By:  Jim Britt, iPP South Portland-Cape Elizabeth RC
In the wake of the recent tragic mass shooting in nearby Lewiston, where 18 innocent lives were lost, the South Portland - Cape Elizabeth Rotary had the honor of hosting District 7780 Governor Marion Cheney. Her visit, just one week after the devastating event, could not have been more timely.
A profound sadness loomed in the hearts and minds of those who gathered. The immense pain and suffering, the needless loss of life, the injuries, shattered families, and upturned lives have left an indelible mark in Lewiston and the hearts of Rotarians everywhere.
This year's Rotary International theme, "Create Hope in the World," resonated deeply with the meeting attendees, and the gathering was centered around the significance of hope in the face of such profound sorrow. But what truly kindled optimism was the announcement of the District 7780 Mental Health Initiative. It was a moment of unity, a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and a pledge to bring about positive change in our communities.
The vision of the District 7780 Mental Health Initiative is nothing short of inspiring. It aims to enhance the mental health and well-being of Rotarians and community members by creating welcoming, hopeful, and trauma-informed spaces, fostering community connections, and mitigating social isolation. In a world where the importance of mental health has become more apparent than ever, this initiative couldn't have come at a better time.
District Governor Marion Cheney and District Governor-Elect Robert MacKenzie spearhead the initiative. Their leadership and endorsement clearly show their unwavering commitment to Rotary's motto, "Service Above Self." It reflects their recognition of the importance of addressing mental health issues and supporting the well-being of their members and the communities they serve.
What was particularly moving during the meeting was the presence of Kiley Wilkens-O’Brien, a mental health professional and a part of Marion's mental health initiative. Her personal story and passion for this cause exemplified the dedication that Rotary District 7780 has toward this project. This initiative will be led by individuals who genuinely care about making a difference in the lives of those they serve.
The tragic mass shooting in Lewiston serves as a stark reminder of the challenges our communities face. In a world often marked by divisiveness and uncertainty, Rotary's mission to create hope is more relevant than ever. The mental health initiative provides a beacon of light, demonstrating that even in the darkest times, service and kindness can and will bring about positive change.
In a society that often stigmatizes mental health issues, the District 7780 Mental Health Initiative sets an example for others to follow. By embracing a trauma-informed approach, supporting community connections, and reducing social isolation, we are not only creating hope but also providing vital support to those who need it most.
Rotarians are renowned for their kindness and generosity and their commitment to supporting close-to-home organizations and global initiatives. Service is the driving force. The South Portland - Cape Elizabeth Rotary's meeting, in the aftermath of such a tragedy, reminds us that in a world where kindness, connections, and attention to mental health are desperately needed, Rotary represents the good that is to come. 
As we look forward to the District 7780 Mental Health Initiative taking root, it is proof of Rotary's unwavering dedication to making our community a better place. In the face of adversity, this initiative stands as a symbol of resilience, compassion, and, most importantly, hope.