Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sixty Years of Service Above Self

By Christy Berg, Rotary Club of the Caldwells

When Eugene Hartnett and 20 local businessmen founded the Caldwell Rotary Club in 1951, they had no idea that it would grow into such a dynamic organization, making a difference locally, nationally and internationally. “When we began, it was really a social club having interesting lunch meetings, “ recalled Warren Goodman, Charter Member. “Nothing was planned for community work. I continually prevailed upon the membership to get active as a service club and I’ve proudly watched them slowly become a true service organization.”

“This is not the Rotary of our fathers and grandfathers - a social club that does some good,” said Jon Wohlgemuth, President-elect and second generation Rotarian. “Our mission is to provide support to make our community and the world a better place through hard work and commitment. We make some great friends along the way.”

“Our club has changed for the better in terms of talent and commitment,” said President Tom Cocchiola. “When I joined 23 years ago, the club seemed to be an ‘old boy’s network’. Today, women and men across all age groups are well represented, major contributors, and integral to our success. Our club is vibrant and alive. Our members dream and plan big things and then they make them happen.”

Early Years

Club members in the mid-1950s and 1960s were creative in their efforts to raise money to support local projects. Some, like the Becker’s Farm Train Ride, ‘From Here to Eternity’ Theater Party, and ’63 World’s Fair Trip succeeded beyond expectations. Others, like the 1955 broom, whisk broom and light bulb sale were less successful and left members with a seemingly lifetime supply of bulbs of all sizes. Nonetheless, the early Rotarians raised enough money to sponsor a number of initiatives each year.

‘Operation Trash Can’ began in 1954 and continued for years as the club purchased and maintained litter bins in Caldwell and West Caldwell. ‘Clean up days’ were organized to coincide with the beginning of the school year and corresponding increase in litter. Rotary funded and built two bus stops along Bloomfield Avenue, one of which club members refurbished in 2010 as part of Caldwell Beautification Day.

Rotary’s commitment to local youth was demonstrated through the creation of a scholarship fund, sponsorship of a Girl Scout Troop in Caldwell, and contributions to the West Essex Camp Fund, Caldwell Recreation Youth Center, Student Council, Music Department, Midget Baseball, and Camp Wyanoke. The club funded the Police Department’s distribution 3000 safety pamphlets to children of the area.

The club expanded its support of military personnel and veterans in the 1960s. Gifts were sent through The American Legion to soldiers in Vietnam and donations were made to veterans hospitals and disabled veterans. This commitment has continued throughout the years, with supply boxes sent to soldiers in times of war, gifts to veterans provided to The American Legion, and support given to those who have been injured in service.

The Organization Evolves

The 1970’s saw a transformation of the club into a true local service organization that was responsive to the needs of the community. With fundraising efforts improving, financial support was expanded to include Family Service, Senior Citizens, Caldwell Welfare Department, and other charitable organizations. Rotary played an active role in the Bicentennial Committee and various youth programs.

Rotary was now able to support local emergency services. The club funded training in family crisis intervention for the North Caldwell Police Department and purchased bulletproof vests for officers in Caldwell, West Caldwell, North Caldwell and Essex Fells. And, in 1987, the club responded to an attempted child abduction at Lincoln School with the donation of two-way radios to police officials for use by crossing guards in Caldwell, West Caldwell and Essex Fells. “When the attempt was made, I realized that school crossing guards have no way to communicate with the police or fire department or anyone who could help in an emergency,” said Sam Kent who led the initiative with Victor Steinhart.

In 1976, Kent led the creation of a Rotary ‘Service Above Self’ Award. For 35 years, the award has been given to citizens in the West Essex who distinguish themselves through their volunteer work in the community. “This was a way that the club could say thank you from the whole community to some very special people,” said Kent.

Women Join Rotary

A U.S. Supreme Court decision in May, 1987 opened a door, allowing women to join Rotary for the first time since 1905. That year, June VanZandt was the first woman in The Caldwells to walk through that door. While there were mixed feelings among the membership, VanZandt quickly dispelled any concerns. She was named Rotarian of the Year in 1990 and was elected the club’s first female President in 1991.

“Accepting women in the club added a very special dimension,” said VanZandt. “Women are givers at heart, have a can-do attitude and are adept at organizing to get things done to enhance the lives of others. We have many talented women in our club today and I’d encourage others considering Rotary. In addition to the reward of service, membership gives professionals a higher profile in the business community.”

