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Lawyers give back through Rotary, community service clubs

Article originally published on July 22, 2016 by Advocate Daily.

Service clubs such as Rotary provide a uniquely effective way for lawyers to give back to their community, says Toronto criminal lawyer Aaron Harnett. 

“It is a great way for busy professionals like lawyers to contribute because the Rotary model is clever and extremely efficient in the use of a member’s time to deliver social good,” he tells

“When we set about solving a problem, the members are well-adapted to quickly identify the problem, obtain the money and get it into the right hands in the fastest, most efficient way possible. Members don’t waste time having meetings or spinning their wheels.

“It’s a very roll-up-your sleeves way of getting things done. As a result, busy professionals have a tremendous sense of accomplishment in a short period of time.”

Harnett, a member of the Toronto East Rotary Club since 2009 and past president of the organization, says it’s important to note that 100 per cent of the money the service club raises goes toward the causes it supports.

“Our dues to become a Rotarian pick up the administration costs for the organization so that when people make donations to our club, those donations all go toward a project,” he says. “We do many projects for people who are mentally ill, homeless, as well as for aging veterans support and literacy issues.”

Harnett says many of these issues relate directly to a criminal lawyer’s work as they deal with the root causes of why someone would become involved in the justice system. 

“As a lawyer, I am always dealing with the symptoms of the root causes so my work with Rotary goes hand in hand with my philosophy about why I do what I do,” he says. 

Harnett says lawyers often have their fingers on the pulse of the issues that need to be addressed.

In addition to the community service aspect of Rotary, the club provides networking opportunities for members, he says.

Rotary is an international service organization with a human rights purpose to bring together business and professional leaders as a means to provide humanitarian services. There are about 35,000 Rotary clubs worldwide with 1.2 million members.

Rotary has gone a long way toward eradicating polio worldwide with its members helping immunize more than 2.5 billion children against the disease in 122 countries, says its website.

Harnett says the Toronto East club raises about $55,000 per year through three main fundraisers: a golf tournament, ribfest and craft fair, which is held just before Christmas.

His club just completed a fundraising project for Toronto North Mental Health Services, which places homeless people into housing. Rotary provided basic kitchen supplies so that people who were homeless and just moved into a new apartment got what they needed.”

“Over two weeks, our members did a massive drive and we got dozens and dozens of boxes filled with useful, good-quality kitchen supplies to equip the new units,” he says. 

Harnett’s club also supports scholarships for students heading off to post-secondary education.

“Unlike most scholarships that are based on academic achievement, ours focuses on young people who have demonstrated a commitment to community service during their high school careers,” he says. “The students who are applying for our scholarship have typically done as much as 500 hours of community service. They might have even started an organization addressing a social ill in their community.” 

Harnett says the program supports students who are attending community college and trade schools, as well as those attending university.

“We just awarded our five scholarships and the students are wonderfully inspiring,” he says. “Some are newcomers to Canada and they have only been in the country for three or four years and they have already established they are here to help other newcomers or addressing a social issue.”

Harnett says these youths embody the motto of Rotary, which is “service above self.

“If you are interested in visiting a Rotary Club in your area, use the tool at

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