Small-Town Values Drive Generous Spirit

By Hawken Miller
Hawken Miller
Hawken Miller
July 3, 2021 Updated: July 13, 2021

Ross Minion is bringing the community-oriented, service-first values of his Midwestern hometown to the city of Newport Beach, California.

The Elliott, Illinois, native is doing so through his involvement in the Sunrise Rotary club and its affiliated foundation.

Minion is in his fourth year as president of the 28-member club, through which he helps local charities find funding streams and runs youth safety projects. He hauls a Rotary book wagon around Newport Beach, serving as a portable children’s library.

Lending a helping hand comes naturally for Minion, who said growing up in a town of around 300 people taught him from a young age the value of loving his neighbor.

“People just help each other,” said Minion, who moved to Newport Beach in 1995. “One of the biggest challenges I had moving out here, culturally, is when people say, ‘It’s nice to meet you, let’s have lunch.’ That doesn’t mean anything.

“In the Midwest, that means it’s nice to meet you and we’ll have lunch. Here, you’re probably never gonna hear from that person again, ever.”

Minion, 49, previously worked in sales and marketing in the consumer technology industry during the booming era of personal computing. When he was elected to the board of his homeowners’ association (HOA) in Newport Terrace, his professional trajectory changed and his knack for helping others emerged.

He said he had assumed that the HOA had a plan for maintenance and renovation for the condominium he purchased in 2005, which was showing signs of age, having been built in the 1970s.

Minion said he realized that wasn’t the case and that $7.3 million was needed to fund improvements. He secured an $8 million construction loan, commissioned an architect and landscape and lighting director to create a plan, and broke ground during the fall of 2012, completing the project 30 months later.

Support for Nonprofits

The project made an impression on a member of the HOA’s renovation committee, who invited him to join the Newport Beach Sunrise Rotary Club.

“It was very refreshing to be in a room filled with men and women where everyone was just there because they wanted to be and they wanted to help,” Minion said. “No one postured to show how great they were, which, in California, is kind of a big deal.”

Members from the Rotary Club contribute funding to the Sunrise Rotary Foundation, which provides assistance to local nonprofits that are trying to grow. Minion is the driving force behind those efforts.

The foundation also connects nonprofit organizations with donors to fund ventures. It employs a funding information network, called Candid, that costs $3,000 per year. Minion said it’s not worth it for small organizations to make that investment, so he’s happy to provide it as a free service.

Bike Safety

Minion is using Rotary Club member dues and matching district grants, based on donations to the Rotary International Foundation, to educate children and parents on water and bike safety.

Minion, in a partnership with Bell Helmets, distributes free bike helmets to elementary schools and ensures that students’ existing helmets are fitted properly.

“Even in the schools that are more in the wealthier neighborhoods, they have helmets, but they’ve never been fitted,” Minion said. “The parents buy a helmet, and when it comes out of the box, the straps are never adjusted. And they just hang there.”

Minion keeps helmets in his car, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he wasn’t able to visit schools, he would hand them out at skate parks.

This year, Minion plans to use the matching grant from Rotary International, around $2,400, to expand his bike safety training by purchasing cones for a course and offering bike repairs and maintenance. He also plans to partner with the Save Our Youth organization in Costa Mesa to open a permanent bike safety location.

He said he’s also committed to reducing the risk of children drowning and created a Water Watchers program to prevent water tragedies. When parents or guardians wear a Water Watcher’s lanyard, with a cartoon depiction of an owl, others will know not to disturb them, as drowning can happen within 40 seconds.

Text on the lanyard reads: “I pledge my full attention to the children in and out of the water.”

It reminds watchers to not use their cell phones, be distracted by others, or leave their posts unattended.

Future Goals

Minion said he has more ideas on how to help the community, both locally and internationally. One of the Rotary Club’s newest members, who is from Burkina Faso, a small country in West Africa, gave Minion yet another idea.

The club wants to send 55-gallon barrels to the member’s hometown, filled with supplies such as books.

He’d also like to focus on the Rotary International’s latest priority, the environment, to which the Rotary Foundation has committed more than $18 million in the past five years.

Minion has taken nearly 10 years off from his professional career to improve his own community without taking a single penny. He admits that he’s made sacrifices—living in the same condominium, driving one car for 18 years, and being frugal. But for him, it’s well worth it. He’s been able to spend time with his 13-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, while at the same time improving the city in which he lives.

“I’ve given up some earnings by volunteering, but a lot of it comes down to enjoyment,” he said.

Hawken Miller
Hawken Miller