The Rotary-Kiwanis Caldwell Street Fair

One of VanZandt’s most significant accomplishments was the establishment of the Caldwell Street Fair in 1991. In its 20th year, the street fair has become a celebrated community event for over 35,000 people on the first Sunday of each October. It is also a major fundraiser for both the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs. Proceeds are invested back into the community and into the work of volunteers on national and international humanitarian projects.

“Our collaboration demonstrated the value of both Rotary and Kiwanis and that we could work together toward the betterment of our community,” explained VanZandt. Today, a joint Rotary-Kiwanis Street Fair Committee begins work each November to plan the following October’s event.

Willing Hearts Touches Lives

Twenty years ago, Pat Kiernan and a group of women committed to helping others opened a small consignment shop in Caldwell. Through their hard work and the support of The Rotary Club of the Caldwells, that shop has grown to accommodate over 3200 consignors and is managed by a staff of 45 regular volunteers and hundreds of interim volunteers.

Kiernan was honored with a ‘Service Above Self’ award in 1997 for her initiative, her work with Family Service, and her commitment to the community. She became a Rotarian that same year. “My father was very active in the Montclair Rotary, so all my life I heard about the meaningful work they did, but women were not in Rotary then,” said Kiernan. “When I was approached, I was encouraged by memories to join.”

While Willing Hearts is the Rotary club’s largest fundraiser, it has become much more. It is a place of community, where people come not only to consign or shop, but also to visit with their favorite volunteers. Local residents can depend on Willing Hearts for immediate help in times of need. Over the years, Willing Hearts has quietly helped many individuals and families faced with personal trauma through financial assistance or donations of furniture, clothing or household goods. Faithful high school Interact volunteers are rewarded with “stewardships” and other young people who are committed to service are supported. The volunteers also manage outreach projects, such as their current collection of prom gowns to be distributed by a local nurse to high school girls in Haiti. Last year’s prom gown drive for Essex Valley Regional was so successful that Willing Hearts brought in a tailor to teach the students how to alter gowns for resale.

It is through these personal touches that Willing Hearts volunteers make the greatest difference in peoples lives. Rotary members cherish these volunteers and are extremely proud of all that they do.

Golf Outing

2011 also marks the 40th Anniversary of the Rotary Club of the Caldwells Golf Outing. This significant annual fundraiser was conceived by Alan MacWright and Sam Kent and continues to help the club deliver on its mission of service and support of charitable causes.

This year’s golf outing will be held on June 16 at Cedar Hill Country Club in Livingston. Proceeds will be donated to the Caldwell College Center for Autism and Applied Behavioral Analysis.

The Rotary Club of The Caldwells Today

While fundraising is hard work, the consistency of proceeds from Willing Hearts, The Street Fair and The Golf Outing give the Rotary Club a strong financial base from which to work. “Our financial stature helps us tackle projects that are beyond the reach of most clubs,” explained Cocchiola. “We’re better prepared and better able to make a huge difference.” Wohlgemuth concurred, “We have ventured out of our comfort zone and have taken on much bigger and more far reaching projects.”

The club’s focus has been on community projects, local assistance to organizations, families and individuals, emergency response to local, national or international disasters, and international humanitarian projects.

Strong organizational capability also enables the club to support individual members in causes they embrace that are aligned with the Rotary mission. “We have the talent, and the financial strength, to accomplish incredible things and enable new members to conceive virtually any type of project and achieve success,” said Cocchiola. The club has rallied to support Gerry Valk in his work with the students of The Essex Valley School and Mike Kambourakis in his humanitarian missions to the Dominican Republic.

Local Impact

It is often the simple and unpublicized acts of kindness or financial support to local families or individuals in need of assistance that Rotary members site as most rewarding. Over the years, members have consistently helped those faced with illness, trauma, or personal hardship. The club also regularly partners with the Caldwell Welfare Department, Willow Tree, and other organizations that directly improve the situations of others.

The Rotary Club of the Caldwells has always provided support to local emergency services agencies. Recent donations include funding for an emergency vehicle and life support gear for the West Essex First Aid Squad, a Confined Spaces module for rescue services in North Caldwell, and speed signs to calm traffic in West Caldwell.

