Advancing peace brings Rotary, U.S. Olympic athletes together

On an evening in April, more than 50 representatives from the Rotary Peace Centers and members of the U.S. Olympic Committee who had gathered for an event in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA, were treated to a surprise: a pre-dinner performance by the U.S. men’s Olympic gymnastics team.

“They showcased their prowess in tumbling, the high bar, and the pommel horse. It was stunning!” says Rotary International Director Jennifer Jones, who served as the emcee for the April event at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

Sponsored by The Rotary Foundation, 1972 Olympic decathlon competitor Barry King, and the Rotary Club of Fort Collins, Colorado, the event was aimed at promoting donor support for the Rotary Peace Centers Major Gifts Initiative.

Given their shared emphasis on fostering peace and goodwill, the two organizations have joined forces in the past. In fact, their relationship dates back at least to the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, when the Rotary Club of Los Angeles hosted members of the International Olympic Committee and Olympic athletes. “Here the two great international organizations whose efforts are ever for peace met in international fellowship,” The Rotarian magazine noted in its October 1932 issue.

And their vital work continues.

“Peace fellows and Olympians are important ambassadors in efforts to create understanding, tolerance, and peace around the world,” says Kacie Wallace, an event speaker who, as a lawyer and mediator, serves as the ombudsman for U.S. athletes and has taught conflict resolution in the Rotary Peace Centers program.

Wallace is enthusiastic about the potential for events like the one in Colorado to generate support, relationships, and ideas.

Under the Rotary Peace Centers program, up to 100 peace fellows pursue master’s degree or professional development certificate in fields related to peace and security at one of the program’s partner universities. The program’s 1,000-plus graduates are having an impact around the world, re-integrating refugees in Sudan, creating jobs for disadvantaged women in India, supporting reconstruction in devastated regions, and working to head off conflicts around the world. Since the program’s launch in 2002-03, The Foundation has raised more than $142 million to support its efforts .

And Jones is highly optimistic about its future.

“I believe that we are only beginning to reap the rewards,” she says. “We have already created a population of more than 1,000 peacebuilders who are now occupying senior levels of government, media, and more.

“These ambassadors are at a critical juncture in their leadership journey, and we have instilled in them the ideals of Rotary,” Jones adds. “These are our future world leaders, and I truly believe we will witness the fruits of their experience in earnest within the next few years.”

Memories of the April evening in Colorado Springs will also stay with Jones.

“Until then, I had no idea of the notion of the Olympic Truce, a historic time where nations would lay down arms to allow the Games to happen without incident,” she notes. “It is a wonderful way to celebrate the legacy that we are creating through the Rotary Peace Centers.”

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