Everybody Can Be of Service with Denise Dinoto

As sixteen year old Denise Dinoto was given some advice. 

“What ever you are asked to do, whatever opportunity presents itself, say yes. Do it all. You never know if you’re going to get another chance. And, and that’s, that’s kind of how I’ve always tried to live my life. Say yes, do it all. You don’t know if you’re gonna get another chance.”

It seems to have served her well. She started in Rotary as the first person with a disability to complete a student exchange and is now about to become District Governor.

In this episode we talk about service, disability, equity, inclusion and the impact of Rotary.


Rotary Ad 0:20
Welcome to this episode of Talking Rotary. I’m Peter Tonge, and I’m a member of the Rotary Club of Winnipeg Charleswood.

Mandy Kwasnica 0:26
And I’m Mandy Kwasnica Past president and also a member of the Rotary Club of Winnipeg, Charleswood. We are so happy you have joined us here and I are so excited for this new podcast and thankful to our many listeners. Let’s start talking Rotary.

Peter Tonge 1:08
Hi, everyone, I’m Peter tonge, and welcome to another episode of taki Rotary. I’m here with Rotarian Denise Dinoto. And she’s in upstate New York in the United States. Hi, Denise, how are you?

Denise Dinoto 1:21
Hey, Peter. I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Peter Tonge 1:24
I’m very happy to meet you via zoom and have this conversation. Now, as I mentioned, you’re in upstate New York in the United States. For listeners around the world. Can you sort of orient where you are?

Denise Dinoto 1:36
Sure. I live near Albany, which is the capital city of New York State. It’s about two and a half hours north of New York City. Go up the Hudson River from New York City for about 125 miles or so. You’ll get to Albany and I live just about that. Okay,

Peter Tonge 1:56
I know right where you’re at. Now, I should I shouldn’t start sort of as a background or basis, you and I have have a few things in common. We’re both Rotarians lawful. We’re both people with disabilities. And we’re both daily wheelchair users and I, that’s something that I don’t typically talk about on the podcast unless it’s relevant. But in this case, it’s relevant because you have been, as I see it, kind of a groundbreaker. In some areas of Rotary, one of the things that I’m thinking about is you were an exchange student when you were younger person.

Denise Dinoto 2:34
I was I was, to my knowledge, the first exchange student using a wheelchair to successfully complete a Rotary Youth Exchange. So in 1990, I went to Australia, and I spent my senior year of high school in Tasmania, Australia, with the wonderful Rotarians of Kingston, Rotary, and it was a year that changed my life, that that changed the way I saw the world and how I saw myself as well.

Peter Tonge 3:04
Okay, can you tell me a little bit of a bit of that experience? Because that must that must have been a major undertaking? A the first thing that I think about is, you know, you didn’t say, Oh, I’d like to be an exchange student or I’ll go somewhere close, like Canada or Mexico, you decided to go to Tasmania?

