faces!

Tucker emphasized that “the integrated arts approach is an interdisciplinary collaboration that realizes that all children are artists and that art can be used to strengthen all learning as well as provide social and emotional support for all students that attend RN Harris.” Tucker thanked the Teachers and Principals of RN Harris as well as Deputy Superintendent of Academic Services, Dr. Nakia Hardy and Assistant Superintendent of Specialized Services, Dr. Deborah Pitman who also attended. He closed by quoting an RN Harris student who said, “The arts allow me to express myself in ways that otherwise would not be possible. I am allowed to do it freely.”

Submitted by Doug Butler