President Cara with a goat
Photo by Rotary Club of North Muskoka

Imagine trying to hold a Rotary club together while the world seems like it's falling apart.

“The biggest challenge in the past year was trying to keep everyone motivated to come to weekly Zoom meetings,” says Cara Schiedel, past-president for the Rotary Club of North Muskoka. “And finding fundraisers that will work in our current world.”

Cara kicked off her two-year term as club president in July 2019. It was a time when few people could have predicted the international crisis and universal upheaval in which the world would soon find itself.

The club at that time was not only continuing its support for the TD Summer Reading Club at Huntsville Public Library, Helping Hungry Students hot lunch initiative at Huntsville High School, and Kids to Camp fund at Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions, but was also wrapping up another of its annual handmade perogie fundraisers, dusting off after volunteering with the Huntsville Kids' Bike Rodeo, planning the annual Huntsville Santa Claus Parade and preparing for its annual support for local Christmas hamper initiatives.

And that was in addition to other local and international humanitarian contributions, plus a lot of fellowship and fun, including a Rotary District 7010 conference at Deerhurst Resort and a rowdy (sort of) night at Huntsville Bowl, to name a few.

In addition to all that, under Cara's leadership, the club also launched a new event in Fall 2019: Perogy-Fest! The nearly sold-out event at the Active Living Centre in Huntsville saw about 190 supporters attend for some handmade perogies, dancing, fellowship and fundraising.

Cara said it was one of her favourite fundraisers of her term.

“It was a night of homemade perogies followed by a very lively dance,” she says. “It definitely put a pep in my step!”

The event raised roughly $6,000 for youth programs, including the previously mentioned Helping Hungry Students, Kids to Camp, and summer reading program, plus Community Living's Re:Action4Inclusion, and more. And the plan was to host the event – with a packed house – again in 2020.

But plans change.

A virus forced the world into lockdowns and physical distance, which meant an unprecedented shift to online club meetings, followed by fundraiser cancellations and event postponements.

Cara, with the support of her club executive and membership, made the Rotary Club of North Muskoka one of the first to transition to weekly online club meetings, as the first lockdown forced the restaurant that hosted the club to temporarily shutter. And when that lockdown lifted, she created hybrid meetings so club members who were interested could meet in limited numbers in person, while a webcam, microphone and speakers let club members join in from home, too.

The club soon had guest speakers joining virtually, and held virtual social events, like a rowdy (sort of) fancy dress murder-mystery night and a virtual muffin baking workshop.

Club reserve funds allowed for continued donations to area causes, and as restrictions eased the club modified its annual perogie-making weekend to adapt to indoor capacity limits and continue that fundraiser, and completed its annual Earth Day cleanup, physical-distancing-style.

And there were new activities, too. The club was able to launch a coffee sales fundraiser thanks to a partnership with Muskoka Roastery, and raise more funds through sales of gift cards.

But there was one new event Cara considered the club's biggest success in 2020: Santa's Light Up the Night.

“We weren’t able to do the Huntsville Santa Claus Parade last year, so we replaced it with a Huntsville and area holiday lights contest and tour,” she says. “The weeklong event ended with a fun, virtual and live question-and-answer with Santa himself!”

The event, presented in partnership with Christmas Tyme, unexpectedly raised roughly $2,300 for youth mental health, nutrition and leadership programs, plus more than 200 pounds of non-perishable food bank donations.

The efforts of the club, says Cara, are a reflection of Rotary.

“Rotary is such an incredible organization. It has accomplished so much good across the globe,” she says. “It is wonderful to get together as a group, pool our ideas and inspiration, and put things into motion – particularly for the youth in our community.”

Cara handed the club gavel - virtually - to President Suzanne in June and remains a dedicated member of the club. And while the year ahead remains in flux, she knows the one word she would use to describe the past two years:

“Hopeful,” she says.

The Rotary Club of North Muskoka is a club of like-minded community members dedicated to service and fellowship. Members meet Thursdays at 7:00 AM. Want to come? Email for details.