Well, I went where I was sent. Sure. So when you apply to be an exchange student, you get to select countries that you’re interested in. Okay, so the countries that I selected were France, Japan, Australia, Sweden, and Denmark. And but let’s face it, I grew up in small uptown New York, or upstate New York, and a very small town of like 2500 people and 10,000 cows. And I would have just been happy to go live in Ohio, like anywhere other than Bainbridge, New York would have been acceptable to me, right? The fact that it got to be as far as you could go on the other side of the world before you start coming back around. Like that was just a bonus. Right? You know, that that really was just a bonus. And, and it happened because, you know, I didn’t want to I didn’t necessarily think I was going to be an exchange student. Now, my father was a Rotarian. And we had exchange students stay with our family. And I was friends with exchange students in high school. But I hadn’t really thought about being an exchange student myself. And our next door neighbor was also a Rotarian wonderful man named doc Benson, Dr. Kenneth Benson. And the first week of my junior year of high school, he asked me, What are you going to do next year, Denise? And I said, I don’t really know. And he said, Why don’t you think about being an exchange student? I said, Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know if they’d accept me or not. Me said why not nice old because I don’t know of another exchange student who had a disability. And he said, Denise, you’ve never let your disability stop you until now. What If Are you going to let it stop you from applying to be an extension, just apply. The worst that can happen is you don’t get selected. And I thought about it, and I hemmed and hawed and I went to school. And I was talking about it with friends. And somebody overheard me, and looked at me and said, You’re never going to be an exchange student? And I said, Oh, yeah, watch me. Because the easiest way to get me to do something, is to tell me that I can’t do something. And so of course, I walked right down to the guidance office, and I got the form. And I applied, and I went home. And I told my mom and dad that I wanted to apply. And they didn’t tell me no. Now, they were not as enthusiastic as I was. But they didn’t tell me no. And I went through all the application process, I went through the interviews, and I was selected to be an exchange student. The district that I was outbound from in central New York, has a very large exchange program, they wanted to send me to an English speaking country. So I would have an easier time making my needs known. Now, I used a wheelchair. But I was still independent for all of my daily routines. So I didn’t need help with personal care at that time. So that was a little made it a little bit easier. And they wanted to send me while they’re thinking about sending me to South Africa. Now, this is 1990. And it was the end of apartheid. And my mother was not too thrilled with that idea. I thought it was a great idea. But my parents weren’t so happy about that. But Ken, Dr. Benson, came through for me again, when he had been a district governor, he was friends with a man from Tasmania, Australia. And Graham. He reached out to Graham and said, we’ve got a student, she’s gonna make a great exchange student, do you think you can help us find a club for her? We’ll make it a direct district to district exchange, meaning that if you ever find a student with a disability, we’ll take her or him? No questions asked.

Denise Dinoto 7:10
And that’s what happened. It turned out that the District Governor in Tasmania that year, John Thorne was the administrator in a school for kids with disabilities. And when he found out that I was looking for a home to go be an exchange student, he sought out Kingston Rotary, who had already accepted a student and said, Could you take one more? And they said, Yes. So everything came together. Exactly right for me to be able to go. And because everybody was taking a chance on me. I felt like I had to be the best exchange student there ever was. You know, I had to, I had to be the one to not get in trouble to not make them regret taking a chance on me. So every invitation I got, I said, Yes, I went, and I did it. And then people found out that I was willing to say yes, so I got more invitations. And I would get invited to dinners and barbecues, and, and school events and sporting events. And I volunteered with the club at service projects, which they’d never had an exchange student do before. And I thought that was what you were supposed to do. You know, when exchange students came to my hometown, they volunteered was interacting that with the rotary. So it was great. And I’m still in touch with the club. I’ve been back to visit, I still get their weekly bulletins in the mail. I’m hoping to go to the International Convention, which will be in Australia next year. So I hope to go back. You know, and the exchange students I met during that year, we really bonded. They made it possible for me to participate in everything that we did. They helped me no questions asked, so that I could be a part of everything. And you know, together, we made it work. And I couldn’t do everything. You know, but I did most everything. And I did it with their help.

Rotary Ad 9:14
That’s fantastic. Now one of the first things you said about it, to me was the changed you tell me about that?

Denise Dinoto 9:21
Sure. So it really made me become a stronger advocate. I didn’t have anybody else to lean on. You know, my mother couldn’t advocate for me. When I was in Australia, it was up to me. And for an example, one of the things that happened at the end of the year exchange students go on a bus tour of mainland Australia. You know, and it was 25 days on a bus with two buses with 85 other exchange students, the highlight of the year, you know, when you start in Sydney and then you go up through Central Australia as a Coolaroo or Ayers, rock, and then you go over to Queensland and down the coast. And it’s amazing. You know, being on a bus with all these exchange students, the district youth committee had reservations about me going, and they were going to recommend that I not be allowed to go on the tour. And I was devastated when I heard that. And sad. It was one of the few times I called home, you know, this is before the internet and cell phones. And, you know, I call him six times during my year. And this was one of those times that I called home, crying to my mother, you know that it was so unfair that they weren’t going to let me go. And she said, some of the greatest works you ever could have told me? She said, Denise, I don’t know what you want me to do about it. I’m not there. You’re the one that’s there. If it’s important to you, you have to figure out a way to make your case and fight this fight. And I’m sorry, I can’t do it for you.

