My induction into the Daybreak Rotary Club had followed dignified protocol — mostly.
President-elect Jim Chancey introduced me first. Then, District Governor George Robertson-Burnett had ceremoniously read the induction speech. A shiny pin was placed on my lapel. I was almost officially part of Rotary.
But first, I had one more task.
President George Banning came at me with a furry object in his hand. I knew it well. Out of all the weeks I’ve covered the Rotary meetings, I had heard of this initiation tradition.
New recruits were required to carry around a stuffed monkey for a week. The brown fuzzy animal was named after Banning, and curiously not after Curious George.
Banning had introduced the monkey as a way to expose others to Rotary and also as a way for new members to tell about their lives to other members in a unique way.
Before I knew it, the monkey was shoved into my hands. The flash of an iPad captured Chancey and me with the monkey, in front of the royal blue Rotary banner.
That was just the beginning of seven days of photo shoots with the primate.
My face felt hot. I was excited to show the club what my days are like. But, I was also mortified at the thought of carrying around this gigantic toy. I had a mental image of its fat head sticking out of my purse as I tried to ask Mayor Mary Mathis important questions about a controversial topic.
I got in my car, laughing as I buckled in my new companion. I took some video. Then, off to the office we went.
It was there that Plant City Times & Observer Assistant Managing Editor Jess Eng called the monkey my intern. It caught on immediately.
The intern went everywhere with me. He helped me make pasta for the Relay for Life committee meeting, saw the excitement at Freedomfest and even rode in a golf cart for the Optimist Club/Recreation and Parks Department’s charity tournament.
But, the job isn’t all fun and games. Sometimes, it takes a somber route, one that requires the utmost sensitivity and respect. He listened to several heartbreaking stories during interviews about sick children, struggling families and the life of an honorable U.S. Army veteran.
And, of course, he saw that there were thousands of words typed every day to create the stories that fill the pages of my beloved hometown newspaper.
Overall, the intern was enthralled by the continuous stream of conversation but also exhausted.
And, I found I wasn’t as embarrassed to carry him around as I thought. No matter where I went, Plant City folks welcomed the intern with open arms and, of course, a slight chuckle. No one judged, but everyone was curious. That’s the point of the intern, after all.
I couldn’t help but see that the exercise draws parallels to how I’ve been received in this tight-knit community. I was an outsider. But, I’ve been welcomed whole-heartedly. In just a year of living here, I have been asked to participate in Dancing with the Locals, serve on the Relay for Life committee and was recruited to the Daybreak Rotary Club.
I can’t help but feel at home — all thanks to the readers and sweet people of Plant City.