Program Report: French GSE Team and Campaign4Change

We were treated to a double feature at Monday’s lunch meeting—the visiting French GSE Team and Otis Lyons, founding director of “Campaign4Change.”

The French GSE team represents Rotary District 1670 in northern France, nestled along the Belgian border.  The most prominent city is Lille whose metropolitan district with more than one million inhabitants is France’s fourth largest.  The surrounding countryside, the Department of the North, played an important role in the industrialization of France.  As mining and textiles declined in the 20th century, this region reinvented itself with burgeoning commercial, service and education/health related sectors.  Each of the three GSE team members visiting District 7710 is in the health field.  The Triangle obviously offers them rich opportunities to observe the American medical and pharmaceutical professions.

Pauline Varlet graduated in pharmacy at Lille University, will do a residency in a medical laboratory and currently works at the Amiens University Hospital.  Her area of specialization is hematology with the intention of a career in cell therapy and stem cell research.  Amélie Delahaye, born in coastal Saint Martin les Boulonge, has a Clinical Research Masters degree from Lille University’s Engineering School.   After gaining experience in Paris hospitals, she hopes to work in the pharmaceutical industry setting up clinical trials in developing countries.  Clémence Carré, born in Amiens, famed for its exquisite Gothic cathedral, studied psychology and is now enrolled in Health Management at Lille University.  Her professional interest lies in managing the medical and social interface for patients with disabilities including Alzheimers and other forms of progressive dementia.  The French team leader, Urvassee Baguant, is a physician in private practice.  She is past president of the Bavay Forum Rotary Club.  Curious about Bavay, I discovered it had been a leading center of Roman civilization in northern France and Belgium and the site of the largest Forum outside Italy.

I was struck—in addition to their laudable professional ambitions—by the commendable and wholesome hobbies and outside interests of these young women.  All enjoy active leisure activities—tennis, hiking, camping, traveling—as well as stimulating cultural pastimes—reading, cinema, theater.  True to their culinary heritage, each mentioned a love of cooking, and presumably, Gallic good taste.

A Group Exchange Team of health professionals from our District will travel to France in June.


Club member Monica Barnes introduced Otis Lyons, founder and Executive Director of “Campaign4Change” that is a remarkable motivational program designed to promote self-esteem and confidence among at-risk youths.  As Otis says he “doesn’t want kids to do what I did.”  His is a remarkable story, told without hesitation or sugar-coating.  As a youth, Otis basically became a gangster.  Neglected, rejected by a drug-addled mother, and abandoned by his father, Otis became a gang member and petty criminal.  Purse snatching escalated into more serious felony offenses which ultimately led to a thirty year prison sentence.  At first blaming everybody but himself, he eventually realized he had to take responsibility for his actions.  He obviously convinced enough of the right people of his sincerity to get his sentence reduced which led to freedom in 1994.

Since then, he has devoted himself to his non-profit “Campaign4Change.”  His goal is to “give hope” to young people who have never heard words of praise or encouragement.  With the help of twenty or so community partners, “Campaign4Change” goes right into the heart of the “Hood” to reach the most at-risk kids and to offer alternative activities to gang membership.  Some activities are designed to develop self-confidence, others to show that their lives can bring happiness and joy to others: trips to nursing homes to entertain their elders, community beautification projects, street life workshops, partnership with DPAC to see plays (and to produce their own play “Ridin with Joe Crack”), adopt-a-family program at Thanksgiving, gift giving at Christmas, King and Queen Pageant for ages five to fourteen, “Carolina Idol” talent contests, partnering with local businesses to introduce kids to undreamed-of careers. A greatly expanded basketball program complete with uniforms and equipment donated by local businesses has been a big hit—its free for the kids and their families but the kids have to do community service in exchange.

Otis aptly summarizes the goal of “Campaign4Change”:  “What they see is what they be!”

Submitted by Allen Cronenberg


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