On July 1, Sharona R. Nazarian took over as president of the Rotary Club of Beverly Hills during what is surely one of the strangest periods in the nearly 100-year-old club’s history. But the 12-year Rotarian is undaunted, and she’s ready to lead the Beverly Hills Rotarians as they work to put into action a motto of Rotary International, “Service Above Self.”
“I love a good challenge, and I Iove my club, and I love my community. I’m confident we’ll get through these difficult times together, and I know our club is eager to put ‘Service Above Self.’ They’re generous and they’re excited to make a change,” Nazarian said.
Jim Jahant, a former president of the club, said just as Nazarian is excited about the members, he and other Rotarians are excited to have her as a leader for the next year, and he thinks she’ll do “an excellent job.”
“You want to recruit new members, but you want to keep your existing members, too, by keeping them active and seeing what the club is doing. I think that’s one of her strengths, keeping everyone involved,” Jahant said.
Rotarian Lillian Raffel added that the club is “very lucky to have Sharona as president.”
“She’s so smart and enthusiastic and full of ideas and she’s a motivator, which is very important,” Raffel said.
The coronavirus pandemic has prevented some of the club’s in-person work, such as working with orphans in Tijuana, assisting children in developing nations with cleft-palate repair or digging wells in areas where people must walk for miles just to get water. However, Nazarian said there’s an opportunity to help youth, veterans, the elderly and people who have been displaced from their homes.
“I feel like they’re the most at-risk and vulnerable members of our society, and I feel that’s where we can help the most. Additionally, with COVID happening, we’re focusing on food pantries where we can be of immediate assistance to those organizations,” Nazarian said.
The club’s charitable foundation has donated to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, Project Angel Food, the Midnight Mission and others that assist with food insecurity, and the Rotary Club has also worked on providing supplies that are unique to the pandemic. Many members can be spotted donating hand sanitizer and masks branded with the Rotary Club of Beverly Hills logo to local living facilities for older adults, especially those serving people who are low-income.
“I think at a time like this, [older adults] need to know that somebody is thinking about them and may be able to get them meals, or that we’re delivering masks,” Jahant said.
The Rotary Club is also spearheading or assisting with a pair of programs that purchase food from local restaurants to donate to others. Meal to Heal, founded by Beverly Hills resident Laura Margo, donates the purchased meals to local health care workers, and Feeding the Soul, a Rotary Club program, connected Beverly Hills Unified School District students and their families with a hot meal twice a week over the summer, when students aren’t provided food at school.
“Everybody is so philanthropic and they care so deeply,” Nazarian said. “[The Rotary Club of Beverly Hills] is a place where neighbors, friends and problem solvers join together to share ideas and bring about lasting change.”
Nazarian also wants to use her position as president to create roundtables that discuss important issues to those who might be affected in unique or specialized ways by the pandemic, such as those involved in the real estate market. Nazarian also started a Women’s Roundtable.
“I wanted their voice to be heard, because many, many years ago, women weren’t even allowed in Rotary. Now, we’ve developed the Women’s Roundtable community to discuss issues relevant to women and identify ways we can make the most impact and bring about positive change,” Nazarian said.
Raffel serves as chair of the Women’s Roundtable, and she noted that even though women have been allowed to be Rotarians for more than 30 years, the club is still heavily male. By her count, only 48 of the Beverly Hills club’s 157 members are women.
Raffel said some issues are specific to women in politics and in the workplace, and the Women’s Roundtable includes former City Council and school board members, attorneys, nurses, “a whole variety of people who are very bright, very intelligent women.”
Outside of issues like discrimination, harassment and the way women have to juggle their careers and roles as mothers, women can often face unique health issues, Raffel said. For instance, after Raffel’s daughter gave birth, she developed heart problems.
“One of the reasons why I feel women and heart issues are important is because women are traditionally, for lack of a better way to say it, not believed when they’re having a heart issue. People have to be educated that women’s symptoms for heart disease are sometimes different than men’s. Women don’t think that they’re having a heart attack, but they are, and they’re ignored, and we need to do something about that,” Raffel said.
The Rotary Club of Beverly Hills was founded in 1924, and in the lead-up to the club’s 100-year celebration, Nazarian wants to use her term to build unity in the club and “work for a greater cause together.”
“As our centennial approaches, I’d like to celebrate our deep heritage so that we can stay connected, current, relevant and strong in the years to come by celebrating our roots and the importance of the work the Rotary has done,” Nazarian said.