Cindy Duffy became a Rotarian without any preconceptions.
She’d never heard of the stereotype of the Rotary being a rich man’s social club. She just wanted a group to volunteer with and plug her in to the community.
The 42-year-old San Ramon resident already divided her time between her real estate business, volunteering at her kids’ schools and fund-raising to help build a school in Afghanistan.
A year later – this summer – the 80-member chapter appointed her president. She’s about to get married (this August!) and a little overwhelmed, but excited about the chance to lead the group in its second year.
“It’s an honor,” she said. “And when opportunity comes, you have to take it. It doesn’t always come at the easiest time but it pays off. And God doesn't give you anything you can't handle."
Bill Clarkson, the first-year president of the club, said he looks forward to seeing Duffy's leadership skills in action.
"She will do an absolutely fantastic job," said Clarkson, a fellow Realtor. "She has all of the skill sets to be extremely successful. She’s a great fit for our club."
Always a go-getter
“I was always looking for ways to get involved,” she said. "I've always just been the type to go ahead and do things. It's just who I am."
It's a strategic mindset she held even as a kid.
When Duffy was 13, on a whale-watching trip with her family on the East Coast, she decided what to be when she grew up. She wanted to work with whales and dolphins, "some way, somehow," she said.
The Wisconsin native spent her ensuing high school and college career figuring out how to do that. In her early 20s, she got an internship that took her from the University of Minnesota to the University of Hawaii and allowed her to work with dolphin psychologists at the world-renowned Dolphin Institute.
By the age of 22, she'd fulfilled her childhood dream.
Duffy left Hawaii for Discovery Bay soon after. She was pregnant and ready to settle down with her then-husband.
A few years later, circumstances pushed her into the workforce, first waitressing, then into real estate. By the late-1990s/early 2000s, she had two more children and became a Realtor through Prudential. (She now works for Sotheby's Realty.)
Duffy eventually moved to San Ramon to raise her three daughters (one of them is now out of high school). As a working parent, Duffy had her hands full. Sometimes, the going got tough, but it gave her perspective she wouldn't trade for anything in the world, she said.
"Sometimes when you've been through things, it makes you want to give back," she said.
So in the past several years, Duffy always looked for ways to do that. Her biggest contribution was a charity event she organized to raise money for a school in Afghanistan. That was in 2005.
"We raised money for books and scholarships," she said. "I was really proud of the community for stepping up."
Through that effort, she met people who eventually got her involved in Rotary.
Also around that time, Duffy fell in love. Her fiance is anotherbusy professsional. And once they marry this summer, they'll have eight (mostly grown-up) kids between them.
It's another big change in life, but nothing that Duffy's stressing about.
"It's been 11 years," she said. "We've really taken our time."
A busy year ahead
Having a stable relationship and most of her child-rearing years behind her is a good foundation on which to kick off her year at the helm of a very active Rotary club.
Duffy’s a fitting leader for the chapter, which consists of an even mix of men and women and a folks from a wide range of ethnic and professional backgrounds.
Duffy says hers is one of the most diverse Rotary clubs in the region – and one of the fastest-growing. Many of its members were like her coming in: Having no idea what Rotary was all about, just that it’s a service club and a good way to connect with movers and shakers in the community.
That open-mindedness contributed to the club's rapid growth. So did the membership fees, which are only a fraction of the cost of the average Rotary chapter.
“We’re a very tight-knit group,” she said. “We all help each other when there’s a need.”
The young club has also made itself a big presence in San Ramon, both in the civic and school communities, helping out wherever there’s a need.
It sent volunteers to staff the annual Art & Wind Festival in May – the biggest event in town. It raises money for veterans group , which helps wounded ex-soldiers adjust back to civilian life.
The club fund-raises for local schools, offered up volunteers for the earlier this year and coordinated the program that brought a Chinese delegation to the Art & Wind event in May.
And many Rotarians in Duffy's group are trained members of the .
Duffy plans to keep up those efforts during her year as president.
"I think if we could just keep on doing what we're doing, it's going to be a good year," she said.