Formed on Feb. 23, 1905, the Rotary Club of Chicago became the world’s first service club originally comprised of four businessmen. Rotary International now includes 1.2 million members in 34,000 clubs around the world.
In Bartow County, the Rotary tradition began in 1924 with the Cartersville Rotary Club, followed by the Bartow Rotary Club in 1989 and most recently added the Etowah Rotary Club in 2002.
Rotary International’s motto is Service Above Self and each club adopts causes and programs to better the communities in which they work as well as the world. Rotary International also sponsors a number of aid programs, most notably through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative begun in 1988.
“Rotary has a rich legacy in Bartow. It goes back to 1924 when the Cartersville club was formed, which has sponsored Boy Scout Troop 24 since the ‘30s,” said Bartow Rotary President Gene Lee. “There are thousands of dollars a year, every year, that goes into students and young people in our community and many different local causes.
“The Polio Plus Program is Rotary International’s biggest legacy to date. The Gates Foundation was so impressed with Rotary International’s approach to that, they started with a $100 million matching grant and were so impressed, they upped it to $200 million to match what Rotary was doing for polio. ... Now, they say that polio is over 99 percent eradicated throughout the world. They’ve got just a few cases of it in some isolated countries and the hope is that polio will be completely eradicated in the next couple of years.”
In addition to personal donations and local fundraising events, Rotary clubs apply each year for grant dollars to help local projects. Last year, the Bartow club secured funding for a computer center at the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter and will this year raise money for a commercial-grade freezer for Advocates for Children’s Flowering Branch Children’s Shelter.
Bartow’s oldest club, the Cartersville Rotary Club is celebrating its 89th anniversary this May and continues to serve locally as well as abroad through a variety of projects. In addition to contributing toward the Rotary International projects to eradicate polio and build medical clinics in South America, Cartersville Rotary supports Boy Scout Troop 24, Advocates for Children, the Bartow Education Foundation, the GateKey Scholarship Program, Reading Buddies, the Jared House and Bartow Health Accesss.
“Ours is the oldest club in the county. We were chartered in 1924, which actually makes us one of the oldest clubs in the state. We’re 89 this year,” said Cartersville Rotary President Buddy Bennett. “Rotary initially was started sort of as a networking group with a few guys in Chicago, but it has become a huge benevolent organization with projects around the world.
“One of the things we do is we support a number of local organizations through grants to help them with specific projects. We just gave out a few weeks ago about $3,000 worth of grants and we plan on giving another round of grants later in the spring. So we try to support local organizations as well as international projects.”
The Bartow Rotary Club will host its third annual sporting clay shoot tournament on March 9. Registration officially ends this week, but shooter and sponsor spots are still open. Individual registration is $125, teams of two are $250 and teams of four are $500. Registration includes tournament participation, T-shirt, breakfast and lunch. Participants should bring their own guns and ammo. Rental guns and ammo also will be available on site from Barnsley Gardens. All proceeds will benefit the service projects of the Bartow Rotary Club.
To register for the sport clay shoot, visit www.rotaryskeetshoot.com or call Lee, 770-386-6304, or Steven Powell, 404-427-7363, for more information.
“In the past, we’ve had good turnout. It’s always well received,” Lee said. “We’ll probably have 75 to 80 shooters in the event. We have a lot of good sponsors and the Boy Scouts from Troop 24 help us put it on. This is our primary focus for raising money for our service projects in the community.
“That includes the freezer for Advocates, it includes support for eight high school students to attend the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards weekend, which is a four-day leadership event. We’ll also use those funds for our literacy program, which is designed to put a book in the hands of children birth through age 5. They receive an age appropriate reading book each month and it progresses with their age. And we use it for our Laws of Life Essay Contest in the high schools.”
For Lee, the ability to take part in a service organization such as Rotary is an opportunity for him and other professionals to make a difference in their own communities and the world.
“First of all, it’s a great opportunity to spend time with professionals and business owners with similar values and goals,” Lee said. “The motto is Service Above Self and being able to spend time with people that have a goal of wanting to make a difference in the community, and not just the local community, but worldwide, that has a significant appeal.
“When you use the term, world peace, it’s kind of a cliche, but between the student exchange program, particularly in Georgia where we have our own exchange program in addition to Rotary International, the opportunity to build bridges in a positive way has a lot of appeal. I think we all have some genes in us that say, ‘I want to make a difference.’ And I think Rotary gives us a good outlet for that.”
The Cartersville Rotary Club meets each Wednesday at noon at the Cartersville Country Club, the Bartow County Rotary Club meets each Thursday at 12:15 p.m. at the Cartersville Country Club and the Etowah Rotary Club meets every Tuesday morning at 7:30 at Barbecue Street.
Membership is by invitation only, but Lee invites those interested to visit www.bartowrotary.org for more information and may contact him through that website with any questions. His name appears as a link on the right side of the Bartow Rotary website, which will take visitors to an email contact form.