SERVICE ABOVE SELF: Chester Rotary members give back to community, schools

“Anything a community can do to help our schools is really appreciated,” said Jennifer T. Lenz, principal of Marguerite Christian Elementary School. “This [$1,000] goes directly into our student activity fund, which is directly used for the children, such as our backpack program, providing food for families, and so many things that we can use this for.”

This year, the Chester Rotary Club distributed $1,000 checks to seven Chester area elementary schools.

“We have distributed checks for $500 to each of the schools for a number of years,” said Scott Fisher, a long time member of Chester’s Rotary. “This year we became aware of the tremendous needs of the students due to the economic downturn. When we understood the great sacrifices being made, personally, by educators and staffs of the schools to meet needs for lunches, shoes, food being sent home with the kids over weekends and holidays, we immediately decided to jump our contribution to $1,000.”

The motto of the Rotary is “Service Above Self.” The Chester Rotary works to live up to the motto through contributions to any deserving organization.
Lenz said, many of their families count on their student receiving two full meals at school. When they’re not in school they feel it directly every day in some way. The economy impacts us all in some way.

“It is rare that we receive donations that are this large, however we do have community organizations and local churches that provide support by providing volunteer hours, book donations as well as weekend backpack meals for students who may need them,” Lenz said. “We are very blessed.”

Marguerite Christian’s has roughly 53 percent of students qualifying for free meals and half of those being families in need are not welfare recipients.

Each of the schools receiving Chester Rotary’s contribution was surprised by the philanthropy of the club.

“Both [Anne] Trask, our school counselor, and I were both extremely moved,” said Curtis Principle Susan P. Pereira.  “To have someone walk in our front door and out of the blue present such a generous and thoughtful gift was incredible. The money is being used by our school counselor to allow for extra purchases for our backpack program, as well as other basic needs of some of our families.”

Distributing $1,000 checks to area schools is not the only project in which the Rotary is involved. For seven years the club has been giving a dictionary to schools serving the Chester area.

“We heard about the [dictionary] program through communications within Rotary District 7600,” Fisher said. “After doing it the first time, and seeing the reactions of the children and their teachers, we decided to make it an annual event.”

Local Rotarians participate in other literacy projects. Last year the Rotary began donating reading books for area libraries. Education is close to the heart for the Rotary club, each year the club awards $1,000 scholarships to three high schools graduates in the area. They also awarded a scholarship administered through John Tyler Community College named after Tommy Haynes. The Rotary set up an endowment to provide the John Tyler scholarships and the group is currently working on a fund another self-sustaining college scholarship named for deceased Rotarian Charles Kinsey. The qualifications for the Kinsey scholarship have yet to be determined.

“As you can imagine, much of our time is taken by raising the money we give away,” Fisher said. We all lead busy lives and the time for hands-on service is limited.”

Larry Madison, who is the club’s current president, has also presided over a scholarship fund named for his father, Larry Madison Sr., who was also very active and a president of the Chester Rotary. While endowments take a while to build, Madison has been hard at work. One effort is a yearly bowling tournament to raise funds and have fun in honor of his dad.

Not wanting to take credit himself, Madison said that Tara Nelson proposed the school grants to the board. In order to distribute funds to nonprofit organizations the club has to raise the money first.

“My role as president is easy, with such a large group of members who strive to help the community,” Madison said. “We focus on education in order to strengthen our K – 12 schools and even at the college level through our scholarships.”

 According to Fisher, the group has two main fundraisers: “Grillin’ on the Green,” in the spring, which used to be called the “Happening on the Green,” and the Midlothian Food Festival in the Fall. In addition to assisting the Midlothian club the Chester Rotary also provides food at John Tyler’s Fool For Art.

The club is always trying to find ways to sell more tickets to the various events it is involved with. Fisher says, Midlothian is tougher because it’s held at Westchester Commons; 17 miles around Rt. 288 from

Chester. For its large events, the Chester Rotary seeks assistance from the Central Chesterfield Kiwanis Club. Kiwanis group “we have a great relationship with that club,” Fisher said.

The local Rotary club has responsibilities at their district level as well. District 7600 comprises territory from Norfolk to Blackstone and the North Carolina border to South Richmond, and the Chester Rotary shares projects, such as this year’s exchange program in which Brazilian students, spent a month in the district. The Chester Rotary hosted the group for one night as did many of the other clubs in their district.

The Chester Rotary was a spinoff of the South Richmond club in 1988. As some members have come and gone others have been members for as long as 20 years. Bill Rauschenberg, though not a founding member has been in the club for 24 years and remains highly active. Membership numbers have fluctuated due to a busy population and activities such as social media.

Fisher says all of the Rotary’s 27 members are dedicated to the motto, “Service Above Self,” and Fisher believes that the personal contributions of time, talent and money made by the members is staggering.

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