NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> The Newtown Rotary Club gave longtime member Gadi Naaman a celebratory send-off at his last official meeting on March 20.

After 28 years with the club, Naaman is returning to his roots in Israel. He will be relocating from Newtown to the port city of Haifa, the third largest city in Israel and the town where the Tel Avi native attended high school.

In appreciation for his service over the years, Club President Paul Salvatore presented Naaman with a Rotary Club hat and apron and recognized him as a Paul Harris Fellow - twice over - by announcing that the club had made a $1,000 donation to the Rotary Foundation in his name. He also presented Naaman with a Paul Harris Medallion.

The Paul Harris Fellow recognition acknowledges individuals who contribute, or who have contributions made in their name, of $1,000 to The Rotary Foundation, which has spent $3 billion on life-changing, sustainable projects including the eradication of polio.

Many notable figures have been named Paul Harris Fellows over the years, including U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, U.S. astronaut James Lovell, UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, and polio vaccine developer Jonas Salk.

The number of Paul Harris Fellows reached the 1 million mark in 2006.

“Gadi’s going to be definitely missed. His talents brought a lot to the table - something different,” said Salvatore. “He’s been a very faithful member. You could always count on him to lend a hand when you needed it, whether it was Hope on the Vine, Pedals for Progress or on Christmas Day” when club members help serve a holiday dinner to the less fortunate.

Naaman, the development director at Potential, Inc., a Newtown based company that assists individuals with autism in reaching their full educational, social, and emotional potential, told the club there’s a good chance that he will continue his work with autism and Rotary when he arrives in Haifa, a city which he describes as reminiscent of San Francisco.

During his 28 years with the club, Naaman served on various committees and at one point was in charge of communications, including the management of the club’s social media postings.

“I didn’t expect this. I’m really overwhelmed with the outpouring of love as well as the generosity of the club,” said Naaman, following the meeting. “I was thinking about getting a Paul Harris and I’ve been saving each year so I appreciate the fact that they did that because the money that goes to the Foundation is put to very good use.”

Naaman said he’ll miss the club. “I have met so many good people over the years,” he said, rattling off a few names including Bob Davis.

He joined the club at the invitation of local photographer Charles Siber. “I got involved. Whatever they needed I was always there - cleaning the road (as part of PennDOT’s Adopt-a-Highway campaign) or helping Paul with the Christmas dinners. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Naaman arrived in the United States 46 years ago eventually finding his way to Newtown where he operated a Sir Speedy franchise for many years before joining Potential Inc. in 2015 as its development director.

At Potential he helped with efforts to install a playground and to launch its annual car show fundraiser. “It’s been fun,” said Naaman. “I had no personal connection to autism at the time, now I’m sold. I’ll probably look for something with autism in Israel.”

Naaman said when he came to the United States nearly 50 years ago it was always with the idea that someday he would return to Israel.

“When the opportunity presented itself, I said to myself, ‘If not now, then when?’ I decided to bite the bullet and do it.”

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