Program Report: The New Class of Innovation Fellows

Club member, Ari Medoff, introduced the three newest Rotary Innovation Fellows to the club, briefly explained the background behind the Innovation Fellows program and pointing out that with the support of a fund, the Rotary Innovations Fellows can now apply for a $2,000 grant to support the efforts of their ventures. He then turned the podium over to each of them to explain their ventures and report progress of them.

Camryn Smith is Executive Director of Communities in Partnership. She said that it started out about six to seven years ago as an effort to create a safe space in their neighborhood in Old East Durham.  It has grown to be a holistic effort at community development for Afro-American People and other Communities as well. She explained that it focuses on areas of Racial Equity, Leadership Development, Health Care and Wellness and is also involved with the purchase of housing stock that can provide affordable housing for those working and living in Durham’s gentrifying neighborhoods. She has been at this for about seven years and cites Self Help Credit Union, Duke Healthcare, the Durham Merchant’s Association and others who have been great help to her. She said that they have developed a Food Co-op and are partnering with Durham Tech for new business ideas. Website:

Cecilia Polanci opened with the fact that she just turned 26 and that her father came to the U.S. from El Salvador when he was 26. She said that she has been three years in Durham and has a food truck called “So Good Pupusas, A Taste of El Salvador.” While she has ambitions to expand to another food truck or a storefront, she is also focused on helping others. She is an ally of undocumented people and created a non-profit scholarship program called P4E, that is helping 5 students. She is a graduate of UNC, Chapel Hill and was able to attend due to scholarship assistance. She is dreaming big about possibilities for others and is particularly in need of help on how to grow endowments in order to make that happen. Website:

Tobias Rose is the Principle/Owner of Kompleks Creative, a venture that he started from his dorm room at NC Central University. Now located downtown on Black Wall Street at 106 Parrish Street, their focus on helping people “do what they like” through branding, web site design and other creative work with a focus now on clients in Durham. As they refocused on the local market, they noticed that there was a pronounced lack of Venture Capital Help for Black-owned businesses. That led them to found Black Wall Street Homecoming, a three-day series of entertainment, speakers, workshops and networking opportunities. Over five years the event has grown and attracted some of the top publications and experts on Entrepreneurship, including a recent appearance by the editorial staff of “Fast Company.” They are continuing to look at new initiatives as they grow. Website:

Submitted by Doug Butler

Special Treat – Choral Society of Durham

The Club departed slightly from the usual order of business for a special program provided by the Choral Society of Durham. The program was organized by Rotarian and Choral member Doug Butler. The program was led by Dr. Rodney Wynkoop, who has served as conductor and artistic director of the Choral Society of Durham since 1986. He is also director of University Choral Music, Director of Chapel Music, and Professor of the Practice of Music at Duke University.

The group present was a small but very talented section of the total Choral. Introductions of each piece by Dr. Wynkoop demonstrated the range of their performance capabilities.  Dr. Wynkoop has served as conductor and artistic director of the Choral Society of Durham since 1986. He is also director of University Choral Music, Director of Chapel Music, and Professor of the Practice of Music at Duke University.

Dr. Wynkoop extended an invitation to Rotarians to attend the Concerts for the Holiday Season, Saturday December 8 and Sunday December 9 at the Duke Chapel for a performance of La Fiesta de la Posada by Dave Brubeck before they sung a short piece of it for the Club.

The Choral Society has a long history in Durham going back to 1949. More information is available on their website including ways to support them. Many thanks to Doug and Dr. Wynkoop for the program.

Where Does the Money Go – President Elect Todd Taylor

President Elect Todd Taylor declared himself the Forrest Gump of Rotary, which was appropriate at our Veterans Day observance since he was a Navy pilot with heroic tendencies (he flew at the South Pole) and Forrest was a modest fictional hero who served in the Vietnam war. But Todd’s mission this day was not to talk about heroics in war or cold climates but the everyday heroics that the money raised by Rotary funds. Truth be told, it’s confusing, and Todd assumed the persona of Forrest in an effort to simplify…”Life is like a box of chocolates…

You really had to be there to get the full story, but the image below is a clickable link to a pdf document that was created from his PowerPoint for you to peruse. But even if it’s just a strong shadow of the full presentation, it should be enough to convince you that everything is under control and you’ll get something you like out of this box of chocolates.

Veterans Day Program: Lt.Colonel Jacques Michienzi

The commemoration of Veterans Day opened with a recognition of club members who were veterans followed by a stirring medley of songs from each of the branches of military service sung by our Rotary Veterans Day Chorus led by George Deaton.

This year’s Veterans Day was especially significant because it marked the centennial of the armistice concluding World War I—fighting ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.  Originally known as “Armistice Day,” the name was changed to Veterans Day in 1954 during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower.

Steed Rollins and Don Stanger worked hard to organize this outstanding program.

