Our speaker on November 20 at Lincoln South Rotary Club was Gretchen, Rotary District 5650 Chair for Polio Plus.
Gretchen was the speaker for an online presentation on World Polio Day. The event included five countries. Besides the United States, there were Rotarians from Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Turkey online.
While talking about Polio and Rotary she said that there are three important things to remember
  • Be Available
  • Be Involved
  • Be Thankful
Gretchen is currently the Chair of the Polio Survivors Rotary Action Group. You do not need to be a Polio survivor to be a member - Gretchen is not a Polio Survivor. You just need to be available to help.
Rotary Action Groups are independent, Rotary-affiliated groups made up of people from around the world who are experts in a particular field such as economic development, peace, addiction prevention, the environment or water. Action groups offer their technical expertise and support to help clubs plan and implement projects to increase our impact, one of Rotary's strategic priorities. This support includes helping clubs find partners, finding and other resources. Action groups can also help clubs and districts prepare grant applications, conduct community assessments, and develop plans to monitor and evaluate their projects.
The Polio Survivors Rotary Action Group is the living legacy of the Rotary Polio-Plus polio eradication program through humanitarian assistance to polio survivors of the world. This Action Group operates in accordance with Rotary International policy, but is not controlled by Rotary.
How did Gretchen become chair? It started when she offered to work on their website. Gretchen's vocation is technology - she said she is a computer nerd. She wanted to develop more website skills. This gave her an opportunity to help a cause she believed in and support her nerdiness.
As she continued to work with the Action Group she was asked to be the Chair. When she asked why they were asking her they responded - because you always answer your emails. Be Available.
The work of the action group is important to polio survivors. They care about people that got missed with the vaccines. It is obvious that some people are polio survivors because of the physical impacts. However there are others that have no physical indications but suffer from post-polio syndrome such as difficulty swallowing.
Gretchen told the story of visiting a shop in Nigeria where they make tricycle wheelchairs for polio survivors. They make them out of bicycle parts because they are sturdier and easier to repair. As they looked around the shop they realized that they were doing amazing things with very old, out-dated equipment. Through the Polio Survivors Action Group they were able to connect clubs together, work on a grant, and provide new equipment for the shop. 
Gretchen said they first learned about the shop while attending an event where they were presenting wheelchairs to polio survivors. Gretchen had purchased a wheelchair in memory of her mother. She was able to select a young man to receive the wheelchair. As she looked into the eyes of one young man she saw a young man who could have done so much more had he not been affected by polio, she was able to see a brighter future for him because of the wheelchair. See more at https://www.wheelsofhope.net/.
The wheelchairs provide some independence to the polio survivors. Most of their life has been spent sitting on the ground, crawling, moving around using their arms because they don't have the use of their legs. They don't often have a chance to look into the eyes of others. The wheelchairs get them off the ground.
Be Involved.
Gretchen has been able to participate in 13 National Immunization Days (NID). She wanted to be part of a group that eradicated a disease from the planet. Gretchen has participated in NIDs in Nigeria, Chad, Mali, Madagascar, India and Pakistan. It was during one of these trips that they learned of the shop making wheelchairs.
She has been able to experience the full impact of immunizations. The cold chain which is used to store and transport the vaccines, how children are counted, which children are vaccinated and which are not, how to deal with refusals, and hear how leaders are dealing with the changes in cases. 
Gretchen did not share statistics or number of cases. Though these are important to know where we are with eradication. However, in the end it is not about numbers - it is about the people.
She shared that one of the most important things that they do on these trips is thank the volunteers, thank the parents who allow their children to be immunized, and the workers who are constantly analyzing the status of Polio cases and immunizations.
Be Thankful.
If you want statistics, there are a number of websites dedicated. One such site:
To view information about the newest vaccine:
Gretchen Bren is very involved in Rotary: a member and Club President of Omaha Night Rotary, District 5650 Polio Plus chair, District Co-Trainer and a co‐facilitator at the Zone Institutes for District Trainers. She has been on previous polio immunization trips to Nigeria, India, Mali, Chad, Madagascar, and Pakistan.  She is currently the chair for the Polio Survivors Rotary Action Group (www.rotarypoliosurvivors.org). In 2012, Gretchen received the Citation for Meritorious Service and in 2014 received the International Service Award for a Polio‐Free World from the Trustees of the Rotary Foundation. In 2019, she received the Cadwallader Award from her District, which recognized monumental contributions in one or more of the Avenues of Rotary Service. 
Gretchen currently works for Turner Technology doing training and project management. She is also a Microsoft Certified Application Specialist Master Instructor and Microsoft Certified Professional. Since 1989, she has been married to Gary Bren who is past District 5650 Governor (2016‐2017) and also a very active Rotarian. Both are also active in Rotary Leadership Institute and RI Visioning as facilitators, and are multiple Paul Harris Fellows and major donors to the Foundation.  In 2019, Gretchen and Gary adopted twin kittens from the Humane Society – Artemis and Athena.