Civic initiatives have also spanned the history of the club. Rotary recently funded the lighting of Grover Cleveland’s Birthplace. The scoreboard at Mountain Field in North Caldwell, the Community Events Board in West Caldwell, and the flag poles in front of civic building in each of the Caldwells, as well as in Crane Park, were all Rotary donations. A project is currently underway to renovate the field house and restrooms at a sports field in North Caldwell.

Support of local youth has continued since the club’s inception. Each year, Rotary awards several scholarships. The club also sponsors youth exchange students, ambassadorial scholars for study abroad, and personal service projects such as those led by Eagle Scouts. The Dictionary Project provides all elementary school children in the area with a dictionary to use throughout their school years. For the past two years, dictionaries have been distributed by Interact, Rotary’s service club for high school students.

Local seniors have also been important to the club, whether donating equipment for their center or helping to serve meals on holidays.

Since 1974, the club has been actively involved in Camp Merry Heart, a camp in Hacketstown for children with special needs. Rotary supports the club financially and through volunteer service. In recent years, Caldwell Rotarians built camp amenities, constructed buildings, and donated athletic gear. Each year, members do spring clean up and help host a day of festivities for the campers.

Emergency Response

Rotarians in Caldwell have a history of reacting quickly to emergency situations around the world. In recent years, the club has made donations to help victims of the earthquake in Italy, the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and earthquake in Haiti. Individual members have purchased ‘ShelterBoxes’ that supply an extended family of up to 10 people with a tent and essential equipment to use while they are displaced or homeless.

The club’s most significant response effort, the Haiti Relief Project, continues today under the leadership of Kevin Hersh who was recognized in 2010 with a ‘Service Above Self’ award. Through the efforts of Caldwell Rotarian Mike Kambourakis and the Dominican Republic Rotary, the capability for shipping, storing and distributing supplies on the island was already well established when the earthquake hit. Locally donated food, water, medicine and supplies were distributed to remote, devastated areas of Haiti and the Dominican Republic within 48 hours. Recognizing the club’s unique capability to reach those in need while many were still scrambling to respond, Hersh went on a major campaign for donations. Through continued outreach efforts and a tremendous response from the community, relief shipments continue weekly to Haiti and the Dominican Republic and have helped thousands of people. Mike Kambouraukis regularly travels to the area to ensure that supplies reach the hands of those who need them most.

Gift of Life

The Rotary Club of the Caldwells embraced the international Gift of Life program several years ago, realizing their ability to raise money to save children’s lives. Since it’s inception in 1974, the Gift of Life program has been credited with saving the lives of over 11,000 children. Funded through the efforts of Rotarians around the world, Gift of Life saves children with life threatening heart defects by providing necessary surgeries and state-of-the-art cardiac procedures. These procedures are often unavailable in developing countries or, where limited availability does exist, are often out of reach for many families due to their high cost.

In 2007, the club sponsored its first pediatric surgical mission to the Dominican Republic. Jerry Smith recalled his experience, “Sitting in the waiting room, you could look into the eyes of the parents and feel their pain and anxiety, not knowing if their child would make it through. We did some really tough surgeries. While all of the children we helped survived, there were some on the list that we just didn’t get there in time for.”

The club has also sponsored children coming to the US for surgery. Gary Goodman said, “My proudest moment was when we picked up a 5 year old boy from Kennedy Airport and arranged for him to have the open heart surgery that saved his life.”

The experience has moved club members to act again. The Rotary and Interact Clubs of the Caldwells will be hosting a Gift of Life Talent Showcase on May 7 to raise money to sponsor another pediatric surgical mission in 2011. Auditions will be held February 28 and March 2 at JCHS.

Help The Children Hear

Another way the Rotary Club of the Caldwells helps children worldwide is through a program initiated by Dr. David Gurian. Since 2000, Help the Children Hear has been collecting old hearing aids and using the parts to build working aids. They are fitted for and distributed to children who are hearing impaired, but unable to afford a hearing aid. In some poor countries, children with hearing impairments are unable to attend school. Enabling their hearing begins their path toward education, employment and the ability to lift themselves from poverty.

“I am proud to be helping children with hearing loss in places I never heard of before Rotary,” said Gurian. “It’s gratifying being part of a worldwide organization that allows me to help change the lives of people I will never meet.”