Few Americans could better personify a military “veteran” than today’s speaker, Jacques Michienzi, who served in World War II, the Korean conflict, and two tours in Vietnam.  He is ninety-five years old, vigorous, sharp as a tack, modest and shares Past President Don’s passion for fly fishing.  He was born to immigrants from southern Italy in St. Paul, Minnesota.  His father had originally come to Montana, but when World War I broke out he returned to Italy for his fiancé, came back to the U.S. through Ellis Island and—Jacques learned much later in life—enlisted in the Army and was gassed while fighting in Europe.

As a platoon sergeant In World War II Jacques’ unit was pummeled during the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944-early 1945.  He himself suffered frostbite from the snow and bitter cold.  Soon after, his airborne unit parachuted into Germany to secure a bridgehead over the Rhine River for British tanks.  In the Korean conflict—I learned from the internet—his level headed leadership and bravery, despite serious wounds, saved his combat patrol from annihilation.

Prior to seeing combat in Vietnam he served as a regimental infantry adviser to South Vietnamese troops—whose colonel was originally from North Korea, had fought the French but had joined the South Vietnamese army because “the pay was better.”  After American troops were committed to battle in Vietnam, Lt. Colonel Michienzi served as battalion commander.  His courageous leadership was most notably on display—again, I learned from the internet—during an intense three day battle in 1969 with North Vietnamese forces.

Jacques is a highly decorated veteran—several bronze stars, several silver stars, several purple hearts, the Legion of Merit and, most significantly, the Distinguished Service Cross.  The DSC, second only to the Medal of Honor, was awarded to him following the fierce 1969 firefights in Vietnam for—according to the citation—“his extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty.”

The club saluted Jacques Michienzi with a standing ovation.

Submitted by Allen Cronenberg

New Member: Judy Kinney

Please introduce yourself and welcome new member Judy Kinney, the Executive Director of Durham for Senior Life.  Ms. Kinney was sponsored by Mercer Stanfield and inducted by Emily Page of the Membership Committee. Here is a little bit about Ms. Kinney.

Judy is a skilled fundraiser, communicator, and organizational leader who builds strong cross-cultural relationships, approaches endeavors with a contemporary entrepreneurial toolbox, and delivers sound results to service-oriented organizations. She has worked across the age-spectrum as an organizational leader, small business owner, life coach and workshop facilitator in Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, Seattle, Washington and since 2016 is happy to now call Durham, home. Judy believes that “community” is the answer to most of our challenges. She is proud to have the opportunity to promote the well-being of older adults, Durham County’s fastest growing age group.

Program Report: Michael Fuga of Neal Middle School


Michael Fuga sports a buzz cut, or something close to it. He also sports a doctorate in education from UNC, a master’s degree, and this year’s honor as DPS  “Principal of the Year.”

As principal at Neal Middle School serving East Durham, Fuga creates no buzz that we know of about the tight hair. Fuga’s moment in the DPS spotlight stems from a game-changing turnaround in progress at Neal that has taken the school off of the state’s list of low-performing schools.

Fuga, a hard-charging Pittsburgh native, told Rotarians at lunch on Monday that students at Neal have outperformed three other DPS middle schools and are hard on the heels of yet another three. Once-cumbersome staff turnover is dramatically down. An active PTA is at work, Fuga said, a new development. About 300 families showed up for a school multicultural event. A game night drew more than 220 people. An FFA club is looking into environmentally friendly green architecture. Kids are raising 10 chickens on campus, Fuga said (and the birds do get around.) Each day, Fuga encourages staff members to reach out to at least one student directly for support and engagement.

Fuga, a veteran of 14 years in education as teacher, principal and academic, called for more help to increase student-adult interaction. “Let me know how you want to make a difference,” he said. “I’m an e-mail, a phone call or a visit away. Let me know how you want to make a difference.”

Fuga credits increasingly community involvement that exposes students to adults, to potential mentors, to occupations and professions, and to ideas. Speakers, he said, have ranged from professional athletes to the owners of Dames Chicken & Waffles.

As an academic, he depends on data and research. To push back on a trend showing that eight-grade students were not meeting growth expectations, Fuga implemented single-gender teams in eighth grade. During the 2016-17 school year, the all-boys, all-girls and mixed-gender teams showed substantial improvements in academics. Students showed a 10-percent increase in math proficiency, a 2-percent increase in English Language Arts proficiency and a 12-percent increase in science proficiency. Troubling disciplinary trends specific to the eighth-graders dropped dramatically.

Fuga has said it is his role to promote both student feelings of safety and security plus staff performance. He keeps an open line of communication with his staff, maintains an open door and shares his cell phone number so staff can reach him anywhere, anytime.

In two years, 90 percent of staff surveyed rated Neal as a good place to work. That marked an increase of nearly 25 percent compared to a 2015 survey, according to the DPS website.

Fuga was introduced by Rotarian David Reese of EDCI which is one of the community organizations that work with the same population as Neal Middle School.

Submitted by Mark Lazenby