Raleigh Rotary Club focuses on service

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — At the Salvation Army Judy D. Zelnak Center of Hope in Raleigh, volunteer dentists and hygienists in 304 performed 2,822 procedures for low-income, uninsured adults.

In the Dominican Republican, volunteers and donations have supported the construction of hundreds of latrines to help improve sanitation for local residents.

And in Mineral de Pozos, a city in the mountains of Mexico, volunteers and donations are supporting the installation of pump stations, pipes and other equipment that will provide potable water for local villages.

Playing an instrumental role in all three projects has been the Rotary Club of Raleigh.

With 120 members, the Club was founded in 1914 and believes it is the oldest civic and Rotary organization in North Carolina.

Through local and international service projects, the Club aims to “engage leaders of the community in significant and meaningful acts,” says Kirk Warner, president of the Club and a lawyer at Smith Anderson.

Every year, the Club raises $20,000 to $25,000 to support 10 to 15 local and international projects. Since 1979, it has raised thousands of dollars every year for the Salvation Army of Wake County. And it raised $115,000 and continues to raise money for Polio Plus, an effort by Rotary International that has helped nearly eradicate polio throughout the world.

The Club participates in two service projects every month that range from planting trees and clearing streams to supporting food banks. It also hosts information tents and sells bottled water at The Works, the annual July 4 event in downtown Raleigh, and at Wide Open Blue Grass, the downtown music festival held each October.

And it helped create the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center, which selects Rotary members to serve as fellows who enroll either in the master’s program in international development at Duke University or in a range of master’s programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

To celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2014, the Club raised $200,000 to help outfit Wake Smiles, the nonprofit dental clinic at the Salvation Army that is the Dental Health Program of the Raleigh-Wake County Dental Society. And it continues to raise money for the project.

Supporting water and sanitation projects are a big focus of the Club’s international work.

Through contributions and volunteers, it has participated for four years in the latrines initiative in the Dominican Republic. The initiative is a project of Rotary’s District 7710, which includes 46 clubs with nearly 1,900 members.

And it is spearheading the water project in Pozos, a sister city of Raleigh. The Club aims to enlist at least eight to 10 other clubs in the effort and raise money to support it, including grants it hopes to secure from Rotary International.

The Club also launch an annual concert event at Meymandi Concert Hall at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts to raise money to support is work.

The Club “has brought leaders from each of the major industries and professional groups together to try to solve community problems,” Warner says. “And they have made a tremendous impact over the years.”

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