The Lowell Rotary Club is home to many of the city’s movers and shakers. They are business owners, non-profit leaders and city officials. When something needs to get done – whether it’s installing water filters in a foreign land or rebuilding our local landmark – this is the group to call.
However, it’s the young Rotarians spread throughout the community that Jim White can’t stop talking about. “These are all kids who like doing things for other people,” says the retired Lowell Area Schools administrator and past president of the Lowell Rotary Club. “We have the athletes and the introverts and everyone in between.”
It’s an aspect of the Lowell Rotary Club that flies under the radar. Few may realize the group sponsors student organizations to foster the next generation of Lowell leaders. In four schools across the community, Rotary mentors meet with students of all ages to help them develop the skills needed to become the movers and shakers of tomorrow.
Elementary through High School Programs Offered
During the 2016-2017 school year, Rotary members worked in four area schools.
- Lowell High School: Known as Interact – short for International Action – the high school group is designed to be student-led. With 60-80 members regularly meeting before school, the Lowell group is part of 450,000 students worldwide who participate in Interact.
- Lowell Middle School: The Middle School Interact group meets during an academic time and has about 40-50 members. They focus on community and school projects as well as some international initiatives.
- Cherry Creek Elementary School: The elementary program through Rotary is known as Early Act, short for Early Action. At Cherry Creek Elementary, the group meets during recess and depending on the weather, anywhere from 15-40 students may attend.
- Alto Elementary School: The Alto Early Act program is a brand new addition to the line-up of local Rotary school initiatives. Formed this past school year, it’s hoped to be up and running for regular meetings in 2017-2018.
“Cherry Creek is a rockstar example of what kids can do,” White says. While it may seem like 4th graders would be more concerned with what’s in their lunch than whether someone halfway across the world has access to water, the kids at Cherry Creek are all in when it comes to fixing big, global problems. So far, they’ve raised $2,200 to provide water filters to families in Haiti.
Christa Wetzel, the Rotary mentor for Cherry Creek Elementary School, says education was a big component of the group’s efforts this year. “[Students] set up their own water walk in the cafeteria,” she says. Classmates were handed a five gallon jug full of water to mimic what it was like for kids in other countries who needed to walk miles to get water for their family. “Their eyes went wide when they realized they were struggling just to carry the jug a few feet,” Wetzel says.
Community Service is Central
At their core, the Rotary student programs are all about community service. Each year, students participate in the following:
- School project
- Community project
- International project
Rotary International has made its mission the eradication of polio worldwide, and Lowell students raise money each year for the Purple Pinkie campaign. Named for the purple ink used to mark the pinkies of children after they have been vaccinated, the campaign has played an instrumental role in eliminating 99 percent of polio worldwide. The program started in 1985 and at that time, polio was present in 120 countries. Today, only three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria – have reported cases of polio.
While polio eradication is a focus of Rotary International, the Lowell Rotary Club has a particular passion for ensuring all people have access to clean drinking water. As a result, Interact and Early Act students in Lowell have raised money to deliver water filters to Haiti and install wells in Sudan and Ethiopia.
Closer to home, young Rotarians are involved in a slew of community activities. The high school Interact club, in particular, stands ready to help whenever needed. They assist with parades, collect socks at Christmas and volunteer for the FROM Neighbor to Neighbor program. You’ll see them at the community clean-up day, gathering used sports equipment for a good cause and showing up to help at the elementary school carnivals. Plus, the high school Interact students are part of a FROM subcommittee and play a major role in organizing the school district’s Food Fight participation.
Rockstar Kids Who Want to Change the World
“Today’s kids want to save the world, and they don’t want to wait until they are adults to do it,” White says. Rotary seeks to tap into that innate desire to do good by helping students explore how best to make a positive difference both locally and globally.
When Early Act members at Cherry Creek wanted to fund microloans through Kiva.com, they were charged with the task of researching and reporting back on why a particular project should be funded. At the Middle School, students wanted a microwave in the lunch room so the building’s Interact group raised funds and made a purchase.
“Rotary says you have to have a plan for sustainability,” White says. “It’s required for all projects.” So that means that after the microwave was purchased and placed in the middle school cafeteria, the students are also responsible for cleaning and maintaining it.
Looking back at the past year, White remarks, “There’s so much learning going on.” It’s not an opportunity you can find in every school district, and students interested in being a part of Interact or Early Act should watch for further information in the fall.
All photos courtesy of Christa Wetzel