ROTARY INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT 7500
GIFT OF LIFE FOUNDATION
Established July 1, 1997
Twenty-five years ago, District 7500 Gift of Life Foundation was started under District Governor Michael Colasurdo Sr. While in attendance at the Park Ridge Rotary Institute, as District Governor-elect, Michael learned of the Rotary Club sponsored Gift of Life program – a worldwide assistance program saving the lives of needy children that required corrective heart surgery. The concept for this program began in 1974 when the Manhasset, New York Rotary Club sponsored 5-year-old Grace Agwaru from Uganda. Grace traveled 5,000 miles to Saint Francis Hospital in Roselyn, NY where she underwent a successful open-heart surgery. Recently, Grace has returned to the Gift of Life International program as a spokesperson at various promotional events throughout the world.
In the beginning, our district-wide committee was made up of Co-Chairs Jeff Donoghue (Matawan) and Jackie Beykirth (Wrightstown), as well as Jerry Clark (Wrightstown), Mike Beyers (Manalapan-Marlboro), Frank Garruzzo (Brick), Tom Smith (Southern Ocean), Barbara Tuttle (Matawan) and Dominic Zullo (Burlington).
Our goal was to raise $15,000.00 to sponsor three children for surgery. Before we were ready to launch our program, our first child –Jarinse Cubillo (Nicaragua) arrived in June 1997. At the time, I received a call from Mary Campo (district 7470) informing me that our first child and his mother were arriving at JFK airport. We needed to pick them up and transport them immediately to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. With the help of outstanding Rotarians Jeff, Jackie, and Jerry, we succeeded.
Additionally, Zulay Greaves, a member of the Brick Rotary Club, hosted Jarinse and his mother Vilma for 5 weeks. The Matawan club, along with the District Committee provided the necessary moral support throughout the time they were here. Our second child was little Matthew Sookoo from Trinidad who was successfully operated on at three weeks old in January 1998. Our third child, Cesar Herrera – Lopez (Nicaragua) was operated on at 2+ months old on April 20, 1998.
The Committee offered presentations to all clubs soliciting $500.00 from each club in order to raise our goal of $15,000.00. In the end, we raised $18,000.00 from 29 out of 43 clubs.
I will never forget my visit to the Maple Shade Rotary Club. When I finished my presentation to the club, President Ann Elder handed me a check for what I believed was $500.00. When I looked closer at the check, it was actually $5,000.00. When added to the Brick Township, Matawan, and Wrightstown clubs that contributed $1,000.00 each I knew that our Gift of Life program was a seed of service that would go on for many years to come.
Our first major fundraising event was the “Great stuff” auction, held at the Brick PAL building. One hundred sixty-five Rotarians and guests attended the fun-filled evening as they enjoyed great food, refreshments, and a lively auction. Then came the announcement from Chair Tom Smith. The event raised $11,000.00. I cannot say it enough times!
THANK YOU to EVERY ROTARIAN IN DISTRICT 7500 (1997-1998) AND THANK YOU TO EVERY ROTARIAN IN DISTRICT 7505 FOR ALL THAT EACH OF YOU CONTINUE TO DO FOR THE GIFT OF LIFE FOUNDATION.
Michael Colasurdo Sr.