The Rotary Friendship Exchange (RFE) from District 6250 traveled to the Philippines from May 16th to the 24th. Ten travelers, including eight members from various Rotary clubs in Wisconsin, participated in this life changing experience.

Members include Assistant Governor and RFE Team Leader Aaron Frank of Rotary Club of Madison South and spouse Rotarian Dawn Frank of Rotary Club of Madison-After Hours, incoming president of Rotary Club of La Crosse-After Hours Stefanie Kline, incoming president Mark Jolivette of Rotary Club of La Crosse-Downtown with spouse Sharon Jolivette, Elizabeth Naughton of Rotary Club of Lake Mills, Brent Van Gysel of Rotary Club of Columbus-Fall River with brother-in-law Craig Kolasinski, Jim Van de Bogard of Rotary Club of Beloit, and Cathy Statz of Rotary Club of Changemakers.

(The photo captures the entire RFE Team Philippines enjoying breakfast on the stunning island of Boracay in Malay, Aklan, Philippines.)

The first city the group visited was Bacolod, which is known as the City of Smiles--and for good reason. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming and treated the group like royalty with a large banner, necklaces from their “Maskarra Festival” and an eagerness to introduce the visitors to their city and club.

District 3850 Governor Mate Espina hosted a dinner for the group at her home. It was a relaxing and fun evening for the Rotary members of Bacolod and the Rotarians from D6250 to get acquainted.

Members shared their RFE highlights and are eager to speak about their experiences to local clubs throughout the next Rotary year. Here is what fellow D6250 RFE members said about the experience in the Philippines:

“I was truly touched when we visited the cacao plantation at St. John Bosco. Rotary and the local Indigenous people are working together to cultivate precious white cacao trees, which are rare--their beans produce delicious chocolate, which is described as the “Lamborghini” of chocolates. Since the country is essentially a monocrop culture dependent on sugar cane, producers are trying to diversify and not only grow the cacao pods, but also to produce award winning chocolate for sale. They are changing lives by teaching the farmers a new way to provide for their families,” said Rotarian Beth Naughton, member of Rotary of Lake Mills. (Below photo is Beth planting Cacao Tree in her name and her club, too)

The group had a gathering with 8 local clubs at the mountaintop retreat of Manggapuri Villas. The setting was beautiful for all to share a little about each other’s clubs and the projects we are working on. Some wonderful fellowship and networking occurred here and the scenery was beautiful. 

The RFE group traveled to Kalibo for the second part of their friendship exchange and were greeted with welcoming hosts. It was a great experience to live in a fellow Rotarian home and see the city or sights that they wanted to showcase to the Wisconsin group.

“I really enjoyed staying with Jojo and Cecilia Menez, along with Beth Naughton and Mark and Sharon Jolivette. We had a wonderful time with them--eating lots of fresh mangos, having coffee in the morning, hanging out in the living room talking, and enjoying being somewhere new for a few days,” said Stefanie Kline, Rotary of La Crosse-After Hours. “Our time was special because we formed a little family for the trip--Beth and I--being the ”daughters” to Mark and Sharon, and enjoying the special bond that we now all have together. Meeting the other RFE members and knowing that I will have them as lifelong friends really made this trip special."

The Rotary Club of Kalibo helped the RFE members learn more about the club projects they were working on including the Aeta village and Global Grant #1638914 Water Project that D6250 clubs of Fort Atkinson, Stoughton, Lake Mills, Jefferson, and Watertown worked on in the year 2017. It was the outcome of the initial RFE under the leadership of former Governor Edwin Bos. 

Rotarian Brent and his brother-in-law Craig attended the RFE and enjoyed staying with their host family who took them around the city to golf, shop and eat local food. “My favorite part of the RFE was the immersion into the culture. By being paired with the local family we were able to see some of the Philippine culture from a different perspective than a tourist,” said Craig.

Brent enjoyed the two projects that the group got to experience: visiting the water project and feeding children in the Aeta village. “We enjoyed the fellowship with local Rotarians and Rotarians from another country joining forces to work together on projects for the future, seeing projects that have been accomplished, and carrying out ongoing projects,” stated Brent. “Seeing the water project and how it is being used is awesome.”

RFE members also went to the Kalibo club meeting which held a special gathering for the group which included local food, fresh fruit, beverages, and even karaoke at the end of the meeting. The Wisconsin group tried their best at singing “Sweet Caroline” and the popular refrain would ring out at random points throughout the trip.

“When we got to attend the Kalibo club meeting, I was in awe of the many service projects and dedication that their club does each year. They had a clubhouse, a whole wall full of plaques, recognitions, and service awards; they had colorful theme shirts, sang the Rotary Hymn, sang songs during the meeting--and treated all of us like their own members,” said Stefanie Kline, Rotary of La Crosse-After Hours. “I was shocked by all the wonderful things they are doing in their city and it made me want to do even more with (my) club in La Crosse."

The Wisconsin RFE group concluded their time in the Philippines with a few days of leisure and unwinding on Boracay Island, renowned as one of the finest beaches globally. The resort was close to the beach, shopping, restaurants, and magnificent sunsets. 


“I fell in love with The Philippines,” stated Beth Naughton of Lake Mills. “Thank you so much to the many, many people who contributed in a myriad of ways to making our RFE a huge success. We are looking forward to some of our new friends visiting us in Wisconsin this fall."

The Philippines group will travel to Wisconsin in mid September to experience the culture, history, and fun that Wisconsin has to offer. Lifelong friendships among the District 6250 RFE group and the Philippine club Rotarians will be forever and the experience is something to remember by all.

“If you haven’t ever been on a RFE, go! Do it, and witness for yourself the power of Rotary all over the world, to see how other Rotarians serve their community, and to experience the special bond you will form,” stated Stefanie Kline. “I am forever thankful to have attended and I plan to let everyone know what a great and rewarding experience the RFE program is.”

Cathy Statz encapsulated everything in this context: "This RFE was such a fantastic reminder of the magic of Rotary in action! The hospitality and friendship we experienced, the meals and snacks we enjoyed, the sights and landscapes we admired, and the projects and causes by which we were inspired--and humbled: all of these are now permanently woven into a rich tapestry that stretches from Wisconsin to the Philippines, and which will be strengthened and deepened when our Rotary fellows from the Philippines arrive in District 6250 for their own RFE adventure here. What a gift this program is: for us, and for the world!"

We can still hear Stefanie singing, “Good times never seemed so good, so good!”


Visit the RFE Philippines gallery here


(RFE Team leader Aaron Frank presented the hosts in Bacolod and Kalibo with a special historical Paul Harris gavel. This unique gavel was crafted from an oak tree planted in the Madison, Wisconsin Arboretum, using a branch that fell during a storm.)





Author: Stefanie Kline, RY 2024-2025 President, Rotary Club of La Crosse-After Hours