By m. Dennis Taylor
The importance of giving can never be overemphasized, and there’s always joy in acts of giving. This timeless bit of wisdom is taken to heart by the Wellington Rotary Club, which has been continually serving the community for 40 years.
Rotary International — of which the Wellington club is a local affiliate — is a service organization that spans the globe promoting peace and health. “It has promoted everything from polio vaccines to infrastructure and equipment for indigenes in South America,” said David Berns, the current president of the Wellington club.
The local branch is active in a range of activities, from helping hand out free food to those hardest-hit in the area by the COVID-19 pandemic, to supporting shelters for those less fortunate.
Ask any Rotarian, and you’ll get a litany of reasons to get involved with the group, but most of the explanations could easily fall into the category of bettering oneself by improving the local and worldwide communities.
The group has spent most of the past year partnering with the Village of Wellington, Feeding South Florida and others to provide weekly food boxes to some 900 local families.
“We provide six to 10 people each week to supply helping hands at the distribution point,” Berns said.
Every Tuesday morning, hundreds of cars line up at the Mall at Wellington Green for an efficient distribution of a week’s worth of supplies that have meant a great deal of difference in the lives of locals hard-hit by the present circumstances.
Another on-going project has been to get a “Buddy Bench” in each of the elementary schools in the village, with a program of peer “ambassadors” trained and set up to support anyone who feels isolated or bullied. Such a child is encouraged to merely sit on the designated, colorful bench and is soon met by another student to talk with them. The popular and successful program is being expanded.
The arrival of Santa in the end of the annual Wellington Holiday Parade is arranged by the group, as are gifts for children in hospitals and for healthcare workers. For decades, the club has supported the Back to Basics program to provide school uniforms for students returning to school each year and holiday gifts for children each December. People in times of trouble who need a place to stay are helped by the club’s longtime support the Lord’s Place, a program serving the local homeless population.
The club’s annual peace initiative and ceremony is considered by many to be one of Rotary’s signature events. Held at Wellington Rotary Peace Park near the Wellington branch library, this special event includes presentations, performances and awards presented to winning students. The events are organized and presented in honor of each United Nations International Peace Day by the Wellington Rotary Club.
Past president and 23-year club member Don Gross said the peace initiative is one of his favorite club activities. “It is held the third Sunday in September around the United Nations Peace Day, which is Sept. 21,” Gross said.
There are contests in all the schools with prizes awarded by the club. “We have a poster contest for the elementary students, poems from the middle schoolers and an essay competition for the high schools,” Gross explained.
Gross is also enthusiastic about the club’s annual dictionary giveaway to third graders.
“It has been going on for 20 years,” he said. “We give a dictionary to each student in third grade. Some people ask why we give a book when you can find everything on Google, but the kids love it. It is their book. They can hold it in their hands and flip through it.”
These are just some of the many acts of giving that the club participates in. “We primarily work in the background,” said Berns, who explained that the group doesn’t seek out publicity.
Gross said that the club works wherever it sees a need. “It is involved behind the scenes in every aspect of the community providing benefits,” he said.
That group has changed in complexion since its founding in 1980. “Originally, it was older retirees,” Berns said.
Then, when women began joining the previously all-male Rotary, the changes were marked. “Today, we are about a 50-50 mix of men and women, and the group of nearly 50 active participants itself has more younger people in their 30s and 40s,” Berns said.
Gross agreed that the shifting demographics have brought beneficial changes to the club for this era.
“Years ago, ‘supporting’ a program might mean writing a check. Today, it is the hands-on hours put in by the members, not just money,” Gross explained.
He said that members are a group of mostly businesspeople and professionals, and still many are retired. Since the chapter’s inception, even before the Village of Wellington was incorporated, the members have been and still are community leaders interested in the social good.
Community Services Coordinator Maggie Zeller joined the club some eight years ago. She pointed out that the original Rotary organization was founded in Chicago in 1905, and it wasn’t until 1987 that the all-male organization began accepting women members.
“I truly believe in the Wellington Rotary Club,” Zeller said. “I agree the club has changed with women joining… We helped it evolve from just the check writers who supported things in the past. I think we bring a humanitarian, caring and nurturing perspective of giving back to the community.”
While today’s Wellington Rotary Club is now an organization of men and women with spouses encouraged to get involved in the projects as well, “It is far from a mere networking or social club,” Gross said. “The mindset is on community service.”
That community mindset has been consistent over the years of growth in the Village of Wellington, the changing needs of its residents and the expansion of demographics in the club. Throughout it all, however, has been the simple joys contained in the act of giving.
For more information about the Wellington Rotary Club, visit www.wellingtonrotary.org.