The month of May is New Generation Youth Service Month, Rotary clubs of the world give special emphasis to the many Rotary-sponsored programs which serve children and young people. So how did the Youth Exchange program get its start in our Club and in District 7070?

It’s the summer of 1970. Mom and Dad, my brother, two sisters and myself, are meeting a group of strangers for the first time as we are about to embark on a bus tour of Europe. There are people on the tour from several countries from around the world, including South Africa.
Like most tours of this nature there is ample time for discussion and the exchange of ideas. As fate and good fortune would have it, then Club President Dad has met the President of the Rotary Club of Durban, South Africa. Both are aware of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, but neither of their home clubs or districts, have been involved in the program.
In order to start the Youth Exchange program for the district it will be necessary to get the approval of their respective District Governors. The District Governor of the day for our district was none other than Wilf Wilkinson. Recognizing a volunteer when he saw one, Wilf asked Dad to organize an exchange, with our Belleville club to be the first club in the district to be the hosting club.
With the postal service and expensive long distance as the primary means of communication, the first exchange doesn’t occur until January of 1972. As it was a first experience with exchange, it was thought that having two students would lessen the chance of “Being alone” so “the girls” Sonja and Dale arrive in Canada as our first exchange students. Their first experience: seeing and touching snow for the first time.
A reception is held on their arrival in Belleville where they meet all eight of their host families, counselors, along with the Mayor of Belleville, and several other members of the Rotary Club of Belleville. Their arrival is not without some controversy, as a letter was written to the editor of the Intelligencer, chastising the Rotary Club for supporting the South African government’s program of Apartheid. It was pointed out that this exchange is an educational exchange and one of experiencing different cultures.
It was a busy year for both Dale and Sonja as together they speak to 50 different groups in Belleville and around our district.  As the program has had a significant impact soon our club sets about to select our first outbound student exchange representative Past President Ian Acton.
Past District Governor Dad would tell you that this program is one of the most meaningful accomplishments in his almost 60 years of being in Rotary. Countless numbers of exchange students have been forever changed because of this unique opportunity all because of a chance meeting in Europe between two Rotarians. Having an exchange daughter return with her children so they could meet her “Canadian parents” was one of those many benefits that was never thought of.
Today we have been reminded how important and relevant this program remains in shaping the lives of those that have experienced the Youth Exchange Program.