Community Spirit

The Chin center’s president, Peter Thawnghmung, is a member of the Southport International club, as is one of his brothers, John Thawnghmung. Ruth Olson, who heads an adult basic education program whose students are predominantly Chin, is also in the club. You’ll often find Lake and Lee either volunteering at the CCI office or eating at Chin Brothers, which is renowned for dishes such as sabuti, a corn and meat soup. Lee, known among locals by his honorary name of Pek Thang, also raves about the goat curry.

“How cool is it?” enthuses Hre. “We plan together, we help each other. It’s a better community because of Rotary.”

The club was meant to be international from the start, says Olson, a first-time Rotarian and the current president, adding: “That sounded right up my alley.” The Thawnghmung brothers, who came to Michigan from Myanmar as children in 1980, felt a similar tug. “I thought I could be a good bridge between communities,” John says.

The club’s can-do spirit was noted by Shumate when he bestowed on it one of District 6560’s Club of the Year awards for 2020-21. Even though the new club had to find its footing during a global pandemic, the Rotarians got things done. They distributed tons of food to low-income households on the south side of Indianapolis, with the supplies donated from local food banks and pantries, including Indy’s Community Food Co Op, as well as from the temporary Farmers to Families food box program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“We plan together, we help each other. It’s a better community because of Rotary.”

“There are some areas in the Chin community that are in need,” says Amy Lee, a club member and Tim Lee’s wife. The club finds ways to deliver: In late 2020, it teamed with a local barbecue restaurant to raise $1,200 for several families who had been displaced by an apartment fire. A handful of members faithfully contribute to the club’s coffers through a program at Lucas Oil Stadium that pays community groups whose members help run concession stands during concerts and professional football games.

Southport International members also raise funds by holding 50/50 raffles at club meetings, a routine source of spirited fun, as when some participants are asked to perform a quick dance before drawing a playing card from the deck. “We have great attitudes, a lot of laughter. We always have lots of fun,” says Olson.

That laid-back vibe, along with the evening meeting time, is what drew Ben Johnson from his former club. “There’s no self-aggrandizing,” he says, “no self-importance.”

As the club seeks continued participation from the Chin community, John Thawnghmung says he is seeing members’ mentality shift to that of benefactors who enjoy taking part in service.

Amy Lee notes that when the club started, many Chin people wondered why they needed Rotary in their community when they already took care of their own. “Now,” she says, “they are seeing the bigger picture of Rotary.”