Rotary International – Foundation

Rotary International is the world's first service club organization, with more than 1.2 million members in 33,000 clubs in 200 countries. Rotary club members are volunteers who work locally, regionally, and internationally under the motto ‘Service Above Self’. Rotary is non-political and non-religious. Regardless of nationality, culture or belief system, members of Rotary are involved for the benefit of others.

Since it’s inception in 1951, The Rotary Club of The Caldwells has supported Rotary International (RI) through the financial contributions of its members to the RI Foundation. RI has bestowed the honor of ‘Paul Harris Fellow’ on dozens of Caldwell members over the years. Paul Harris Fellows, those recognized for significant contributions, are the backbone of The Rotary Foundation. Their contributions account for 80% of the over $80 million raised annually to support work to eradicate Polio, provide clean water, fight hunger, reduce child mortality, improve basic education and literacy, and promote peace and conflict resolution.

New Members Welcome

The Rotary Club of the Caldwells is working to attract an even more diverse group of professionals. Rotary uses a classification system to establish and maintain a vibrant cross-section or representation of the community's business, vocational, and professional interests among members and to develop a pool of resources and expertise to successfully implement service projects.

“It’s all about the classifications,” explained Sam Kent. Having a diversity of vocations gives a club a really good mix of people that bring different perspectives, ideas, and expertise to the table. I’d like to see more trades people join.”

“I’d like to get more hands on deck so we can accomplish more in less time and generate more ideas about what our community needs,” said Kevin Hersh. “I’m especially inspired by our volunteers in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s who are looking forward and at what our town needs tomorrow.”

Members describe the club as being comprised of people with good hearts who are willing to work to make a difference in their community and throughout the world and who like to have some fun along the way. Rotarians are known for high professional and ethical standards. They are proud of being part of the larger fabric of the world through Rotary International.

“We are a club made up of regular people who collectively do some pretty amazing things,” said Jon Wohlgemuth. “We are a reflection of our community,” said David Gurian. “Rotarians can be trusted to do the right thing for those in need, be they our neighbor or a child in another part of the world.”

Bob Siedler, who joined Rotary in 2009, shared his experience. “Regardless of what is going on in my personal life, I leave our weekly meetings feeling good about myself and the world we live in. The spirit of the people in the club is contagious and reaffirms all that is good in the world. Be prepared to be blown away!”

“I never really understood the quality of the club until I joined,” said Penny Potenz Winship. “People who work for the good of the whole are something to behold. I can honestly state that joining Rotary is one of the most fulfilling choices I’ve made.”

For more information about The Rotary Club of the Caldwells, contact Tom Cocchiola at 973-226-2344 or visit http://www.caldwellrotary.org. For more information about Rotary International, visit www.rotary.org.

Street Fair Photos by Gene Collerd

The Rotary-Kiwanis Street Fair Committee is busy planning the 20th Anniversary Caldwell Street Fair for the first Sunday in October. Enjoy these historic photos of street fairs over the years taken by Gene Collerd, courtesy of Sam Kent. Thanks for joining Rotary and Kiwanis for this celebration every year and for helping us raise the money we use for our service projects!

Watch this space for more photos in the coming weeks...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Prom Gowns for Haiti Teens - Can you help?

Ever since the earthquake, Rotarians in the Caldwell

Club have been sending medicine, water, food and

clothing to the victims. A local nurse who visits often,

administering to the high school, asked the teens what

they were wishing for and they responded, “a prom!”

Willing Hearts Shop, 491 Bloomfield Avenue,

Caldwell, is the drop off for gowns. Nurse Pam would

love to see these teens experience a wonderful time,

an event to give them hope and let them know how

special they are. Please drop off your prom or wedding

wear at the Shop before April 9. Our Shop is open

10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Thursday’s until 8:00 p.m.

Nurse Pam promises pictures! Need more information?

Call Pat Kiernan, (973) 239-6988.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Open Auditions Announced for Talent Showcase Benefit

On May 7, 2011 the Rotary and Interact Clubs of The Caldwells will be hosting a “Talent Showcase” to raise money for a pediatric cardiology surgical mission. This mission will give the “Gift of Life” to approximately 25 children with life threatening heart defects who would otherwise not have access to the surgical procedures they need to survive.

