Supporting communities in District 5810

By Sonia Duggan

Whether they’re meeting at sunrise, noon or mid-day, Rotarians across the country — and throughout the world — continue to find ways to serve others while keeping true to their founder’s vision: “So professionals of diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships and give back to their communities.”

Having been founded 116 years ago by Paul Harris, a Chicago attorney, the largest and oldest service organization now serves more than 1.2 million members in 35,000 Rotary clubs worldwide.

For anyone looking to make a connection in North Texas, District 5810 is home to approximately 2,700 Rotarians in 61 clubs. 

“In June, we will add club No. 62, the Rotary Club of Collin County, and in July we will add club No. 63 with the Suicide Prevention/Mental Health Club,” said District 5810 Governor John Moser.

Additionally, District 5810 has five Rotaract Clubs for young students/professionals ages 18 to 35 and several Interact Clubs, which are high school-based service organizations. Both groups teach and develop leadership skills.

Internationally, one key program that Rotary has been championing for more than 30 years has been the effort to end polio. By partnering with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Rotary International reports, “we have achieved a 99.9% reduction in polio cases.”

Early on, Rotary International, a non-partisan, secular organization, adopted its well-known principal motto “Service about Self.” Collectively, Moser says the vision is, “Together, we see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change — across the globe, in our communities and in ourselves.” 

Rotary clubs everywhere have the opportunity to participate in local and international programs. Every week, clubs meet for fellowship, while learning about opportunities in the communities which they live and work.

Long before he was district governor, Moser became a person of action. He traveled to India in 2009 to participate in National Polio Immunization Day just one year after he became a member. 

“When I began the trip, I was a member of the Rotary Club of Frisco,” he said. “In Hyderabad, India, I delivered the three drops of polio vaccine to infants. Those three drops meant that those children would never suffer from the paralyzing effects caused by polio. When I saw the children and the looks on their mother’s faces, it changed me – it made me a Rotarian.”

The Rotary Club of Wylie East Fork, like all clubs for most of 2020, met virtually as they struggled to find ways to engage with the community and its members. The 35-member club, chartered in 1989, is now back to meeting in-person every Thursday at noon at Napoli’s Italian Restaurant. 

Lori Villarreal, public information officer for the club, said due to COVID-19 initially, they turned their service program inward, serving their members by sending cards and photos and by setting up a Zoom class for its senior citizen members.

Despite the challenges, Villarreal said the club “gave lots of checks,” as much as $20,000 per year, even though they were not able to provide a lot of hands-on action. The majority of the club’s programs continued in 2020 with the exception of the Summer Literacy Program for Hartman Elementary kids. 

As a club, Villarreal said its most visible program is the flag program offered to businesses in downtown Wylie and to residents who would like personal flag kits installed at their home. 

“We’re really proud of that program,” Villarreal said. “It helps us build community and it also raises quite a bit of money for us.”

The program itself raises about $14,000 annually that goes toward scholarships, local nonprofits and youth leadership programs. This year, eight Wylie ISD seniors were each awarded $1,000 scholarships.

As executive director of the WISD education foundation, a nonprofit, Villarreal said she appreciates the support a club like Rotary can provide to local charities because it enables them “to be a part of the solution.”

Last month, at the pedal car races in downtown Wylie, the club gave away hotdogs to race contestants and spectators for donations, which resulted in a $1,000 donation for local Special Olympics. 

Other nonprofits and projects supported by the club include His Gracious Hands, a local ministry, food drives for area food banks and much more. One special nonprofit, says Villarreal, is the 1LT Robert F. Welch III Charity, which helps support the needs of military and first responders.

“We’re really proud to be part of that cause, she said.

Education and youth-focused programs are important to Rotarians everywhere. The Wylie club provides supplies for the Wylie ISD Back-to-School Fair, supports the Interact Club and sponsors Camp RYLA students.

RYLA is a week-long youth leadership program offered to incoming high school seniors across North Texas.

The program, established by Rotary International, has been in place for 29 years. Its goal is “to develop a diverse group of servant leaders by instilling life-long leadership skills and a commitment to service above self,” states the district website. 

The Farmersville Rotary Club, which was chartered in 1939, also supports the youth leadership program and has selected Farmersville ISD students to attend each year.

Jason Gomez, Farmersville Rotary Club member and assistant superintendent for Farmersville ISD, shared his 27-year-old RYLA experience.

