The effort to eradicate polio is synonymous with international members of the Rotary Club. However, the local organization is perhaps better characterized by its projects for local youth.
“We are very youth-oriented, but just if there’s a need in the community we have been there,” Gini Liveley, public relations for the group, said.
The local club was chartered in 1996 with 25 members. Today it’s grown to more than 50.
Many of its members are local business people, Liveley said.
Although the local group dedicates much of its time to community projects, some of those projects have an international flair.
For example, the organization sponsors international students in Gardner each year, and sends Gardner Edgerton High School students abroad.
“Probably 30-plus students have benefited from this,” Liveley said. “Every year, we have at least one (student) going out and one coming in. And a lot of times, we have two. We’ve had students from Japan, Turkey, Switzerland and Germany.”
The exchange program allows foreign students to stay for a year in the home of a local Rotary Club member. The student may stay with one family all year or stay with up to three local families.
“So they really get a feel for how different families live around here,” Liveley explained.
As part of the program, the students join Rotary exchange students in other communities to take a tour of either the west or east coast once school ends.
“Our (local) students basically do the same thing when they go to a foreign country,” she said.
One challenge for students who come to Gardner is a lack of public transportation. They’re not allowed to drive.
“So they have to depend on their friends or host families to go anywhere,” Liveley said.
The local organization has also sent some members abroad to work on projects.
“We’re interested in water in foreign countries – getting wells into communities that have no fresh water,” Liveley said.
In the past, club members have sent people to Panama to help build wells.
Every year, Rotary Club members send two or more local sophomores and juniors to a leadership camp, the Rotary Youth Leadership Academy, for a week.
“Right after school is out, they go through all kinds of leadership exercises. That’s a big deal with us,” she said.
Another annual project sees club members purchasing dictionaries and distributing them to all of USD 231 third graders. This year, the project was a jointly sponsored along with the local Kiwanis Club.
And finally, another Rotary project involves training local community members how to respond to local disasters. The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) trains for six weeks so if a disaster happens, there are local people trained to respond.
“We’ve had members in their 70s that have gone through the training,” Liveley said. “It’s really open to anyone who wants to help out with community emergency response.”
The projects, of course, require fundraising.
The organization’s biggest fundraiser is just around the corner, Liveley said.
The group annually organizes a grocery grab. Members of the public can purchase $10 raffle tickets for a chance to run through Price Chopper filling their grocery basket with items.
Last year was the Rotary Club’s first grocery grab, and the Gardner Food Pantry won the grand prize.
Liveley said Rotary members will be selling raffle tickets for this year’s event in February. The actual grocery grab will occur in April.
“There will be a big push here shortly on starting to sell chances,” Liveley said. “It’s really a big deal. Plus it’s fun.”
Some of Rotary’s funds go to the international Rotary organization, which is known worldwide for its mission to eradicate polio.
“It was a dream of a Rotarian in 1985, and now (polio) is almost gone,” she said. “I think there are only one, maybe two or three countries that now have polio.”
Helping people is a major emphasis in the organization, Liveley explained.
The club’s motto, recited at every meeting, is: “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and better friendships? And will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
The Gardner Rotary Club is a breakfast club that meets every Thursday morning from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. at the Gardner Senior Citizens Building. The first part of each meeting includes networking, eating and conversation. The second part of the meeting includes a program.
The programs are what initially drew Liveley to the organization.
Every Rotary member is responsible for bringing in at least one guest speaker or program.
For example, Liveley said she once arranged for a speaker who runs an equestrian organization that offers horse therapy to special needs kids.
The local group also once hosted a World War II veteran who was a prisoner of war in Japan. He took part in the Bataan Death March.
“He told of his experience not only as a prisoner and of the march and the awful conditions, but also about when he went back to Japan as a Rotarian,” Liveley said.
He had befriended a guard while he was a prisoner and made a point of meeting the guard’s family when he returned to the country.
“He had you in tears and laughing at the same time,” Liveley said. “Where would I ever run into a World War II veteran like that? But somebody in the club knew him.”
For more information about the local Rotary Club, visit LINK.