Posted by Michela Swarthout

It started with the unfashionable and ill-fitting Rotary merchandise. I’m a proud Rotarian, but I’m also a young Rotarian. I want to bring brand awareness and recognition to my peers, but it’s hard to feel confident doing so when my only offerings are oversized polo shirts, $80.00 marshmallow suits windbreakers or atypical-to-my-personality rhinestones.


I eventually found myself where every frustrated online shopper meanders to: eBay. At least there perhaps I could find something with history that made it worth it to venture outside of my style comfort zone. Nope. Apparently Rotary vendors have been using the same patterns since the 1950’s. Which makes sense considering women weren’t inducted until the 80’s. I guess the industry just hasn’t caught up yet.

“Accessories,” my mind thought, “maybe I could evangelize if I just had some cool accessories!” The same searches turned into same result. “Wait! What about shoes?” I turned to Google. It didn’t take but a few pages to joyfully find a club that had been selling Toms-style shoes printed with the Rotary logo. I clicked to add them to my cart. Nothing happened. I impatiently and slightly hysterically clicked a few more times. Still nothing. Scrolling further down the page, I found that it hadn’t been updated in four years. My one salvation for incorporating Rotary into my wardrobe had been abandoned (editor’s note: as a Public Image Chair I feel it necessary to point out that it’s better to have no website at all than an outdated one - it represents its entire organization as inactive, too. This goes for social media and printed materials as well).

If you ask my partner, he’d tell you that I always find solutions to problems, whether for good or bad. You can also just look at the crooked shelves in our home or holes where I first attempted to place them without using a stud finder. That’s what I did with my shoe problem. I ordered a pair of red high tops and two End Polio Now patches. When they arrived, through quite a bit of trial and error, I got those patches to stick and eureka! I had a way to wear Rotary.

It wasn’t long before dozens of people were asking where they could buy them. I explained my method and they hoped I would just sell the end product instead. That’s when I realized these shoes could fulfill two needs: 1) to feel confident in wearing branded merchandise and 2) to eradicate Polio. So, I bought more shoes and more patches, spent all summer gluing them together, then sold them above cost with the proceeds of each shoe going directly to PolioPlus while their showcasers built public awareness for the cause.

Since then I’ve sold over 200 pairs of shoes, from Idaho to Australia. That equates to almost net $6,000 to PolioPlus, which doesn’t include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 2:1 match. It was hard work, but well worth it.

200 pairs is great, but there are far more than 200 Rotarians in the world, and Polio is not yet eradicated. I’ve since traded my glue in for a professional shoemaker and version 2.0 has come to fruition! In addition to the End Polio Now logo, it also has the Rotary wheel on the heel, a comfort insole and the phrase “Be the good you want to see in the world” printed inside to remind us every day, before stepping out into the world, that we’ve got to be People of Action to make things happen. Each pair sold will generate $55 for PolioPlus, which would substantially increase the total donation once that's matched by Gates.

I am not a shoe salesman (luckily I've got Marie Baker to make up for it) and it won’t be easy to get to my goal, but to me it’s worth it for the significantly higher fundraising, increased public awareness, and the people I’ll continue to meet and collaborate with around the world (I think I've now met every Rotarian in Kansas). Plus, I get to help members reach their annual PolioPlus goals by applying the donation amounts to their Rotary IDs (thanks to patient PolioPlus extraordinaire Marianne Barker). That sounds pretty beneficial to all concerned if you ask me.

Click here to purchase your pair (while supplies last), give to the cause knowing that every cent of the proceeds go to PolioPlus and add to your PolioPlus donations.