What DO Rotary Clubs DO? 

Story and photo by Barbara Neville Wilson 

It’s early on a Thursday morning. I’ve barely rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and the sun has hardly begun to rise when I find myself turning in to the familiar parking lot of the Alton Senior Center. Nearly all the parking spaces are full. 

District Governor Venu Rao is introduced to the Alton Centennial Rotary Club. The leader is meeting with each of the 59 clubs in his Southern NH & VT district, encouraging them to find ways to share more publicly about the meaningful work they do in their communities and around the world.

District Governor Venu Rao is introduced to the Alton Centennial Rotary Club. The leader is meeting with each of the 59 clubs in his Southern NH & VT district, encouraging them to find ways to share more publicly about the meaningful work they do in their communities and around the world.

Running late, I sneak in through the kitchen door in time to see an audience of men and women listening raptly to the introduction of the week’s invited speaker: Venu S. Rao, District Governor for the Southern NH and VT district. 

“What is all this really about?” I wonder as I settle into a seat.  

Like you, I often see Rotary meetings listed on highway signs as I enter new towns. Around here, they might say Laconia Rotary: Thursdays at noon, Belknap Mill; Gilford Rotary: Fridays at 7 am, Gilford Elks Club; Meredith Rotary, Wednesdays, 6 pm, Hart’s Turkey Farm; Ossipee Valley Rotary, Mondays, 5:30 pm, River’s Edge Grille; Wolfeboro Rotary, 2nd & 4th Mondays, 5:30 pm, The Wolfeboro Inn.  

Invited by a new friend to this meeting of the Alton Rotary, I have come on precisely the right day. Mr. Rao’s talk is all about why Rotary is as important in 2018 as it was in 1905 when it was founded by Paul Harris, a transplanted New Englander who found himself living in Chicago with too few acquaintances and a yearning to make the world a better place—not just his own piece of it, but across great oceans as well. 

Mr. Rao tells us, “The core purpose of any Rotary Club is that we come together, we look around in our communities and see what the needs are that are not met, and we come up with creative ways to raise funds. We go. We meet those needs. That’s the point of Rotary and what we all do, and that’s very important because charity starts at home. But, if you really want to know the power of Rotary, you need to look a little beyond your boundaries; even as an individual, you can make an impact that’s beyond your imagination. Rotary Foundation provides the process, structure and procedure to make it happen…you can use it to do good. We’re all volunteers. We come from various walks of life…but we come together as Rotarians and we bring together our time, our talent, and our treasure to help our fellow human beings who are less fortunate than we are…and they could be across the street locally or they can be across the ocean globally.” 

So, what are the needs “not met” that our region’s Rotary Clubs take on? What are the creative ways they raise funds? What are some of the projects they involve themselves in throughout the world? 

As I find out, Centennial Rotary Club (ACRC) meets Thursday mornings at 7 am at the Alton Senior Center. Its focus is service, while stressing individual involvement. A growing club, they seek to create a network of business leaders who can share their knowledge and passion for the good of the towns of Alton, Barnstead and New Durham. Their largest fundraiser is the Spring Home Show held every year at Prospect Mountain High School in Alton. A congenial group led by Rick Fogg, a drug and alcohol counselor to the homeless at the Boston Rescue Mission in his “day job”, they happily welcome seasonal and year-round residents and were lauded recently by District Governor Rao for their early adoption of a clean water project in Pakistan.  

On this day, longtime ACRC member and realtor David Countway shared a letter of thanks from the recipient Rotary Club in Multan Cantt that said in part, “It is simply an amazing feeling to be a Rotarian and be affiliated to you all who are certainly World Class Rotarians.” 

A little farther south on the lake is the Gilford Rotary Club. They meet at 7 am on Fridays at the Elks Lodge in Gilford. It is chaired by Retired Fire Chief and current Preparedness & Response Coordinator for the Winnipesaukee Public Health Region John Beland, who tells me that in addition to getting involved in local youth, charitable, non-profit and senior citizen projects, the club is implementing a District Grant, where their funds are supplemented by funds from monies raised by other clubs in southern NH and VT, to assist in the installation of fitness stations along a one-mile section of the Ramblin’ Vewe Farm Trail system. They support their good works with three annual fundraisers: an “Evening in Paradise” Caribbean -themed dinner dance each spring, a member-staffed food concession at the NH Motor Speedway, and the sale of more than 600 fresh Christmas trees and hundreds of wreaths each year in the Cinema 8 parking lot at the corner of Route 11 and Lakeshore Road in Gilford. Internationally, they collaborate with the Laconia Club to support low-interest business loans in Rwanda. The loans help families improve their financial circumstances and allow children to attend school. 

