April 6, 2009 Rotogram


Takatoshi “Taka” Sato, our Rotary Youth Exchange student from Japan, will tell about his homeland, his family, and his experiences as a student ambassador. Outbound RYE students Laura Bridges (Denmark) and Anna Follett (Italy) also will join us.


Sid Salter, Perspective editor for the Jackson Clarion Ledger, will be our guest. Perhaps one of the state’s best known political columnists, Salter has the our club annually in recent years, talking about politics and other areas of current interest and concern.


Invocation and Pledge: Betty Black

Attendance: There were 121 members (37 exempt) present, and 81 (18 exempt, 10 honorary) absent.

Guests and visitors: Members’ guests included Cindy Akers of Frances Coleman and Walter Gonsoulin of Judy Couey. Guests of the Club were Everlyn Johnson, Michael Hicks, Taka Sato, RYE student, and Jarred Reneau, Ambassadorial Cultural Scholar.

Makeups: Kristy Brown online, and Sandra Harpole in West Point.

Condolences: The Club’s sympathy was expressed to Terry Kemp and family in the loss of his mother-in-law, Aline Springer.

Kudos: Compliments went to Taka for his role in the Starkville High musical; to President Chip and Frances Coleman for the Templeton Ragtime

Festival success; and, to Tony Vizzini for the 75th anniversary of the MSU Aerospace Engineering department.


President Chip presented Larry Mullins, assistant district governor, with the first $1,910 installment of a three-year commitment for the 2011 RI convention in New Orleans. The international meeting originally scheduled for 2007 was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath. Our board accepted the challenge for clubs in districts surrounding District 6840 to pledge $10 per member per year.


Jody Ray, assistant clinical professor in the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, introduced himself at his first meeting as a Rotarian. With 15 years of private practice, the 1993 MSU alum has returned to coach third and fourth year veterinary students on client communication skills. His passion is with the PAWS (Pet Awareness with Students) pilot program at Starkville Academy. The project exposes children to veterinary medicine and pet behavior. He and wife Catherine from Pheba have three children.


Vision: A Mississippi first in prosperity, innovation, and quality of life.
Mission: To advocate the best public policy solutions and to revitalize our democracy.
Quality education, practical experience, and hard work fueled by a major dose of idealism have propelled two young Starkville natives to found a public advocacy organization.

Mississippi First promotes better public policy in education, health, and poverty alleviation. The new non-profit organization’s founders are Rachel Hicks, executive director, and Sanford Johnson, deputy director.

In a chorus of ills, the duo spelled out the unfortunate position of our state in many national social indicators. Mississippi is last in educational quality, per capita income, healthcare access, adults with a high school diploma, and life expectancy. It is first in teen pregnancy, children in poverty, obesity, incarcerated persons per capita and infant mortality.

Most Mississippians have become numb to this litany; however, Hicks and Johnson have not. Fresh out of graduate programs in public service, the Starkville High School grads have established a presence in Jackson as a non-partisan, nonprofit organization.

Their tactic is to approach state leaders with concrete suggestions to change state policy. The formula for the group’s work is to define the issue, research its facts and implications, propose solutions, find support and monitor any implementation.

Recounting their first efforts, they said that much of this legislative term has been spent getting to know government officials and becoming known.

“We found it incredibly easy to become involved once we were on the ground,” said Hicks.
They addressed two educational policy issues during this session: preventing teen pregnancy and establishing charter schools.

Although the recommended teen pregnancy pilot program’s enabling legislation became mired in the budget situation, the advocacy group conducted research for the sponsoring legislator. He used the resulting memo as his basic reference material.

In the charter school realm, the two Teach for America veterans developed a position paper on the pros and cons of the proposition. The State Department of Education incorporated some suggestions into its ideal bill.
Believing that public policy should begin with citizens, Hicks said that Mississippi First will a membership association. When the organization’s structure is established, voting members will pay a nominal $5.00 fee. Non-voting members will register for free.

The centerpiece of citizen involvement will be mississippifirst.org, a Web site monitoring policy options being considered in state government and how they may affect the people. The site will include mechanisms for supporting or opposing policy options.

In addition to the two full-time staffers, the organization is overseen has a 5 member board. As it grows, there will be a technology director, and an office of public policy with coordinators for education, economic development and rural health care.

The children of Rotarian Debra and Michael Hicks, and Rotarian W.C. and Everlyn Johnson, respectively, Rachel and Sanford hold impressive résumés that belie their youth.

Rachel graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 2004. She received a master’s of public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government last spring.

Sanford graduated from Auburn University in 2003. He will receive his master’s degree from the University of Arkansas’ Clinton School of Public Service this spring.

His father spoke the feelings of many when he said, “For anybody who has paid taxes in Starkville, this is your baby. Your money has been very well spent.”


Cotton District Arts Festival……………………………………………………………………………………. April 18
Indian Group Study Exchange Team …………………………………………………………………… April 23-24


Help a 4– or 5-year-old get a head start on learning. Volunteer as a reader for our literacy project. We read to the children for 15 minutes at First Presbyterian’s childcare center on Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. and at the Emerson Family School on Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m. You may read once or many times. Whatever you do benefits the children. Tell David Vanlandingham or Brent Fountain when you can help.


Rotarians who attend the district conference as voting delegates will be reimbursed for registration, travel and lodging. The district business will be on the morning of April 18. Based on our membership, our club is eligible to send 8 electors.


The GSE team from District 3080 in northwest India will visit Starkville Thursday and Friday, April 23 and 24. The team includes a Rotarian team leader and four young professionals – three young women and one man.
We need Rotarian hosts who will provide bed and breakfast for the team members. The club will keep them busy during both days and provide transportation and other meals. It’s a rewarding international experience to host GSE team members. If you are willing to be a host, please contact Keith Remy as soon as possible.

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