Adventures old and new: Rotary Club sponsors youth exchange students, hears from Navy veteran


For members of the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, the June 16 meeting was an opportunity to say “Bon voyage!” to two teens embarking on new adventures and “Thank you” to a local veteran for a lifetime of adventures in the service to his country.

Ponte Vedra teens Hayden Hulihan, 15, and Carly Roberts, 17, will soon depart on 10-month foreign exchange experiences through the Rotary Youth Exchange. Hulihan, who recently completed his freshman year at Ponte Vedra High School, will leave Aug. 20 for Taiwan, where he is already looking forward to participating in community service projects with his host family.

“I’ll be living in a large city, where this is a lot of poverty,” he said. “During my time there, I’ll be spending time feeding the poor and helping to provide shelter to the homeless.”

Roberts, 17, recently graduated a year early from Ponte Vedra High School in order to experience a “gap year” through Rotary Youth Exchange in Brazil. She departs Aug. 4.

“My sister did a Rotary Youth Exchange several years ago,” said Roberts, who noted that 29 students will be participating in youth exchange this year through the Rotary Club’s local District 6970. “She introduced me to the program and got me excited about the opportunity.”

Simply being considered for the Rotary Youth Exchange program involved a significant time commitment, Roberts said. The lengthy application process began last fall, with reams of applications, medical forms, essays and other paperwork to complete. Candidates also had to participate in multiple rounds of personal interviews, before being notified of their selection in January. Since then, students have been engaging in language lessons and preparing for their upcoming youth exchange experience. At the same time, local Rotary clubs are preparing to welcome incoming youth exchange students from other countries.

Rotary Club President-elect Michael Bruce, who recently returned from the club’s international convention in Seoul, South Korea, noted that Rotary programs such as the youth exchange underscore the global reach and connection of the service organization.

“I’ve come to realize that the Rotary gear is the perfect symbol for this organization,” he said. “Because our club interlocks with other clubs and with Rotary Youth Exchange programs and Rotaract programs around the world.”

Roberts admitted she is both nervous and excited for her upcoming sojourn in Brazil.

“I’m going out into a place I’ve never gone before,” she said. “I am going on an adventure – and you can’t be sad about something like this. You have to embrace it.”

A lifetime of service

Embracing adventure is something about which Capt. Martin Zenni knows a thing or two. A retired career Naval officer, Zenni, 94, regaled Rotarians with tales from a career that began when he enlisted in the Navy in 1940 and was stationed at Pearl Harbor until August 1941 before attending the U.S. Naval Academy. His 37-year naval career included commanding five ships and overseeing the Navy’s Recruit Training Command at Great Lakes. It was a career that made him both a participant in and a witness to history.

Zenni recalled flying from Pearl Harbor in August 1945 to his new ship, the USS Massey in the Philippines – a journey that saw him fly over the charred ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“It was awesomely terrible,” Zenni said of the utter destruction and devastation caused by the atomic bombs. “I hope the world never has to use them again.”

His favorite command, he noted, was aboard a 205-foot-long tug with a 15-foot wheel. “It could tow anything afloat, anywhere,” he said. “It was a wonderful ship.”

Paraphrasing John Milton, Zenni quipped, “When I remember how my life is spent…I can’t remember most of it!”

What he does remember, though, are many years of wonderful memories. “It was just fun,” said Capt. Zenni, whose son, Jacksonville cardiologist Dr. Martin Zenni, and grandsons Alex and Michael also were in attendance. “Every time something bad happened to me, something much better erased it.”

Aiding the community

In other Rotary Club happenings, President-Elect Michael Bruce presented Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida Development Director Darby Stubberfield with a donation to provide new furniture to create after-school homework stations at local clubs. The Rotary club also inducted Marc Ressler as its newest member.