He wore his Rotary pin on News 12
Pictures of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and a Norman Rockwell print of a voter are among the memorabilia in Mike Dawidziak’s Sayville office, but it’s the striking photos of recent history marching across a corner wall and table surfaces that grab you. There’s George H.W. Bush with Dawidziak’s beardless younger self in 1988; then Ronald Reagan from his time in the nation’s capital and other personal moments when he worked on Bush’s late-1980s presidential campaign, then again on his re-election in 1992; Bob Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996 as well as for three candidates in 2000, including the late war hero, Sen. John McCain.
Talk about heady times.
Dawidziak has since switched his high-profile client hat to head up Strategic Planning Systems Inc. as founder and president. These days, Dawidziak is a nationally known pollster, general consultant and political strategist who’s tapped by the media regularly for political opinions.
But he’s also the new Sayville Rotary president. And a Rotary pin was evident on his lapel when he was recently interviewed by News 12 for his take on the Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon debate at Hofstra University. (A screenshot was on his desktop.)
Dawidziak won’t buttonhole you about the value of community service, but he’ll talk to you about Rotary in a quick speech if asked about the pin’s meaning—that it represents a service club with camaraderie that performs community acts via active volunteerism and donations.
(Trust us. The Rotary luncheons at Land’s End are rife with humorous jabs along with the `how are you, hon.’)
But how do you make the life jump from rubbing elbows with presidential powerhouses and great men like McCain, to immersing yourself in good works that include a service club?
(Did we mention he even takes his dog Gracie to work? He does. What a schmoozer.)
“I was a founding board member of Splashes of Hope (a nonprofit charity that transforms health care facilities and hospitals with murals) in 1996, but didn’t devote myself to a life of service until 2003 when I was diagnosed with cancer,” he said frankly. “I didn’t want it to define me, but you can’t help the fact that it’s a checkpoint. What I discovered is that I hadn’t accomplished enough good. I had a great, exciting and good life with a great wife, children and grandchildren. I’m also a very strong faith-based person, but I hadn’t done enough.”
Dawidziak is a major participant at Our Lady of the Snow R.C. Church in Blue Point. So, while no bargaining was made with the heavens, he made a promise.
“If I had more time I would devote it to good works,” he said. “And it’s become one of the major forces of my life.”
That includes founding the Rollstone Foundation with his wife, attorney and former Islip Town councilwoman Pam Greene, in 2008. “We’ve helped adopt 317 special needs orphans from all over the world,” he said.
As newly installed president in June, Dawidziak has a list of goals “We’ll be much more involved visibly with community efforts like cleanup projects,” he said. “I would like to also accomplish a major international project. You have to partner with a Rotary Club in an international country. I reached out to the Accra Rotary in Ghana and asked what their needs were.” Their president was looking for a club to help expand, equip and train people for a neonatal ICU unit.
“They treat 120 babies a day there but are equipped for 50,” Dawidziak said. “The president’s child had in fact died in the current unit and her doctor didn’t even know it.”
So Dawidziak is committed to raising more than $5,000 from the club and then linking amounts with several others. “Patchogue Rotary has committed to $5,000, Port Jefferson and Smithtown also and I’m just getting started,” he said.
After the project meets certain criteria, such as helping the local economy and the program’s sustainability, Rotary International will match the amount raised. “It can grow to $300,000 and that can go a long way,” he said.
“People ask, ‘why should we care about these countries?’” he added. “European colonization didn’t help the native people living there,” he explained. “They raped areas, took their resources, threw together indigenous tribes and said, ‘you’re a country now,’ and left. So they didn’t create the conditions they’re in. What was done in Africa was a crime.”
Situations that need help are kind of a magnet for him. That includes the funny exchange with Studio 24 owner Lou Wiese, who popped in to relive the combined rescue service efforts of a kitten that received Facebook fame last Friday when the feline was stuck under a customer’s hood in the nearby parking lot. Dawidziak searched with a flashlight. Wiese and others pitched in.
In came Sean Weis, Sayville Rotary’s new district governor of 70 clubs and the marketing sales supervisor for People’s United Bank covering East Islip to Center Moriches. A major Rotary Foundation contributor, Weis has also been known to give up his Starbucks fix for a year to donate to greater causes that fund necessary projects like water and sanitation projects. One of his most important involvements was “sponsoring two Cambodian girls, one in high school, one in eighth grade to help further their home and school life,” he said. But Weis’s good acts probably can’t be tallied; he’s known to downplay everything.
Both men live in Bayport.
Dawidziak will tell you he’s not a club joiner and calls himself a baby Rotarian, only six years. He credits his wife as the impetus. (“Pam actively looks to help people; she’s a cut above,” he said admiringly.) They had hosted Gift of Life children and their families in their home for a month in 2005 and 2006, while the children received heart surgeries and healed at Stony Brook University Hospital.
But he also remembers the Sayville Rotary Beefsteak in 2003 when he first attended the feel-good night held annually in August at the Long Island Maritime Museum. The place was mobbed when, uh oh, the lights went out. It was the Northeast blackout and the Kiwanians saved the day by supplying generators quickly so the event could continue.
Nearly 400 patrons came this year, Dawidziak said; the event netted $22,000 which will be distributed to a number of groups including General Needs, which helps house, clothe and feed homeless vets. “We do that on Veterans Day, and local charities like [Rotary-owned camp for physically challenged children] Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck, and this month there’s a Pal-O-Mine [a therapeutic program utilizing horses that helps children and adults with disabilities and others heal] event. Also, HALO Missions [an international nonprofit charity created to provide medical care and educational assistance to orphans in developing countries]. We were in Zambia just last year.”
Also, the Sayville Food Pantry. The annual free Pet Parade is a hoot.
You don’t have to start a foundation or a nonprofit, just pitch in and volunteer, he said, either with Rotary or another group. Dawidziak printed out a roster of sayings, religious and otherwise, from Lech Walesa, Mahatma Gandhi, Buddha, the Quran, Jesus, Albert Schweitzer and Martin Luther King Jr.
He pointed to them. “They all say service is an important part of life.”
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