Stephanie Blaisdell invites Rotary members to FLOSS
This summer, members of the New Paltz Rotary Club received individual flossing tools at the club’s annual induction ceremony at Garvan’s in June. In any other circumstance, it would be natural to consider this gesture as a subtle hint that his personal hygiene might be at issue. But as a true educator, SUNY New Paltz Vice President of Student Affairs Stephanie Blaisdell captivated the room by using the dental tool to introduce herself as the new Rotary President.
This year, Rotary members are not only encouraged to floss, but also reminded to SILK (Scholarship, Learning, Opportunity, Service and Sustainability). The acronym is the result of Blaisdell’s experience during Rotary International’s leadership development program called PETS (Presidents-Elect Training Seminar). Each new Rotary chapter president is invited to propose a theme for their year in office, and PETS exists to help members who are set to be presidents find their vision and the tools to succeed.
“I came out of PETS and was thinking about what I really enjoyed about Rotary and upon reflection I realized that I had spelled the word ‘floss’ and made it an acronym to represent my initiative. ” Upon joining the chapter, Blaisdell was immediately impressed with the work being done by the Rotary chapter in New Paltz and hopes to build on a solid foundation. “The idea is that even something as basic as flossing can be improved over time, so even if I’m not bringing anything specifically new, we can improve the important programs we provide to the community of New Paltz.”
The FLOSS initiative
FLOSS is not only a way for Blaisdell to highlight the fact that she has no intention of fixing something that isn’t broken, but it also honors the impact her father had on her. “It’s meaningful to me. My dad was a dentist and he’s really my model of service. He was always very helpful and active in our community growing up. He offered free dental clinics, went to the overseas to provide free dental services and has volunteered at the YMCA, among other organizations,” says Blaisdell.
Blaisdell moved to New Paltz from Memphis, Tennessee in 2017 where she served as Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Student Development at the University of Memphis. Her husband, John Blaisdell, is the director of campus safety and security at Marist College and they have three children who are now in college. They also have two dogs, one of which is a therapy dog who comes to work with her at SUNY New Paltz once a week. “Anna (my dog) is pretty famous at SUNY New Paltz because she comes in once a week to help the students relax. They miss their dogs! Blaisdell said.
Although Blaisdell knew about Rotary through her brother (an active member of a San Diego chapter), she wasn’t introduced to the New Paltz Rotary Club until 2018 when a friend invited her to attend. at an event on Valentine’s Day. “I knew about Rotary, but I hadn’t made the connection until I moved here. I found it to be a great way to get to know and serve the community. I found a lot of like minded service oriented people and it was just a great connection. Shortly thereafter, Blaisdell served as vice president and then president-elect, before being sworn in as president on June 23.
Fellowship and learning go together as the first two words represented in FLOSS. Blaisdell believes fellowship is important to Rotary and Rotarians based on his experiences with the group. “It meant so much to me to connect with people when I was new to the community.” She points out that the club has active members and encourages those looking to give back to New Paltz to join. “We’re always looking for people who want to get involved in service to join us.” “Learning” is a word that is central to Blaisdell’s life and career and one that came naturally throughout the scholarship she earned through Rotary. “I value lifelong learning and we can all learn a lot from each other and solve problems together through our weekly meetings, events and community projects.”
Opportunity, the third part of FLOSS, represents the strong scholarship program and youth exchange program offered by Rotary. According to the New Paltz Rotary Club website, “The Rotary Club Scholarships are open to all high school seniors who reside in the New Paltz school district and will be pursuing post-secondary education or training at a college, trade for two or four years. school or educational institution”.
The Youth Exchange Program is offered annually when international travel has been permitted and is open to students between the ages of 15 and 17. Applications for the exchange program are now open and Blaisdell encourages New Paltz students to apply. “It’s such a life-changing experience for students to be able to go abroad.”
Perhaps most central to Rotary and the fourth part of FLOSS is the act of service. Among its many projects, New Paltz Rotary’s main service project is the BackPack program which continues to provide a weekend food supply to food-insecure children who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. The community’s demand for this program underscores the importance of Rotary’s commitment to service. “Currently, this program provides food for 62 families. The large increase (100% over the past two years) plus inflation means we are going over budget this year, so donations are needed,” says Blaisdell.
Sustainability is the final part of Blaisdell’s FLOSS initiative. It also happens to be Rotary International’s newest pillar and was added in 2020. “We are learning about the small changes we can make as a club, as members of community and as individuals. For example, we discontinued the use of plastic water bottles at our events like the Walkathon and instead used aluminum bottles (Path brand). We engage in community cleanups and maintain our own Rotary Park in New Paltz. We also look at sustainability more broadly – like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – so it’s not just about protecting the environment, it’s about supporting our community and our club by investing in people.
The motto of Rotary International is “service above all” and it is clear that Blaisdell is no stranger to this concept. She has spent most of her career in leadership roles serving others. But Blaisdell is humble about his career accomplishments. Prior to taking leadership positions in education, Blaisdell undertook faculty and research work. “I never intended to lead. In fact, I got my doctorate. in counseling and psychology and would go on to become a psychologist. This year marks its 30th anniversarye year in education and service to others. “I love working with students. No matter how old a student is, they are at a time in their life when there is so much potential. It’s really a privilege to be in a position where I can do something that could help someone grow in their life.
Blaisdell is the seventh consecutive woman to lead the New Paltz Rotary chapter and succeeds Lauren Rooney who served as Rotary president last year. “Since joining Rotary, I have come to realize that this group of 46 members is a well-oiled machine, and I am honored to lead this group of local leaders.”
Upcoming Rotary Events
Tickets are on sale for New Paltz Rotary’s annual fundraiser, Win-A-Bundle, for $100 and will be held Oct. 22 from 7-9 p.m. This year’s event will be broadcast live. Only 300 tickets will be sold, so the chances of winning or sharing the grand prize of $10,000 or 20 small cash prizes will keep the evening exciting. There will also be raffles throughout the evening for baskets of wine and spirits, baskets of lottery tickets and gift certificates. Proceeds from this event will be used to fund service projects including the BackPack program, scholarships, youth exchange program and more. Anyone interested in purchasing a ticket can contact Geraldine Kelly at 845-417-3547.
Other upcoming Rotary events include a blood drive on October 15 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the New Paltz Elks Lodge and the Halloween Parade on October 31 at 6 p.m. at New Paltz.
For more information about the Rotary Club of New Paltz, visit www.newpaltzrotary.org.