Peter Tonge 10:54
What a great piece of advice.

Denise Dinoto 10:57
Yes. And I at first, I was a little taken aback. But but then I thought about it. And I said, Well, you know, she’s right. But what I also learned was that help will find you. If you let it be other exchange students, unbeknownst to me, had gone to the district youth committee and said, we don’t think it’s fair that you’re not going to let Denise go. And if you don’t let Denise go, none of us are going to go, wow, we’re gonna have to explain to all our homes, why we’re not going on this trip. We’ve got a plan to make it work, where we can get Denise the help she needs. And we can all go on this trip together.

Rotary Ad 11:33
I’d love to hear that. Isn’t that what Rotary is supposed to be all about?

Denise Dinoto 11:36
Actually, what Rotary is supposed to be about, you know, and that idea that, that us? People talk about the Australian concept, concept of mate ship, you know that all you’ll be right, mate, you know, but really, when you’re in Australia is everybody’s your mate. And, you know, that was my experience was that people were willing to help as long as you let them know, you know, and didn’t ask for anything else. And they did, we created a schedule of who was going to be my tent mate. We all took you know, they all took turns helping me at night, helping me, you know, was showering, helping me on and off the bus. You know, they had a schedule of, so it wasn’t like I was a burden on anybody. And I could be a part of it all.

Rotary Ad 12:21
It was great. And what a bonding experience, those people are never gonna forget that either.

Denise Dinoto 12:25
No. And we had a well, there was a reunion. We were supposed to have it in 2020. But COVID, you know, but a few of the exchange students were able to get together in Europe in 2021. And that’s one of the things that they talked about. I didn’t get to go. But they said, you know, we all spoke about how we learned so much from you, Denise, by being there as much as I learned from them.

Rotary Ad 12:54
That’s fabulous. Yeah. And now you’re breaking new ground again, because you’re about to be the district governor in your district.

Denise Dinoto 13:01
I am starting July 1, I will be the district governor for district 7190.

Rotary Ad 13:07
And we also share that because I’m the district governor nominee in my district, so I’m a couple of years behind you, but I’m on the same route. So

Denise Dinoto 13:16
Fantastic. It’s everybody tells me it’s going to be the best year of my Rotary life. So you know,

Peter Tonge 13:23
and I’m so enjoying being able to be involved at the district level. But that’s that’s kind of how we connect it is is I was talking about I don’t know of any other, you know, people with disabilities who have been district governor, or at least that are open about their disabilities, because I’m sure there are people that have disabilities that either don’t disclose or don’t see themselves as having disabilities that have been at that level. And somebody said, Well, actually, you know, Denise is going through the district governor next year. So thank you for cutting the path. I appreciate this and rich

Denise Dinoto 13:59
Sure. And I know there have been others before me, because I’ve seen pictures of Governor classes. And I’ve seen other people who are disabled, or visibly disabled, but I’m sure there are other people with invisible disabilities as well, who have served and whether or not they choose to identify, that’s okay. But But rotary is becoming more diverse. And that’s wonderful. And I think that it’s to our benefit to spotlight, you know, diversity and leadership. Because, you know, I’m thrilled that the woman who’s going to be president, you hear me say that the woman who’s going to be president of Rotary International will serve during my year as district governor. I’m so excited about that.

Rotary Ad 14:48
Right. And I have to add a little bit to that layer just because we’re very proud to Canadian woman who’s doing to be the President.

