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Savannah service clubs move community projects

  • Kids begin playing in the new all-access playground in Forsyth Park. The playground was dedicated Monday by the Rotary Club of Savannah. The playground is open to all kids, including those using wheelchairs or with other limitations. (Photo by Carl Elmore/For the Savannah Morning News)
  • David Smith, from left, Lauren Mathews, Patrick Spivey and Marla Biles
  • Members of the Savannah Jaycees worked to pack donations for the area food bank.
  • Members and volunteers with the Rotary Club of Savannah South and the Chatham County Pilot Club gathered last year to label more than 3,000 dictionaries that were distributed to all third graders in Sav. Chatham Public Schools. Soon, they will gather again to do this again.
  • Savannah South Rotarians Cap Breese and Amanda Lewis worked the information booth at the Sav. Children’s Book Festival on Nov. 12.

Savannah’s dozens of service clubs and organizations play a large role in providing money and support for the community, while offering members an opportunity to network locally.

It’s a chance for hundreds of business professionals and others to focus together on solving problems close to home, and examples of the teamwork can be found throughout the city.

“Most of our members are local business owners,” said Thomas Broderick, a member of the Rotary Club of Savannah South since 1987.

The Rotary Club of Savannah South is one of Savannah’s many service club, in which members put “service above self,” according to former president of the club Anne Cordeiro.

One of the Rotary Club of Savannah South’s projects this year included donating 3000 dictionaries to third graders at Savannah Chatham public schools.

“The reason why we chose third graders is because they’ve already learned how to read, now they’re learning how to learn,” Cordeiro said. “We buy all the dictionaries and have a labeling party. Then we visit the schools and spend time in the classrooms teaching the kids about the dictionary. We encourage them to stay in school, to use the library, and to look things up through research material. Many of the students don’t have computers at home.”

The Rotary Club of Savannah South also presented a $1,000 donation to the Savannah Early Childhood Foundation, which focuses on helping parents create high quality learning environments for their children up to age five. The SECF operates multi-session Early Learning College programs for parents in several neighborhoods throughout the city. “Over the last five years, the Rotary Club of Savannah South and its members have donated over $100,000 to the SECF,” said Cordiero.

“The SECF interrupts the poverty cycle through education,” added Savannah born-and-bred Amanda Lewis, who used to do design work for SECF and has been a member of the Rotary Club of Savannah South for one year. Her father, Steve Lewis, has been a member for 28 years. “I wanted to be able to expand my reach in the business area but also the community service aspect. I feel like Rotary embodies both of those very well. While we do a lot of initiatives locally, we also have a global impact through the Rotary Foundation.”

The Kiwanis Club of Skidaway is another group dedicated to raising funds to help the community. “We raise money and provide grants to organizations in the local area that serve children in need,” said President Ben Gustafson.

Last year, the Kiwanis Club of Skidaway raised $62,500 for local service agencies for at-risk children. “We had a children’s cook-off on November 5th and we’re going to have a pancake breakfast on Feb 25. We’ll also be having a Concert on the Green in May,” Gustafson said. “The group will also be gift wrapping at the Oglethorpe Mall to benefit Greenbriar Children’s Foundation this holiday season.

“We have a number of our members who are actively involved in the business community,” said Gustafson. “They represent small businesses- they’re attorneys, doctors, cardiologists, insurance folks, financial planners. That networking occurs within the club. Also, our members are very active in our community and interact with a number of contacts in the community on a daily basis.”

The Kiwanis Club of Skidaway currently has 120 members and holds weekly breakfast meetings with “outstanding speakers,” according to Gustafson. Hank Reed II, the retired US Representative to NATO and the military representative to the G8 Summit, spoke at the Kiwanis Club of Skidaway’s December 1 breakfast meeting.

Another service organization, the Savannah Kiwanis, focuses on the community, as well as having an international reach. Club secretary Steve Harris said, “Our international project, called Project Eliminate, works to eliminate neonatal tetanus in underdeveloped countries. The project has been so successful that Kiwanis has almost eliminated it. This also means we’ve gotten more pledges at more of our clubs. We help with the money raising.”

Harris also emphasized the Savannah Kiwanis’ help of the local community.

“We support various children’s organizations. Our newer efforts are with the Frank Callan Boys and Girls Club in Savannah and the Key Clubs at three local high schools. We have a two-pronged effort: one is about money raising and the other is about service.” Harris has been involved in the Kiwanis for 40 years.

“I was brought up considering it as a weekly business men’s luncheon civic group. At that time, there were a couple hundred members,” he said. “Later, it ceased to be a men’s club because women are fortunately in the group now — otherwise we would have probably ceased to exist. Our efforts are to keep the money we raise here in Savannah and contribute it locally with a focus on children.”

The Rotary Club of Savannah has over 200 members and focuses on raising money for several smaller projects and one large project. “One of our smaller projects is that we do a toy drive at Christmas,” said President Camille Russo. “We have a holiday party where our members bring in toys for needy children.”

Russo explained the club is in the beginning processes of looking into their big project for 2017 and subsequent years.

“We’d like to raise money to restore the organ at the Lucas Theatre,” said Russo. “The organ is now in a storage facility, and the Lucas building needs some modifications to house an organ. Our goal is to restore it and we’d get together with other local Rotary clubs.”

She continued the goal would then be to open up the theatre on certain days to the local community.

“My vision is once it’s restored, we could open up the doors at noon on weekdays so people can hear the organ spilling out on the street,” she said.

The project will cost in the neighborhood of couple of hundred thousand dollars. “It’s a theater organ, not like a church organ. It’s showy and makes different sounds. It was originally used to accompany silent movies,” she said.

The Rotary Club of Savannah also had an effective collaboration with 100 Black Men of Savannah, where the club sponsored a program where a group of the children were encouraged to save money and then the club matched that money.

“They were then encouraged to open a savings account for college. Our members went into classrooms to discuss career and education. The staff of 100 Black Men took children to the state capital to see the legislature in session- specifically black legislators. We helped foot the bill for that trip and looking at doing that again,” said Russo.

The Savannah Jaycees are part of a larger organization, the United States Junior Chamber, made up of business men and women between the ages of 21 and 40.

In 2016, the Savannah Jaycees implemented such events as Park Day, where members volunteered and hosted a community picnic on Tybee Island; the Charity Date Night Auction at Club One where the group raised $2000 for eleven local charities (e.g., Art Rise Savannah and the Rape Crisis Center); the Surging Forward Community Picnic where members provided food and fun for service members, police, firefighters and community members.

After Hurricane Matthew, the Jaycees also passed out packed lunches at Atlas Park in Savannah.

The Savannah Jaycees recently had its Flannel and Frost Holiday Party to raise money and wish list items for Park Place Outreach Youth Emergency Shelter. The shelter provides services to at-risk youth and their families by increasing their functional level, and reunifying families.

The Savannah Jaycees received its Charter in 1942 with a mission of “inspiring leadership growth through community involvement and providing development opportunities that empower young people to create a positive change.”

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