BY GARY REDFERN
Business Buzz Reporter
Miniature street-corner libraries. A truck that helps deliver food to the needy. Global polio eradication. Dictionaries for third-graders. A leadership program for fourth-graders.
These eclectic philanthropic endeavors all have one thing in common: Rotary International. In El Centro members of the second-oldest such club in the San Diego area roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty serving their community—and have a heck of a lot of fun in the process.
“We have a legacy of being a very giving club,” said past club president Aaron Popejoy, whose family legacy with Rotary goes back four generations. “Being part of Rotary, we can not only contribute to our community, but also the world. Our club’s focus is on kids. There are so many things Rotary is doing, internationally as well.”
Popejoy, owner of the Conveyor Group marketing firm in Imperial, is one several members having a family tradition of being a club member. That dedication was on full display on a Tuesday evening in early November at the home of club president Kris Becker. Despite it being a week night during the school year, and that members have hectic professional careers, eight showed up for an interview about the club.
They spoke of their dedication to Rotary and its causes, and how others in the club had been an influence on their lives. Founded in 1921 by the downtown San Diego club as its first offshoot, El Centro Rotary has 77 members. Locally, there also are clubs in Imperial, Brawley, Holtville and Calexico.
Rotary generates funds from member dues and contributions and an annual barbeque held in March.
Explaining why he joined, one of the club’s newest participants, James Garcia, explained, “When I first got into sales I heard about Rotary as a great place to get contacts. Earlier this year I got to work with (member) Ed Snively. He lives that motto. Ed is a person that helps you become a better version of yourself. It’s actually the way he conducts himself. He is the epitome.”
Garcia, who owns Capital Real Estate in Imperial, said Snively motivated him to join.
That motto is “Service Above Self,” a principal integral in the mission of Rotary since it was founded by Chicago attorney Paul Harris in 1905. The club earned its name because early meetings were rotated among the offices of members, according to the organization website, rotary.org.
Member Jennifer McGrew-Thomason is enthusiastic about the “Little Free Libraries” effort where a dozen decorative wooden boxes containing books are mounted in outdoor public locations in El Centro. Despite the library term, the approach is a bit different.
“It’s really take a book,” she said, noting the club worked with foreign exchange students visiting the area to make and put up the book holders. “They (the exchange students) needed a community service project while they were here and we thought this would be ideal.”
Books are donated by Rotarians and the community
McGrew-Thomason, owner of Heart and Hand In Home Care, also has a Rotarian family heritage.
“When people ask me what I know about being a Rotarian, I don’t know life without it. My dad, Ed (McGrew), was president in 1982. As president you host the board meetings. Because he was a farmer his meetings were at our house at 6 a.m. We served them a sit-down breakfast.
“(Rotary membership) that’s been so important for me and my kids. I don’t know anything different.”
Emphasizing Rotary is “very family friendly,” past club president and El Centro attorney Ryan Childers explained, “I would say I grew up going to church. Our Rotary feels like a church family. When a baby is born, we all donate for a bank account for the baby.”
Garcia said perhaps the most gratifying work Rotarians do is when they interact with children. That happens under the STAR program, a leadership initiative established by the El Centro Elementary School District that includes having Rotarians visit fourth-grade classrooms. It stands for Stop-Think-Act-Review.
“I went two weeks ago, and I left on such a high. Just the interactions with the kids and the message we’re passing on. What a great concept,” Garcia said. “My message was courage. You read a story about courage and give examples and then they give examples.”
The club meets at noon on Thursdays in the El Centro Police Activities League center at 1100 N. 4th St. It is a time for networking, camaraderie and fun.
“One of my favorite things about Rotary is to go out and cut up with people, make fun of ourselves, laugh, that’s where the value is,” Childers said.