Unknown Speaker 14:56
Exactly. in my zone. Ah, you know, my Rotary zone. So we’re very excited about that, too. Yeah,

Peter Tonge 15:04
absolutely. And, of course, our some of our listeners are going to know, she’s also been a big part of some of the the diversity as equity and inclusion drive within rotary as well. So that’s exciting.

Rotary Ad 15:21
Possibilities are all around us. We see potential in unexpected places. And when we share our knowledge, vision, and connections, we turn great ideas into action. Together, we can make real change happen. We’re Rotary, we are people of action, get involved today at rotary.org/action.

Peter Tonge 15:51
And that’s where it transitions nicely into. I don’t think I’m being unfair in saying that I think Rotary has been late to the game in diversity, equity and inclusion. But over the last couple of years, they started to make some pretty big leaps, at least being talked about, there’s at least a policy in place, I was also pleased and this is one of my own personal things, when the first draft of the of the policy came out, it didn’t talk about disability, it talked about people of all abilities and all that. And I think there was some pushback, including for me, and then disability was explicitly talked about in my world, that’s a very important thing.

Denise Dinoto 16:39
Yes, I, I agree, I think that I don’t know if you know, the, say the word campaign. So, I mean, I’m assuming you do, because for our listeners who can’t see you, you’re you’re wearing up this body is worthy t shirt. So I know that you subscribe to some of the same advocates and activists that I do. Because I have one of those shirts as well. Hannah would be so far out. So I know that, you know, disability received some negative connotations in the media, but the more we are active, and the more we show people what is possible, that life doesn’t end when you either acquire or are born with a disability. It’s just a normal part of life. And it’s not a fate worse than death. You know, and, and that’s, that’s crucial, because we, as an organization, Rotary has served people with disabilities, in many ways. Listen, you know, that their huge push to eradicate polio, you know, is huge. I think that we have to be careful not to fall into the trap of pitying the quote unquote, poor people with disabilities, and instead encouraging them to be active participants in the work that we are doing.

Peter Tonge 18:12
Oh, absolutely. A, I want to talk about that in a moment. But one thing I wanted to touch on, because it fits in here is I was listening to something you were doing the other day. And you said that it’s a regular experience in your life to have people who don’t know you very well say, I couldn’t live like you. I’d rather be dead that I my eyes lit up because like you, I hear that on a very frequent basis. And my whole response is clearly you know, nothing about my life.

Denise Dinoto 18:44
Exactly. Exactly. I’m thinking, Okay, well, let’s see. I’m going to Houston next month. I’m going to be district governor, I’ve got plans to go to Toronto in September. You know, I’ve, I’ve got a new full time job. I have a great. I’m very privileged. When you look at people with disabilities, I recognize that I’m very privileged. But I have amazing blessings, and I have a really good life. And if all you hear is that I require the assistance of other people every day to live this life. And you think I don’t know how I would manage that. You’re missing the point. You know, yes, I do need that help. And yes, I’m able to do all of that, because I have fantastic homecare workers that work for me. But managing them does not mean that my life is not worth living.

Peter Tonge 19:48
Absolutely not. And I mean, that’s why, as I say when I when I heard you say that because I haven’t when we’re talking about the subjects around groups of friends or colleagues or whatever and I Can I say that that’s a regular occurrence? For me, many people are shocked. But it happens to me at least once a week.

Denise Dinoto 20:07
Yes, you know, I. So I recently started well, I returned to a job I had worked several years ago, in an office at the New York State Department of Health. And I’ve recently returned to that office to work. And when I used to work in that building, it would regularly happen that I would be walking down the hall, you know, coming back from the cafe or whatever. And as I would be coming, people would just like, throw themselves against the wall, is I would be zooming down the hall, like, I was gonna run them over or something, I don’t know. Yeah, it’s, it’s still happening. Like, almost every day, I’m walking down the hallway, and I’ll just come along. And these are like, five foot wide hallways, there’s plenty of room for my power wheelchair to go down one part of the hallway. And for them to be walking the opposite way. We don’t need to, you know, just huddle and fear that I might run them over or you’re not going to catch it. Next to me.

