by Caroline DeWitt, ESRAG Chapter Chair, Eastern North America and the Caribbean 

ESRAG’s Eastern North America Chapter (ESRAG ENA) held a dynamic project fair Jan. 18-21 to showcase a wide variety of environmental projects being undertaken by Rotarians throughout the multinational region. The event was hosted by the Rotary Club of Sarasota Bay and the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, a beautiful city on Florida’ Gulf Coast. We had three goals: 

  • To raise awareness of Rotary’s district and global grants for environmental projects;
  • To showcase current and planned environmental projects in our chapter; and
  • To offer networking opportunities with Rotarians, ESRAG members and avid environmentalists across North America and the Caribbean.

Rotary International has been promoting project fairs since 2004, and featured the concept in a 2019 issue of Rotary Magazine. These gatherings connect clubs that are seeking international service projects with those that are interested in collaborating with global partners to carry out humanitarian work in their own region. Project fairs typically last two to three days, and may include visits to service projects or opportunities to experience the local culture. 

In September 2023, our Regional Chapter, ESRAG ENA decided to organize a project fair entirely focused on the environment. Rotary’s newest humanitarian focus aligns with several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including Climate Action: (Goal 13), Life Below Water (Goal 14) and Life on Land (Goal 15), as we strive to contribute to a more sustainable and resilient future for all. 

Our Regional Chapter extends from Eastern Canada to the Caribbean. We are a lively group of more than 340 members from 62 Rotary Districts. Our Environmental Project Fair drew a large audience including participants from Canada and the North East region of the US, students enrolled in sustainability and climate change courses, visitors from Suncoast Science Centre, and avid environmentalists who travelled from nearby cities including Longboat Key, Orlando, Siesta Key and Naples. Thanks to the high-tech facilities at the Ringling College of Art and Design, we were able to welcome virtual participants as well.

Our three-day agenda commenced with a social and hospitality hour at picturesque New College of Florida. The second day featured a full-day event at Ringling College of Art and Design highlighted by a poster showcase, presentations, and the hybrid meeting. Absolutely inspiring opening remarks were provided by ESRAG Chair Yasar Atacik, ESRAG Past Chair Christopher Puttock, PhD, and ESRAG Director Michael Terrelonge.

The final day concluded with a community service project focused on microforest stewardship in collaboration with the Florida Veterans for Common Sense.

Each presenter provided a two-minute pitch on their project. Collectively, the speakers and showcase exhibitors illuminated a wide range of actions and geographic settings:

  • Microforests – Charles C. Reith PhD, PE Rotary Club of Sarasota Bay, Florida and John Nolan, RC Muskegon, Michigan
  • Every Club Climate Friendly – Caroline DeWitt, ESRAG ENA Co-Chair, RC West Ottawa, Ontario
  • Susquehanna Watershed Project – PDG Jeff Smith, Rotary Club of Endwell, New York
  • The Cape Cod Watershed Institute – Brian Braginton-Smith, RC Yarmouth, Massachusetts
  • Ipswich Watershed Grant – Andrea Lacroix, RC Ipswich, Massachusetts
  • Lunch out of Landfills – Joe Richardson, RC Urbana, Maryland
  • Rotary Environmental Innovators Fund (REIF), Graham Wilkins, RC Peterborough, Ontario
  • Coastal Ecology Sustainability – Dr. Jeffrey H. Driver, RC Longboat Key. Florida
  • Camp Kawartha Environment Centre – Jim Coyle, RC Peterborough, Ontario
  • Ottawa Youth Rotary Forest – Phil Mc Neely, RC Orleans, Ontario

The project fair resulted in a consensus on strategies to mobilize project managers, funders, and leaders across our Rotary districts and region to support environmental and sustainability initiatives. The Cape Cod Watershed Institute’s integrated strategies were highlighted as an incentive to take action. These strategies, which have been submitted in the 2024 competition for an Earthshot prize, include: a) fostering collaborations across districts to raise awareness among all members; b) engaging with all levels of government funders; and c) sharing lessons learned, building relationships, and networking.

There was unanimous agreement to host an in-person ESRAG ENA environmental project fair in 2025 following the resounding success of this inaugural event. Our audience were staunch supporters in their respective fields and areas of expertise. These enthusiastic environmentalists advocated for six key ESRAG themes: biodiversity, sustainable living, circular economy, food systems, climate and pollution, each demonstrating their commitment through various projects. 

I would like to express my appreciation to all our hosts! We could not have been successful without our networking team: Dr. Amber White of Southface Sarasota, members of the Rotary Club of Sarasota Bay – in particular Barry Levinson; Professor Tim Rumage of the Ringling College of Art and Design for providing our meeting space, Jeffrey Driver, PhD, RC Longboat Key for providing his video and audio crew, and Florida Veterans for Common Sense. Thanks to SpeedPro Graphics for printing posters for exhibitors. We also want to thank the Rotary Clubs of Longboat Key, the Rotary Club of West Ottawa, and fellow Rotarians and ESRAG members for their content, interest, and support throughout the process. 

A special thank you to Charles C. Reith, Project Fair Co-Chair, who served as my invaluable partner in organizing this event. Charles’s dedication, expertise, and tireless efforts were instrumental in making our fair a success. Together, we navigated challenges, fostered collaboration, and created a memorable experience for all involved.

I would be glad to share what we learned from this inaugural event with other Chapter chairs who are thinking of organizing environmental project fairs. You can reach me by email here: