Almost two decades ago, Cyril Noirtin, then a high school student from Nancy, France, received a special gift from Rotary: a chance to participate in an exchange to Wisconsin, USA, hosted by the Rotary Club of Lake Country-Hartland.



Cyril Noirtin, a former Rotaractor and current member of the Rotary Club of Paris Agora and RI representative to UNESCO. Photo courtesy Cyril Noirtin

Noirtin had no idea that the one-year Rotary Youth Exchange trip would change his life and personality.

"The exchange gave me an appetite to be involved in an international network. When I came back to France, I decided to join Rotaract," says Noirtin, who later became charter president of the Rotary Club of Paris Agora and is now an RI representative to UNESCO. "Thanks to my Rotaract membership, I have been able to gain leadership abilities, build friendships all around the world, and participate in many social and humanitarian projects."

In addition to holding many leadership roles in Rotaract, the tech-savvy Noirtin helped put together Web sites for Rotaractors. His skills caught the eye of Rotarian Bernard Dervaux, then governor of District 1660, who tapped him to serve on the district's Internet committee. He quickly became the district's webmaster, helped organize the district conference, and worked on the district's monthly newsletter.

"At the end of the year, the district governor and other members of the committee had forgotten I was not a Rotarian," he recalls. "And I can tell you, when we created the Rotary Club of Paris Agora, we had the support and help of every one of them."

Noirtin would like to see more Rotaractors take what he calls the "natural next step" and become Rotarians. Working side by side on projects, he says, is the best way to make the transition smoother.

"Rotarians and Rotaractors have to get to know more about each other, understand what the other can bring to a project," he says. "If they are successful in doing that, my belief is the age barrier no longer is a problem."

Noirtin, who also serves on the Rotary Centers Committee, feels that it's crucial for Rotaractors to keep searching for a Rotary club or to consider chartering a new one if they don't initially find a good fit.

"Even if they look around today and don't feel comfortable, it's important they keep looking," he says. "They are the ones who are going to build and shape the Rotary of tomorrow. It is critical for them to enter Rotary."

The Paris Agora club was chartered with younger members in mind. Noirtin says his club's average age of 35-40 is 15-20 years younger than most established clubs in the Paris area. It meets in the evenings and only twice a month, which he says is much easier than traditional meeting schedules on the club's leadership, who are young professionals.

Noirtin would also like to see an effort to organize former Rotaractors, perhaps into an alumni association, to help them keep in touch and find their way into Rotary. He feels the issue is important enough for Rotary leaders to make it a top priority.

"If we have no one to share our future with, we have no future."

This is the first in a series of articles about Rotary youth programs for New Generations Month.