This summer, members of the New Paltz Rotary Club were given individual teeth-flossing tools during the club’s annual induction ceremony at Garvan’s in June. In any other circumstance, it would only be natural to take this gesture as a subtle hint that one’s personal hygiene might be in question. But in true educator fashion, 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 FLOSS (Fellowship, Learning, Opportunity, Service and Sustainability). The acronym is a result of Blaisdell’s experience during Rotary International’s leadership development program called PETS (President Elect Training Seminar). Each incoming Rotary chapter president is asked to come up with a theme for their year in office and PETS exists to help members, who are slated to be president, find their vision and the tools to be successful.
“I came out of PETS and was thinking about what I really value about Rotary and upon reflection, I realized I had spelled the word ‘floss’ and turned that into an acronym to represent my initiative.” Upon joining the chapter, Blaisdell was immediately impressed with the work that the Rotary chapter provides in New Paltz and hopes to build upon a solid foundation. “The idea is that even something as basic as flossing can be improved over time so while I don’t bring anything specifically new, we can improve upon the important programs we are providing for the New Paltz community.”
The FLOSS initiative
F.L.O.S.S. is not only a way for Blaisdell to highlight the fact that she doesn’t intend to fix something that isn’t broken, but it also honors the impact her father had on her. “This is meaningful to me. My father was a dentist and he’s really my model for service. He was always very service minded and active in our community growing up. He offered free dental clinics, traveled abroad to provide free dental service and 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 quite famous at SUNY New Paltz as she comes once a week to help students de-stress. They miss their dogs!” says Blaisdell.
Although Blaisdell was familiar with Rotary through her brother (an active member in a San Diego Chapter), she was only introduced to the New Paltz Rotary Club in2018 when a friend invited her to attend an event on Valentine’s Day. “I knew about Rotary but I hadn’t made the connection for myself until I moved here. I found that it was a great way to get to know and serve the community. I found a lot of like-minded people focused on service and it was just a great connection.”Shortly thereafter, Blaisdell served as vice president and then president-elect, before being inducted as president on June 23.
Fellowship and learning go hand-in-hand as the first two words represented in FLOSS. Blaisdell believes fellowship is important to Rotary and Rotarians based on her experiences with the group.“It meant so much to me to connect with people when I was new to the community.” She stresses that the club relies on active members and encourages others looking to give back to New Paltz to join. “We are 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 came naturally throughout the fellowship she’s gained through Rotary. “I value life-long learning and we all can learn so much from each other and problem-solve together through our weekly meetings, events and community projects.”
Opportunity, the third part of FLOSS, represents the robust scholarship program and Youth Exchange program offered through Rotary. According to the New Paltz Rotary Club website, “Rotary Club scholarships are open to all graduating high school seniors who reside within the New Paltz School District and who will be pursuing a postsecondary degree or training at any two- or four-year college, trade school or educational institution.”
The Youth Exchange program is offered each year when international travel has been allowed and is open to students between ages 15-17 years of age. Applications for the exchange program are open now and Blaisdell encourages students in New Paltz to apply. “It is 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 supply of food to children who are food-insecure and qualify for free and reduced lunches. The community demand for this program highlights the importance of Rotary’s commitment to service. “Currently this program provides food to 62 families. The sharp increase (100% over the past two years) plus inflation means that we are going to be 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 most recent pillar and was added in 2020. “We are educating ourselves about the small changes we can make as a club, as community members and as individuals. For instance, we switched from using plastic water bottles at our events like the Walkathon and instead use aluminum (Path brand) bottles. We engage in community clean-ups and maintain our own Rotary Park in New Paltz. We are also looking at sustainability broadly — like the UN Sustainable Development goals — so it’s more than just protecting the environment, it’s about sustaining our community and our club by investing in people.”
Rotary International’s motto is ‘service above self’ and it’s 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 her career accomplishments. Before moving into leadership roles in education, Blaisdell set out to be a part of the faculty and work on research. “I never intended to be in leadership. In fact, I got my Ph.D. in Counseling and Psychology and was going to be a psychologist.” This year marks her 30th year in education and serving others. “I love working with students. No matter what age a student is, they are at a point in their life where there is just so much potential. It really is a privilege to be in a position where I can do something that might help a person flourish 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 during last year’s term. “In the time that I have been a member of Rotary, I realized that this 46-member group 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 on October 22 from 7 to 9 p.m. This year’s event will be live-streamed. Only 300 tickets will be sold so chances of winning or splitting the $10,000 grand prize or 20 smaller cash prizes will keep the night exciting. There will also be drawings throughout the evening for wine and spirit baskets, lottery ticket baskets and gift certificates. Proceeds from this event will be used to fund service projects including the BackPack Program, scholarships, the Youth Exchange program and much more. Anyone interested in purchasing a ticket can contact Geraldine Kelly at 845-633-1510.
Other upcoming Rotary events include a blood drive on October 15 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at New Paltz Elks Lodge and the Halloween parade on October 31 at 6 p.m. in New Paltz
For additional information about the Rotary Club of New Paltz, visit www.newpaltzrotary.com.