One of Lewis’ oil paintings, a pet portrait.

By George Lewis, Rotary Club of Venice-Nokomis, Florida, USA


This is how I feel about Rotary. I’ll be 90 years old in June and joined Rotary at a relatively late age. I went on my first volunteer trip to Guatemala in 2006 to help install stoves for Mayan families. Those stoves changed their lives, and the experience changed mine.

As we installed stoves, I enjoyed talking with the families and asked them what other assistance would be helpful. Most often, someone would reply that clean drinking water would be the most significant improvement. I promised them I would help, and that became my purpose in Rotary.

When you reach my age, you realize that without a purpose, you are like a rudderless boat. Purpose with a capital “P” gives one the excitement to live. I learned how Rotary Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) grants worked and began putting them together. I realized these grants could be extraordinarily impactful because they used both district funds and matching funds from The Rotary Foundation.

I approached other clubs in my district and elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada. Amazingly, the idea caught on. Soon, we were doing grants for clean water all over the world. As of 2023, these water projects have helped more than 2 million people in 34 countries. If that’s not spectacular, I don’t know what is!  My Purpose has become a Passion. I think about it day and night.

Since it worked once, I’m trying it again. My new Passion is to help kids with cleft lip and palate deformities. When I retired in 2000 after a career as a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch, I took an adult education class in oil painting and got hooked. I use only one palette knife and no brushes. I now use the hobby to support cleft palate surgeries. I have painted almost 800 pet portraits to raise money for this cause. The funds go to support Rotary global grants. (Watch my one-minute video to learn more.)

It breaks my heart to see kids in that condition, and thankfully, Rotary allows me to help change their lives. Before the surgeries, they are outcasts. They have a hard time eating and drinking. Surgeries fix all that, which brings me great joy and happiness.

It wouldn’t have happened without a Purpose that became my Passion. My excitement keeps me going – even at 90.