How a Hair Cut and Rotary
Changed My Life,
by Jason Crane
Rotary Club of Albany
My entire life was altered by a haircut. And it was that haircut that brought me to Rotary.
Most people come to Rotary when they've already established themselves in their professional lives. They've been to college, they've found jobs, they've probably started families. I first got introduced to Rotary when I was in junior high - by the guy who cut my hair. Joe Delforte was a lifelong member of the Rotary club in Canandaigua, NY, a small community in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. That's where I went to junior high and high school.
Soon after my family and I moved to Canandaigua, we needed a place to "get the moss trimmed," as Red Sox pitcher Dennis Eckersley would say, and we ended up at Delforte's on Main Street. One day when I was a captive in the chair, Joe said to me, "You should be a Rotary exchange student." I'd never heard of Rotary. No one in my family was a Rotarian. In fact, Joe was the first person I ever heard mention Rotary. I had no idea what he was talking about, but that didn't matter. I continued to get my hair cut there throughout junior high and high school, and little by little, Joe explained the youth exchange program to me.
It sounded pretty cool. I would get to go to a foreign country and spend a year there on Rotary's dime. What could be better? As it turned out, it was a lot more than that. Under Joe's tutelage, I applied for the Rotary Youth Exchange Program in the fall of 1990, my senior year in high school. At the time, all I knew about my family history was that many of us were of Irish descent, so I applied to Ireland as my top choice, and threw in a couple other easy European countries for good measure.
Back in those days - what I like to call the "old school" days of youth exchange - it was difficult to get into the program. I had to go through several local interviews, and then spend a weekend at a Rotary camp where all the prospective students were observed for their social skills and ability to interact in group settings. We also went through several additional rounds of interviews over the weekend. And it was during these interviews that I met Judy, Jim and Julie, three former exchange students who had all been to Japan. The Three J's told me that going to a country like Ireland would be too easy. They said I should use my exchange year to push myself farther than I thought I could go. And of course, they recommended Japan. I changed my first choice and was accepted as an exchange student to northern Japan, which is where I lived from the summer of 1991 to the summer of 1992.
My exchange year completely changed my life. I know that probably sounds trite, but it's true. I was away from home for the first time - and I mean AWAY - and I was in a small town in northern Japan where I was only the second or third non-Japanese to ever live there. No one spoke English, so I learned Japanese. There was no email in those days, and for the first month or so I didn't speak English to anyone at all. It was incredibly hard, and incredibly wonderful. Several years later, just after getting married, my wife and I moved to Japan and lived there for two years. It was in Japan that I got my big chance to do high-level radio and print journalism.
That opened many doors for me when I came back to the States in 1999, and allowed me to get several jobs in radio that I never would have been able to get without my experience in Japan. So I mean it when I say that Rotary changed my life. Rotary also broadened my horizons. It made me want to be a world citizen. It taught me selfsufficiency and respect for other cultures. And Rotary was my chance to see whether I could make it on my own - and to learn that I could.
In 2009, 18 years after entering the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, I joined the Rotary Club of Albany. I'm thrilled to be back in Rotary, and proud to be part of a new generation of Rotarians. I hope to be able to provide other kids with the same opportunity I was given. And I hope to instill in
them the same love of humankind, the love of a challenge, and the love of Rotary that I have. That was quite a haircut, wasn't it?