Washington, D.C..March 18, 2003.........Halyna Shelemekh was devastated
when she learned that her 1-year-old daughter, Olha, had been born with a
hole in her heart. Realizing that the best treatment was not available in
their native Ukraine, Shelemekh appealed to the Gift of Life program, which
helps children with congenital heart problems receive surgery in the United
After Olha was approved as a viable and deserving candidate for cardiac
surgery, mother and daughter faced another dilemma: how to reach Chicago,
where the life-saving surgery would be performed, Jessica M.Curry wrote in
a feature story for the February 2003 issue of The Rotarian magazine.
From left: Robert Mintz, Halyna Shelemekh and daughter Olha, RI President-elect Jonathan Majiyagbe
Rotary International's Rotary Miles program bridged the oceanic and monetary
gap for the family, providing free tickets through United Airline's Mileage
Plus program. Karen Lavin, a member of the Rotary Club of McHenry, Ill.,
USA, and chairwoman of the Gift of Life joint committee for Districts 6440
and 6450, solicited donations of miles within her districts.
Olha's surgery was a success, and she is now back in Ukraine with her
family. Meanwhile, Lavin and fellow Rotarians continue to work to bring more
children to the United States for heart surgery. A boy from Honduras will be
the sixth child this year whom the group has helped through the Rotary Miles
program. Lavin urges everyone to donate.
"I got a huge response both in and out of the districts," says Lavin, who
appealed to Rotarians in district newsletters and visited clubs to
distribute donation forms. "Someone even called from California to donate
his miles. He had heard about the program from his Rotarian brother."
Robert Mintz, RI Travel Services manager, started Rotary Miles in 1998 as a
way for both Rotarians and non-Rotarians to give to the organization.
Through United Airline's Charity Miles program, people can donate 1,000 or
more of their Mileage Plus miles for use in the Rotary Volunteers program.
For example, Rotaplast Inter-national uses the miles to fly doctors around
the world to perform cleft palate surgeries.
An alternative to donating miles directly to RI is gathering miles with-in a
club or district, as Lavin did, and earmarking them for a project. RI
coordinates these efforts and arranges for the tickets. Clubs have used this
option for a variety of causes, including flying Rotarians from abroad to
the United States for conferences. Although more than a million miles have
been donated by hundreds of Rotarians, most Rotarians, according to Mintz,
still don't know about the program.
"There has been a steady growth of the Rotary Miles program, but it has been
mostly through word of mouth," says Mintz, a member of the Rotary Club of
Long Grove, Ill. "The people aware of the program keep donating. We have
received large donations from Rotary senior leaders after their years of
service." "We can always use more miles," she says.