In addition to their collaboration in Rwanda with the Gilford Club, the Laconia Club meets for lunch on the third floor of the Belknap Mill in Laconia at noon on Thursdays. Says Kevin Conway, Operations Manager for United Way in his day job, “Our members volunteer throughout the community, and we also raise funds to support scholarships and a number of local charities including the Boys & Girls Club, Got Lunch, Laconia Library, Veterans Association, Little League, the Belknap Mill, and several others.”  

Taking advantage of their proximity to Motorcycle Week festivities, the Club raffles off a new Harley Davidson every year. (If you need a great stocking stuffer, keep in mind that raffle ticket sales will start soon.) 

The Lakes Region Rotary holds Tuesday meetings at 7 am at the Water Street Café in Laconia. It focuses on projects that serve children, young people and the less fortunate and raises funds through its annual summer car show, says Benjamin Wilson, a financial advisor with Edward Jones when not fulfilling his obligations as club president.   

You may recognize the next name. It is repeated frequently in connection with the state’s most popular ice fishing contest, The Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby, held every February. First run in 1978, the club’s website says it has raised more than $2 million in its first 30 years. With those funds, they have supported scholarships, construction projects, leadership programs, and school projects in Meredith, Center Harbor, Sandwich, Moultonborough, in the region, and throughout the world. The club has also supported Interact Clubs in high schools, where young people learn to apply the Four-Way Test in situations demanding decisions: “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” 

The Wolfeboro Rotary Club meets the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month at 5:30 pm at the Wolfeboro Inn. Formed more than 90 years ago, it is one of the oldest Rotary Clubs in the state. Through the years it has been instrumental in capital projects of high public value and programs that particularly cater to youth and children. The club has been instrumental in student and group study exchanges through Rotary International and they take particular satisfaction in supporting Angel Faces, a group that brings girls and women with disfiguring burn and trauma injuries to the Lakes Region for respite each summer. “And we would like to think that we have fun doing these things and celebrating with our community—whether cleaning up a  highway together, chatting by the campfire selling Christmas trees—or meeting and sharing a good meal together!” says Jaime Laurent, Programs Chair for Wolfeboro Rotary, retired Dean of Academic Affairs at Brewster and current Trustee of the New Hampshire Boat Museum. Funds are raised by the club by hosting a St. Patrick’s Day Dinner & Dance and golf tournament each spring, a Radio/TV Auction in fall, and the sale of Christmas trees in Clark Park, set to begin this year on November 24.  

Intrigued yet? Rotary is a decades-old change maker. As its international website says, “Rotary is 1.2 million passionate individuals in 35,000 clubs worldwide. We are both an international organization and a local community leader. Together we lead change in our own backyards and across the world.” 

Perhaps you haven’t read yet about a club that meets your schedule? Meetings just off Winnipesaukee shores include the Rotary Club of Suncook Valley that gathers at 6:15 pm on the first and third Wednesdays at Dominick’s Pizza & Things in Chichester—they organize August’s Hot Air Balloon Rally in Pittsfield each year. The Ossipee Valley Rotary gets together on Mondays at 5:30 pm at the River’s Edge Grille in Ossipee; and the Tilton-Northfield Rotary meets on Wednesdays at 12:15 pm at Onion’s Pub & Restaurant in Tilton. 

What are you doing with your time, talent, and treasure to help fellow human beings who are less fortunate than you? Perhaps this is your call to join forces with a local Rotary Club, where you can pair your gifts with fellow Rotarians and watch them grow creatively and exponentially in your club, your town, your region, your state, and our world.  

Additional information for this article was gathered from local club websites and those of Rotary Districts 7850 (Northern VT, Northern NH, and Southern Québec) and 7870 (Southern NH & VT.)