Peter Tonge 21:08
Unfortunately, and I have to, I have to be careful here, because I should only speak to the Canadian experience and not paint a really broad brush. But I think, culturally, there seems to be this idea that disability is a fate worse than death. Yes. And you and I and many in the world know that that’s not it at all. But there seems to be this overlying cultural thing that, you know, I couldn’t live like that, or I couldn’t be like that, or I couldn’t somehow be and I’m using air quotes here diminished. And it’s just simply simply not the case.

Denise Dinoto 21:47
But I think that, you know, was and we’re humans and humans adapt. That’s the great thing about being human, we have been adapting all of our existence. Right? You know that and people, I think, sell themselves short. And it’s a discredit to themselves, if they think that they wouldn’t be able to adapt, if something were to happen to them.

Peter Tonge 22:06
Right. And I’ll just very quickly given an example, I have a friend who was a very successful athlete, she crashed her mountain bike and broke her back. Within eight weeks, she was back trading in forever para athlete. And now she’s a world class para athlete, she just kind of dusted yourself off and said, Okay, how do I do what I do now. And she and her husband gathered together and she’s, she’s as successful as a pair athlete, and she wasn’t without we, but I was so impressed with the fact that it was a very short period of time where she sort of starts feeling servers. Okay, how do I, how do we do it now?

Denise Dinoto 22:49
Right? And, and so we’re Rotarians. And you know, the motto of Rotary is service above self. And everybody can be of service. I don’t care what you physically can do. Everyone can be of service, whether it’s sitting and greeting people, when they come into your club meeting, maybe it’s managing the website, maybe it is managing social media presence for your club, maybe it’s arranging, you know, one of the things that my club does, at least we used to do before COVID, we would cook at the Ronald McDonald House once a month, and make dinner for everybody staying at the local Ronald McDonald House. And so maybe, you know, that’s what you do. Maybe once a month, you arrange the the menu and decide, you know, who’s going to do that, whatever everybody can be of service, you may not be able to build a fence at the local nonprofit, you know, on the weekend, you may not be able to bring your Shelterbox tents, to, you know, an event and set it up and give tours, but everybody can be of service to someone else. Absolutely. possible for that to happen.

Peter Tonge 24:00
Well, Rotary makes that possible in and I think that’s one of the gifts that the pandemic brought to rotary is that we started to do more things remotely in by zoom and whatever I have to, I have to frankly, say, and maybe my district mates would disagree. But I think before the pandemic, I wouldn’t have been considered as district governor, because everybody was hung up on the fact is, how’s he going to get around it? Is it 48 Rotary Clubs over three provinces and, you know, blah, blah, blah. And now everybody’s just like, you know, visit the ones that are closed and visit everybody else by zoom. So there’s just been a real sort of cultural shift that way. And we can involve so many more people who can’t or don’t want to go to a traditional Rotary Club meeting at lunch on Monday. By using these technologies, right. It opens up a whole world to not only people with disabilities but Have people with all other kinds of, you know, limitations and issues and whatever. So,

Denise Dinoto 25:07
Exactly. And, you know, I know, in preparing for my district governor year, I’m not going to have committee meetings in person, you know, all of my committee meetings are going to be on Zoom, I need to save somebody during the week, you know, you’re gonna see me sitting in my living room, staring at a computer screen, you know, yes, I will go and visit clubs, when I can, and I will go and attend events. But you know, for the executive committee meetings, and the training, team meetings and everything like that, that’s going to be done on Zoom. And when I interviewed to be the district governor, I, that was something I proposed. And I knew that, you know, that I might get some pushback from it. But then the pandemic happened. And I thought, well, look at that. Everybody wants to do what I said, No, this was gonna be great.

