Service above self

Clubs create avenues for philanthropic giving and community involvement

What do families with terminally ill children, high school graduates, and second graders dreaming of a college education have in common? They have all been helped through local Rotary clubs. Clark County is home to five Rotary clubs: Camas/Washougal, Greater Clark County, Lewis River, Vancouver and Vancouver Sunrise. These five clubs are part of Rotary International, a philanthropic organization of businesspeople whose motto is "Service Above Self."

Why Rotary?

Businesspeople join Rotary for a variety of reasons, according to Joe Sosky, president of the Camas/Washougal club.

"It’s a lot of fun," said Sosky. "Plus, it is an organized do-good program where people can see their efforts make a difference."

One of the attractions of Rotary to businesspeople is its focus on ethics.

Bruce Paris, Bank of Clark County executive vice president and president of the Vancouver Rotary Foundation, said that businesspeople who embrace service clubs such as Rotary and who are conscious of Rotarian ideals enhance their marketability as business professionals. In addition, they gain the success characteristics growing businesses need. As an example, 13 of the Bank of Clark County’s 67 employees and directors are Rotarians – this includes eight past presidents and one past district governor.

Focus on youth

Local Rotarian projects center around youth. The five local clubs distributed at least $84,000 in scholarships this year. To fund these scholarships, most clubs have a signature event. Lewis River Rotary holds a Charity Wine Auction. In its 11th year, the auction raised $65,000. Vancouver Rotary is well-known for its annual Festival of Trees. From humble beginnings, the festival has grown into a community-wide event. In 2005, it raised $250,000.

The five clubs often collaborate on projects, such as the current district-wide effort to distribute dictionaries to every third grader in the county. There are more than 40 clubs in District 5100 involved in this project.

"Literacy is one of the major focuses at the international level," said Barbara Krosier, assistant district governor for Clark County.

Another way Vancouver Rotary gives to children is through the Vancouver Rotary Foundation. Since 1973, the foundation has given almost $1.5 million to the local community, including nearly $540,000 in scholarships. Besides scholarships, other projects supported by the foundation include the Alexa Dyer Life Challenge Award for families with terminally ill children and the I Have a Dream program where the foundation pledged $10,000 per year toward the college education of an entire class of second graders, who are now in seventh grade. The foundation has experienced phenomenal growth recently – more than half of all grants were awarded during the past five years.

Businesses helping Rotary

Wayne Clemetson, vice president of business relationships at Bank of Clark County, said, "The broad reach of Rotary in the community is an easy way for businesses to get involved in community philanthropy and touch a wide variety of causes with one gift."

Since 1973, Vancouver Rotary Foundation has given almost $1.5 million to the local community.

Mike Simpson, president of the Lewis River Club, reported that local businesses "appreciate where our dollars go – to youth and schools – and in general, they support what we do." Simpson reported that in part thanks to an improved economy in the county, "the level of support has gone up in the last couple years."

Some Clark County businesses take this support one step further. For example, Bank of Clark County not only supports Rotary projects, but also pays the dues of employees who belong to Rotary.

And Rotary helping businesses

Clemetson said that supporting Rotary wasn’t just the right thing to do, but it also made good business sense.

"By supporting projects that create healthy youth and healthy families," said Clemetson, the bank hopes that these citizens will, over time, come to Bank of Clark County for their banking needs. Also, the networking aspect of Rotary can provide benefits for the bank.

"We’re a community bank for small businesses," said Clemetson. "And that’s where Rotarians are."

In a partnership effort to promote new businesses, the five local clubs, along with district matching funds, have started a microbanking enterprise in Central America. By making loans to business owners who want to grow their businesses, Rotarians are helping create a vibrant local economy that can have wide ripple effects.

Other new businesses and opportunities for growth and partnership arise, said Clemetson, because Rotary serves as a crucible for ideas and opportunities.

"It’s amazing what can happen when two individuals sit down over lunch and say ‘What if….’"

History of Rotary

Rotary was started in 1905 by a group of five businesspeople. Their first community project was installing a public bathroom in Chicago. The name "Rotary" was derived from the practice of rotating meetings among members’ offices. It soon grew far beyond the reaches of Chicago – by 1921 there were Rotary clubs on six continents – one of these was the Vancouver club (club #322), which recently celebrated its 85th birthday; the most recent in the county, the Camas/Washougal club, is club #30,709.

According to recent statistics, there are 1.2 million Rotarians in more than 30,000 clubs, in more than 160 countries.

The Rotarian "4-way test," which was developed by a prominent Rotarian during the 1930s when he revitalized a bankrupt company, helps all Rotarians evaluate their business and philanthropic efforts:

1. Is it the TRUTH?

2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?


4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Beyond Rotary

Although well known, Rotary may not be for everyone. Businesspeople in Clark County have many philanthropic organizations to choose from. And, many people belong to more than one organization. Here is a sampling of a few other groups, with a description of some of their projects.

Elks Lodge 823: Since 1942, the Llodge has taken all kids who work as school patrols – this year close to 2,000 – to Oaks Park for hot dogs, soft drinks and a fun day at the midway. Among other events, they also sponsor more than 16 sports teams, six scout troops, a community Easter Egg Hunt and a children’s Christmas party. The Elks gave out more than $7,000 in scholarships this year. Don Wilson, community youth activities chairman for Elks Lodge 823, said that local businesses contribute as much as $8,000 to $12,000 each year to Elks projects.

Dollars Corner Moose Lodge: The lodge supports the Clark County Fire Cadets, the North County Food Bank, Rock Solid, an after-school care program in Brush Prairie and Neighbors Helping Neighbors. Last year they held a Katrina Relief auction, and raised $12,000.

Camas Lions: The Camas club donates to the Camas Community Chest, and distributes $2,000 to $3,000 per year in scholarships. Unique to the Camas Lions is their "watchdog" role in caring for Camp Curry – 80 acres on the north shore of Lacamas Lake that has been a park for 75 years. There are Lions groups in Washougal and Vancouver, as well.

Kiwanis: There are seven Kiwanis clubs in Clark County, according to Sandy Pulsipher, past president of the Boulevard Kiwanis Club in Vancouver. These seven clubs give out $5,000 to $7,000 in scholarships each year. They also support the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, perform mentoring at local schools, support local Boys and Girls Clubs and sponsor golf tournaments and concerts.

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