Bertolt Daems could not help but be struck by the passion and dedication to community service while visiting several Chicago-area suburbs.
"I'm surprised by the energy. I have a warm feeling despite the weather," he said with a laugh. Daems, the JCI World President, was in the area meeting with members of local Jaycee chapters.
The world president of the Jaycees only comes to Illinois about once every five years. "My main message is to look toward the future, stop complaining and get out of the meeting rooms and earn your project," said Daems, who is a native of the Netherlands.
The Junior Chamber International has about 200,000 active members and about 5 million alumni. There are 5,000 local chapters in 100 countries around the world.
"Having the world president come helps us with credibility with local government," said Garrett McNally, past president of the Palatine Jaycees. "It shows that we are not just a small local organization, but that we are part of a much larger global organization."
Daems was in St. Louis for a board meeting and took the occassion to make several stops in Illinois. On Tuesday the Hoffman Estates Jaycees hosted an event for Daems.
Daems said that there were opportunities for the Jaycees to make an impact in communities still struggling in the aftermath of the recession.
"I believe we can pick the responsibility and do what is necessary to create jobs, create education and foster leadership," Daems said.
Daems joined the JCI in 2003. He became national president in the Netherlands in 2008. Daems has a master's degree in building construction and is CEO of RnR Group – a management consulting company. Daems said he is committed through the company to trying to help provide safe driving water around the world.
Daems said he was impressed by the work he saw being done by area chapters in their communities.
"There is so much to see here in Illinois and the Chicago area," Daems said. "I see a lot of positive attitudes from the young people here."