April 15, 2021 - Revised
Westwood Village Rotary Club
Coming up on April 22nd: PDG Cozette Vergari
This week's guest speaker is Cozette Vergari, who chartered a new cause-based Rotary Club in District 5280 - Rotarians Fighting Human Trafficking. The Club collaborates with law enforcement, elected officials and non-profit organizations to assist victims of human trafficking. Over 80% of trafficking victims are estimated to be female and 50% are children. Join us to learn about the important work being done to end a particularly tragic form of abuse.

Cozette Vergari is a former District Governor for District 5280 (2017 - 2018) and is a Board Member and the U.S. Representative to the Rotary (Worldwide) Action Group Against Slavery. She is also a member of the Rotary Club of Westchester. 

Westwood Virtual Rotary Club Meeting for April 15, 2021 - Revised
At precisely 12:30 PM, President Nancy rang the lunch bell (it sounded like one anyway) and shushed all the gregarious Rotarians who had been attending the Social Half-Hour prior to our formal meeting.  She welcomed one and all to the Warm and Friendly (even on April 15) Westwood Village Rotary Club.  Noting that our (stressful) income tax is not actually due until 5/17, she decided that Dr. Jim Meyer’s professional services might not be necessary and that he should instead lead us in the Pledge to Our Flag.  Try as he might, though, we all finished on different ticks of the metronome - Code Blue, Dr. Jim!

PP Steve Day (CPA), who’s had enough of stressful April 15ths, skipped his Jury Duty (unconfirmed) to bring us a special Prayer for April 15th.  Though it might have been all chuckles like “safe passage to the mailbox for all those who’ve waited to mail their returns in,” Steve admonished us to “not be smug”if we were done with our 1040s. Though our first esteemed U.S. Postmaster warned us “nothing’s certain but Death and Taxes,” Old Ben himself was plagiarizing Daniel Defoe, which reminds us that “life itself is taxing.”

Our gracious and ubiquitous District Governor, Bette Hall, graced us with her presence this day to preside over our Induction of two new members. She was accompanied by her Chief of Staff, Janice Lowers.  Our friend, Alara, represented the tireless UCLA Rotaractors and Peter Clinco, proprietor of the local Skylight Gardens restaurant was our Special Guest.

President Nancy advised us that the finals for the Pageant of the Arts - a competition for local high schoolers in Speech, Music, Art, and Dance will be held this coming Saturday from 12:00PM to 2:30PM.  Do not head for Loyola Marymount since it is a virtual contest.  Just tune in to the link that President Nancy is sending us to see our team from University High School strut their stuff.
PP Mark Rogo was called forward to introduce our two membership candidates for today.  He told a long story about how he helped Tamara Bailey find housing a few years back when she attended UCLA for her PhD in psychology. Introducing his wife, Lynn, whom we all know and love, he did mention they’ve been together 45 years and that both their fathers were inducted into the United Jewish Federation simultaneously about 60 years ago.  All surprised that she is Mark’s wife — we nevertheless went ahead with the induction anyway because she is too talented to pass up.  DG Bette concluded the ceremony by reminding us all that a Rotarian is welcomed literally anywhere in this world as friend and family.  We gave RI’s newest members virtually the best ovation we could.
Our amazing Program Chair, PP Tom Barron, then called forth John O’Keefe to introduce today’s speaker, Father Steven Privett, S.J.  John, as well as PP Tom and PP Michael Newman, attended Jesuit schools and all added their appropriate comments throughout the program. Father Steven was born in San Francisco and attended Gonzaga, a Jesuit University and was ordained a Doctor of Theology in 1972.  He was too mature, of course, to taunt us about that crazy last-second shot that the Zags basketball team laid on our Bruins last week in the NCAA tournament semis.   For many years, he was the President of the University of San Francisco, but he was here today to tell us about his current great Love, Verbum Dei High School in Watts, where he is currently the president.

To set the stage, Father Steven recounted that Larry Summers, president of Harvard U, once introduced himself as being “in the business of protecting privilege.”  In modest contrast, Father Steven is president of a school that admits high schoolers ONLY from poor families, most of whom who qualify for free school meals.  Verbum Dei (Word of God) School is near Nickerson Gardens—the largest public housing project West of the Mississippi. It was opened in 1962 to a
75% African American and 25% Hispanic student body. Currently, following demographic shifts in Watts, the % numbers are reversed. In 2000, with finances difficult, the Jesuits took over the management and VD became the third school in the Crystal Ray Program: Jesuit-run schools admitting only students from low-income families.
To keep our interest high, Father Steven told us the most amazing statistic about his school:  100% of all graduates matriculate in colleges — 85% in four-year schools.  The school culture is ALL about college, though most of the neighborhood boys dream of becoming NBA stars or rappers. The odds of success with this focus are much better, of course, but most of these students have parents with little education.  Each family is required to pay $1000 per year towards the costs ($18,000/student). The students are directed towards jobs around Los Angeles, mostly white-collar, where they will work for one day each week, learning skills and being mentored.  One freshman related: my idea of work had been dirt, sweat, and insecurity and low pay.  Now I was showering in the morning BEFORE work!”  

These students earn about $8000/year towards their school costs and donations make up the remaining $9,000.  Corporate donations run about 40% with the rest coming from grants and individual donors.  With the pandemic shutting down the work program, finances are under stress, of course.  
Donors often “adopt” a student, committing to seeing them through four years and into college.  They can develop a relationship and help teach practical life skills in short supply in the neighborhood.  One sophomore added that “VD saved me from myself and my idea of black masculinity.  My family's only hope rests upon me to guide them out of the darkness.” The donors continue to help through college since often social challenges aremore difficult for these students than the academic work.  This echoes my own (middle-school teacher) daughter’s words: “these kids in poor neighborhoods are just as smart, but the family doesn’t know the path and what help is there.”
A school that succeeds 100% of the time-what refreshing news!  It takes powerful leadership and school culture to achieve this performance. LAUSD spends so much time fighting charter schools to keep their turf, but time would be better spent trying out different ideas like Verbum Dei, where the students start with the premise that an education is how you can benefit others.

YOPP Dwight

WVRC 2020/2021 Leadership Team
President: Nancy McCready
Treasurer: Terry M. White
Youth/Vocational Service: Phil Gabriel
Director/Peace: PP Marsha Hunt
Foundation: PP Steve Day
Global Scholarships: PP Chris Bradford
Webmaster: PP Ron Lyster
Director/Merchant Minute: PP Mark Rogo
District Governor: Bette Hall
Immediate Past President: Diane Good
Secretary: PP Diane Good
Community Service: Aaron Donahue
International Service: Nevin Senkan
Program Chair: PP Tom Barron
Membership: PP Mike Newman
Director/Social Media: PP Aly Shoji
Windmill Editor: P Nancy McCready
Assistant District Governor: Michael Lushing