Peter Tonge 25:57
Yeah, I think it was, I think it really was a shift in attitude that’s opening up a lot more things. First, we talked a little bit, Denise about some of the things that that Rotary has been doing well, around diversity, equity inclusion, what areas do we need to continue to work on and push on anything?

Denise Dinoto 26:19
Oh, well, you know, I think that our clubs need to continue to try to engage people in ways that are meaningful to them. You know, I don’t know about you, but but we are definitely seeing a bit of a revolving door with membership, you know, people come in, but they don’t always stay. Right. So finding what is meaningful to people that come to rotary and giving them the chance to, to act on that, and giving them the support they need. So I’m a member of the colony, guilderland, Rotary Club. And we are based here, just in upstate New York, right outside of Albany. And one of the things that we have done is a program called The Amazing Race to recovery. And it’s based on the TV show of The Amazing Race. And this event started as a response to a former district governor, and his, he urged us all to consider ways that we could get involved with the opioid epidemic in our communities, right. And we thought, well, you know, we can’t really take on drug prevention, we can’t take on, you know, the response to that. But maybe we could move the needle on recovery, and providing support to people that are living in recovery. And so we teamed up with a local, nonprofit organization called second chance opportunities, which helps people who are living in recovery, and helps give them housing and job support and provide social activities for them and peer counseling. And we started holding this race as a way to make make money for this nonprofit. And the event has grown, we held it in person, the first few years. And when COVID happened, we had to shift to in a virtual event. So now we’ve held virtual events. And we actually raise more money in our virtual event than we raised in our in person event. This year, we raised over $16,000, nice for this event. And it came because one of our members came to us after this district speech and said, I have an idea about something we can do. And our club said, yes, let’s take it on. And, you know, I just think she didn’t have to come to us with that. I mean, she did. I’m glad she did. But what if what if the club response have been different? What if instead of saying yes, somebody in the club said, Oh, that’s too much work? Oh, we couldn’t do that. You know, no, but that’s not what we said. We said, Yes, let us help you. And that’s just one thing. We’ve helped other, you know, opportunities within a club, when members have come to us and have said, what about this? And so I think that, you know, if you have a new member, and they come with a new idea, to your club, then find a way. I agree, because nothing will turn them off faster than being told, Oh, well, we haven’t done that before or that’s not the way we do think they’ll either go to find another club who is willing to help them or they’ll leave with a bad taste and bow Rotary. And, you know, that I think is, is what we need to do. We need to engage people that are interested we have to tell our story in ways that connects with our audience. And then make it easy for people to get involved. Find out the bear For years, and then help them overcome the barrier. A little bit of motivational interviewing goes a long way.

Peter Tonge 30:05
That’s absolutely and we’re, we’re currently doing that in our club with the new members actually sitting down with them and saying, you know, you’re here, what is it you want to do? What can we help you do rather than, you know, the angel robbery problem? Oh, you’re interested in books, you can be the head of our literary committee? Well, no.

Denise Dinoto 30:27
Right. And I feel like, as a District, Governor, it’s my job, to help the clubs get what they need to succeed, you know, Rotarians. feel an affiliation with their club, right? Because we’re a club level organization. Yeah. And I feel like my job as district governor is to basically be the biggest cheerleader I can be for my Rotarians and their clubs, and to help them you know, say yes, you know, do to do make it possible for them to achieve things that they couldn’t have imagined before this happened. I mean, we, you know, the theme of next year is going to be imagined rotaries. So let’s, let’s dream big. You know, why not? Because it’s not going to happen if we don’t try. And I go back to my exchange student year, the night before I left to be an exchange student. Doc Benson gave me the best advice I ever received in my life, and I quote it still to this day, the night before I left, he said, Denise, you’re going to have an amazing year, you’re going to have lots of opportunities. Some of them are going to sound amazing, and some of them are going to sound so silly. What ever you are asked to do, whatever opportunity presents itself, say yes. Do it all. You never know if you’re going to get another chance. And, and that’s, that’s kind of how I’ve always tried to live my life. Say yes, do it all. You don’t know if you’re gonna get another chance.