“For me, the most momentous experience at Camp RYLA was the relationships I developed with my fellow RYLA campers. I felt like I was around other like-minded students; high-achieving leaders each representing their school and Rotary Clubs,” he said. “The teams, challenges, and competitions created greater bonding and unity between team members. The camp RYLA sessions tackled difficult current events and allowed students to consider different world views. I value the time spent at Camp RYLA and to this day, I am honored that I was selected to represent my school and local Rotary club.”

This is the second year the pandemic has impacted the camp. According to RYLA’s program director, Dana Mackinson, this year’s campers will participate in a hybrid program called RYLead where they will take part in leadership workshops, mentoring by RYLA alumni and unique one-of-a-kind experiences to support their senior year and beyond.

Like Wylie, the Farmersville Rotary Club met via Zoom for many months in 2020. The 37-member club meets Tuesdays at noon, with the exception of the second Tuesday of the month, at the O.E. Carlisle Center in Farmersville. Like the majority of clubs, half the meeting is a program that offers members some insight to either a volunteer opportunity or additional information about the community they live in.

President Chad Engbrock said the club is viewed by the community as integral in helping make things happen.

“People usually call us and say ‘hey, this is going on is there some way you can help? And so, we evaluate them (projects) and determine whether or not we can help,” he said. “Sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s manpower, sometimes it’s both.”

The Farmersville club tackles a “ton” of local projects each year, says Engbrock, which range from assisting with Meals on Wheels for senior citizens, holiday gift/food drive programs, Chaparral Trail Cleanup, blood drives, fire and police officer of the year recognition and much more.

They are a charter sponsor, donating $1,000 annually, to Boy Scout Troop 310. The troop also partners with them for the Rotary flag program. Aside from RYLA, Scouts, scholarships, and community donations, Engbrock estimates that they contribute over $10,000 per year plus countless man hours.

“We also take on projects that are directed to our attention by local citizens such as when a senior citizen needs assistance with home improvement,” he said. 

The club also partners with the city and local volunteers for Codes of Compassion, a local beautification project that aids property owners who have code violations.

International projects remain important to local clubs. In the past, projects outside of the Farmersville community ranged from international stove projects to wheelchair projects to water projects with developing countries said Engbrock.

The club donates in excess of $1,000 a year to ShelterBox, Rotary’s official disaster relief partner, providing temporary living quarters for disaster stricken areas throughout the world. Most boxes include family-size tents, solar lights, water storage and purification equipment, thermal blankets and cooking utensils. 

“Coming out of a pandemic we are exploring opportunities to take on an international project each year,” Engbrock said. “We have not done that in the past several years.”

Both clubs contribute funds toward the 100-year-old Rotary Foundation which funds and awards grants for a number of causes locally and internationally such as polio vaccines, clean water, anti-bullying campaigns, safe environments for children, supporting education, promoting peace and more.

Benefits, membership, action plan

“If you’re a professional looking to help your community locally and also be able to help the world, then Rotary is for you,” Engbrock said.

Members today in this global community represent very different experiences and a diverse range of ages from 20s to 80s and beyond. 

“You see a broad range of generations represented – there’s value in that,” Villarreal said. “If you sit around and listen long enough, you’ll learn something.”

Farmersville Rotarian Bryce Hendricks, 31, remembers attending meetings with his grandfather Mont Hendricks as a child one summer. One thing he learned in particular, he said, was how important attendance and the Four-Way test were to Rotarians. 

“Seeing a group of people recite it at every meeting was so meaningful,” he said. 

Even in his youth, Hendricks said he knew one day he would join Rotary and live the values it represented. 

In the midst of the pandemic, March 3, 2020, to be exact, he joined the club he attended with his grandfather many years ago. 

“It was as if chaos had struck at work and it was nice to have a little fun and to be a part of a fellowship during that tough time,” he said. “Now, being one of the people in the meetings that stand at the end of the meeting and recite the Four-Way test is meaningful to me and something I like to think I live by in my everyday life.”

The future of Rotary is bright as plans are being made to increase its impact, expand its reach, enhance participant engagement and increase its ability to adapt – so more new members like Hendricks will reap the rewards of lifelong friendships as they work to make a difference in their communities. 

“In those 116 years Rotary has helped in so many ways,” Moser said. “Formation of the United Nations, reduction in the infections caused by polio — 350,000 cases in 1987 and only 2 cases so far in 2021. Every minute of every day we feed someone, we cloth someone, we heal someone, we educated someone – and we will continue to serve those in need because that is what we are – ROTARIANS.”

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