By Dan Cornacchia

Picture a world where people from diverse backgrounds all come together for peace and goodwill. Imagine these people meet weekly to fight crime, bullying, victimization, court backlogs and the cycle of family violence. Imagine these people have no professional or political obligation to do so, yet they spend countless weekends, evenings, and early mornings discussing ways to raise money and volunteer to fight crime and violence and create peace.

That world exists through Rotary – an organization of business and professional leaders united worldwide who provide humanitarian service and help to build peace in the world. More than 1,000 people from diverse backgrounds all come together for peace and goodwill in Rotary clubs across Toronto each week.

Paul Harris formed the world’s first service club, the Rotary Club of Chicago, Illinois, USA, on February 23, 1905. Rotary is celebrating its 100th anniversary. In keeping with that theme, Mayor David Miller has proclaimed February 20-26 as “Rotary Week”.

I would like to propose my own celebratory title in honour of Toronto’s Rotary Clubs – “Rotary Urban Peace Week”.

The notion of Urban Peace comes from Rotary International. In 1996, Luis Giay, the President of Rotary International, proclaimed “Urban Peace” as his theme for the year, based on his conviction that Rotarians around the world could stem the ugly tide of violence in our major cities much like they were succeeding in eradicating Polio.

The Toronto Council of Rotary Clubs was established so that all twenty-two clubs in the city could join forces in this important initiative. Three Urban Peace conferences resulted, a wonderful movie was made (“Letters to a Street Child”) and the Mayor and Deputy Police Chief joined the campaign.

Historically, Rotary founder Paul Harris was compelled by the contradictions inherent in his own city Chicago, circa 1905 — great economic and family prospects were offset by areas of brutality, crime and poverty.

The thinking continues that Rotary clubs can best influence global peace by tackling these issues at the local level through supporting and designing programs that help keep young people out of the cycle of violence as either the victims or perpetrators of such acts.

In the year leading up to this year’s Centennial, the Toronto Council of Rotary Clubs embraced the PACT Program as a key element of the Toronto Rotary Urban Peace Initiative.  Toronto Rotary Clubs donated $50,000 – through 12 of the 22 clubs – to help PACT fight youth crime in Toronto. For that investment, PACT can deliver its program, with a greater than 90 per cent success rate in reducing recidivism, to 150 young offenders and provide healing for their victims, families and the community. When you consider all the costs of policing, legal aid, counselling and court time (Crown attorneys, probation and judges), that $50,000 investment could save the justice system more than $1,000,000.

And it’s definitely not only PACT that Rotary supports. The Toronto Rotary Clubs are involved with youth and the justice system through their work with Operation Springboard, Turning Point Youth Services, Leave Out Violence Everywhere (LOVE), University of Toronto’s student-run Peace by PEACE organization, the City of Toronto’s One on One school mentoring program and Central Toronto Youth Services New Outlook Day Program.

Toronto Rotary Club members aren’t just raising money either. They raise awareness, and they often roll up their sleeves and get involved with local youth through volunteering. Rotary’s mission is to build a better world, community-by-community, and to help spread peace throughout the world. The Rotary Clubs of Toronto have taken that mission, and have made it a reality.

About Dan Cornacchia

Dan Cornacchia is a partner of Ernst & Young LLP in Toronto and co-founder of The Canadian Foundation for the Prevention of Family Violence.  The Foundation established and operates the PACT Youth Crime Reduction Program, a program designed to dramatically reduce youth crime through positively changing the behaviour patterns of young offenders who have been charged of criminal acts.  PACT is funded by individuals, corporations, private foundations and service clubs.  PACT currently receive no government funding.

Dan is a charter member of the Rotary Club of Parkdale-High Park and is active in Rotary and other community service activities.