Rotary Ad 31:58
I think that that’s very strong advice. It’s something I tried to do during quite a different year than most expected.

Thanks to your support children box has been able to support almost 200,000 People in 2020. Working in 11 Different countries across 70 different projects. You will help families affected by tropical storms, flooding, growth, earthquakes and conflicts. All these families work to stay safe from the risk of the Coronavirus. This year Shelterbox. Honored Rotary International with the global humanitarian service award in recognition of your outstanding partnership throughout the years. We cannot thank you enough for your support as Rotarians, you are helping to create a world where no family is without shelter after disaster. To learn more about the work of shelter vice Canada, please visit www,shelterboxcanada.org.

Peter Tonge 32:59
But the more you tell me about that exchange here that you received a really good advice during that year. As a young I woman I mean, good advice on

Unknown Speaker 33:12
A lot. Yeah, yeah, I was 16. When I left, I turned 17 and October. Well, while I was there, and and yeah, and it was when I came home, I was ready for the next stage in my life, I was ready to go to college, you know, I was ready for what happened next,

Peter Tonge 33:32
You must have gone off to college with so much more confidence or at least feeling that you had the tools to adapt to whatever you need to do adapt to.

Denise Dinoto 33:41
Oh, yes. And I was ready to, you know, standing up and speaking in front of people wasn’t a problem. You know, I mean, I’ve never been shy anyway. But you know, after giving a ton of presentations during my exchange student year and, and one of the things we did on our mainland tour with all the exchange students. We were hosted by Rotary Clubs during that, that month long tour, and every town where we were hosted, we had to do a presentation, we had to perform a show. So the first thing we did when we got on the bus with everybody is start to write the show that we were going to perform for the next month. And I was the emcee of that show. So, you know, I kind of was the one to kind of keep it all together and, and Vamp during the interludes and introduce the skits that they were going on. And so yeah, giving a presentation was not a problem. You know, that was good. When we you know, had to get up in front of class and, and give a speech. Um, I was good at writing. Because I’d been used to writing, you know, we just have to write letters home. This was before email. So I would write a letter home and it would take 10 days to get home. And then it would be another 10 days before a letter would come back to me. So, I would just write missives. If What I was doing, and where I was going, and you know what we were, I would develop film, remember developing film, taking it to the shop and getting actual pictures. And then I would write on the back of every picture, who was in it and what we were doing. Because somebody said, You’ve got to think that you remember this, but 30 years from now, you won’t remember this. So you have to document as soon as you get the pictures back what was in them? So I can tell you what’s in all of my pictures from that year, because I did that.

Peter Tonge 35:31
So do you and your family still have those letters and pictures and things?

Denise Dinoto 35:36
Yes, I still have quite a few of them. I don’t keep a lot of things. But I still have those. I have three photo albums of photos from Australia. Yeah, I have many thing I have things from Australia in almost every room of my house. Yeah, I have an Australian flag in my cubicle at work. So you can find which one is mine? In the cube farm? Yeah.

Peter Tonge 36:00
What a great treasure chest those photo.

Denise Dinoto 36:04
Oh, it was my year for life. Yes. You know, a year of my life. Yeah. Amazing. You know, I get asked quite frequently. You know, as a person with a disability, how do you want to be approached? And you know, people ask me that often, you know, they see me and they don’t know whether or not they should offer help. If I’m out somewhere, you know, or what, and I say, Hello, works, you know, like a smile and a hello, works. If, if you want to reach out to me and say something, I’m a happy go lucky person, I’ll smile back. I’ll say hello. You know, I’m the type of person that makes friends when I’m standing in the line at the coffee shop, you know, with the person around me. So I’m not shy. I definitely say if you think that I need help, and you’re approaching me thinking that you’re going to help me, it is always best to ask first, before you just approach me and start helping, because chances are, you’re not helping me if you do that. Making it more difficult. But I never mind if somebody asks me if I need help.