All individual and ensemble performing artists, whether established or aspiring, are invited to audition for this special event. Auditions will be held on Monday, February 28 and Wednesday, March 2 from 5:30 to 10:00 pm at the James Caldwell High School Performing Arts Center. To schedule an audition, please contact Director Penny Potenz Winship at CaldwellRotaryGol@gmail.com.

The Gift of Life program has helped save the lives of over 11,000 children in 64 countries since it’s inception in 1974. The program is largely run and funded through Rotary Clubs around the world with the help and generosity of individual and corporate donors.

In 2007, The Rotary Club of The Caldwells sponsored a mission to the Dominican Republic, providing life-saving surgery to twenty children. This year, the club is partnering with The Interact Club of James Caldwell High School to raise money for an even larger mission. In addition to performing surgeries, the medical team will train local cardiologists so medical interventions can continue long after the volunteers leave. All money raised through the Talent Showcase will be used solely to support this mission.

Talent Showcase sponsorship opportunities and journal ads are available to those businesses, organizations and individuals who want to help save children’s lives through their tax-deductible contribution. For more information, please contact Dianne Woitkowski at 973-896-7236. All donations are welcome and will help fund this mission. Checks should be made payable to “RCC Endowment/GOL” and mailed to Caldwell Rotary Gift of Life , P.O. Box 98, Caldwell, NJ 07006.

Rotary is worldwide organization of local service clubs bringing together business leaders for the purpose of humanitarian service both locally and internationally.

Interact is Rotary’s service club for high school students. Interact members define and carry out community service projects, including those that further international understanding and goodwill.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Caldwell Rotarians Recognized as Paul Harris Fellows

Paul Harris Fellows Ash Parikh, Kevin Hersh, Aldo Vandermolen and Robert Markman.
Photo by Janet Markman.

Four Caldwell Rotarians Recognized as Paul Harris Fellows

On February 8, The Rotary Club of the Caldwells bestowed the honor of “Paul Harris Fellow” on members Ash Parikh, Kevin Hersh, Robert Markman and Aldo Vandermolen. This prestigious recognition is an expression of appreciation by The Rotary Foundation Trustees to an individual who has made a significant monetary contribution that will be used toward humanitarian and educational work worldwide.

The mission of The Rotary Foundation is to enable Rotarians to advance world understanding, goodwill and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education, and the alleviation of poverty. Paul Harris Fellows are the backbone of The Rotary Foundation. Their contributions account for 80% of the over $80 million raised annually to support work to eradicate Polio, provide clean water, fight hunger, reduce child mortality, improve basic education and literacy, and promote peace and conflict resolution.

Bob Markman explained, “I realize that I am a citizen of this world, one who has generous feelings for and concern about the well being and betterment of all life on our planet. I owe special thanks to Rotary for being there, empowering myself and others to put humanitarian ideals into action.”

Ash Parikh, Foundation Chair, concured, “I wish to do more to make our world a better place to live. I wish to help people understand the spiritual wisdom in sharing their physical, mental and material wealth and well being.”

The Rotary Club of the Caldwells has always had a strong commitment to local service, engaging in local projects and supporting local families, programs and organizations in need. The club also provides two avenues for making a difference internationally. The first is through involvement in club led international projects, such as “Help the Children Hear” which collects, refurbishes and distributes hearing aids and “Gift of Life” which sponsors pediatric cardiology surgical missions. The second is through a contribution to the Rotary Foundation.

Kevin Hersh finds reward in each opportunity. “I strive to make a difference in the Caldwells, NJ, the US, and internationally,” he said. “By supporting my club, I am making a difference in town. By supporting The Rotary Foundation who invests in many hundreds of programs, I also feel that I am making a difference.”

“Becoming a Paul Harris Fellow is a tremendous accomplishment and honor for all Rotarians,” said Tom Cocchiola, Caldwell Rotary President. “Our newest Paul Harris Fellows provide strong support for The Rotary Foundation, which has been the world leader in Polio eradication and an organization that has been helping people throughout the world and supporting local causes for decades.”

“The value of being recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow,” said Aldo Vandermolen, “lies in the example I hope it sets for others to make similar contributions because they also believe in the great humanitarian efforts engaged in by Rotary International.”

For more information about The Rotary Club of the Caldwells, visit www.CaldwellRotary.org. To inquire about membership, contact Tom Cocchiola at 973-226-2344 .

For more information about The Rotary Foundation and Rotary International, visit www.Rotary.org.