Peter Tonge 37:17
And you and I share that. That’s my rule. I very happy if somebody asked if somebody jumps in and starts grabbing me, that’s quite the different issue.

Denise Dinoto 37:30
I never mind. Like it never bothers me. If children come up to me and ask me questions. What bothers me is when parents try to get their children to be quiet, and walk away, like it’s shameful that

Peter Tonge 37:43
I agree is interesting, because I had that conversation with friends via social media the other day, because I had posted something about, you know, silly questions that people ask about disabilities, and a couple of my friends and have small kids came back and said, but I feel bad because my kids asked 1000 questions. Is that okay? And they said, No, that’s absolutely okay. My post was referring to adults,

Denise Dinoto 38:12

Peter Tonge 38:13
No, I love talking to kids, you know, ask you all the standard questions about you know, does it hurt? And how do you go to the bathroom?

Do you sleep in your chair?

Denise Dinoto 38:24

Drive? Do you sleep in your chair? Yeah. I love those questions from children. I love those questions from children. Appreciate are the intrusive medical questions from adults who think they had the right to ask me about my personal medical history.

Peter Tonge 38:41
Again, I agree with you. I agree with you. 100%. But it’s interesting that I had that that conversation with a number of parents as well, good. And I said, No, encourage your kids to ask questions and, and do all that, because that’s how they learn. And they’re only curious, they only want to know.

Unknown Speaker 39:00
Right. And if I don’t have time, you know, I’ll say that I that I maybe don’t have time, because sometimes, sometimes you just need to get a loaf of bread, right? Like, sometimes you don’t have time to be the world’s educator. And sometimes you’re just running in to get a loaf of bread. But I’m much more lenient with children than I am with adults.

Peter Tonge 39:20
Absolutely. Denise, based on that, that’s great. I’m glad we were able to share that. So the one and only standard question we have in the pipe guys is you’ve been involved in rotary since you were 16 years old or before. Why Rotary? Why do you keep coming back? You could be doing this for a lot of organizations.

Denise Dinoto 39:42
I choose rotary because of what Rotary has done for me. So, you know, when I think about the opportunities I’ve had the chances that were given to me. It’s a lot of it comes back To Rotary. And so, therefore, I choose to give back. Because I know what I’ve gained from it will always be more than what I’m able to give back to the organization.

Rotary Ad 40:12
Yeah, great. Denise, I really appreciate this conversation. Have a great time in Houston. Hey, Jessica will be a great deal of fun.

Denise Dinoto 40:21
I’m looking forward to it. You know, it’s Have you ever been to an international convention?

Peter Tonge 40:26
I have not. I expect I will go to the one in my Governor year, wherever that ends up being? Yes. But I haven’t been to one. I shouldn’t say that. I’ve been to the couple that were done virtually. And I was very pleased that there were some virtual components because I was able to do it then. But I’ve never I’ve never been to one physically, it should tell you that

Denise Dinoto 40:48
it’s such a positive event. I was at the one in Toronto a few years ago, right. I’m looking forward to this one. And it will just be you know, being around that much positive energy, like minded people that are interested in doing good in the world. It’s really good for my mental health and, you know, for getting me excited about the upcoming year.

Rotary Ad 41:16
Thank you so much. It’s been a great pleasure.

Denise Dinoto 41:19
Thank you, Peter. I appreciate the invitation.

Mandy Kwasnica 41:48
Thank you so much for joining us on another great episode of talking Rotary. We would love to hear from you. Please send us your comments and story ideas and you can share with us easily by sending us an email at feedback at talking rotary.org Let’s keep Talking Rotary.

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