Bringing the Rotary experience to Wilsonville High School
The Rotary Club of Wilsonville hopes to inspire the next generation of Rotarians to volunteer their time for the betterment of their local community and beyond.
One way it does this is through the Interact Club, which is essentially a Wilsonville High School version of the adult outfit. The group started in 2019 but, in spite of the pandemic, has gained steam this year, hosting a bake sale for victims of last September's wildfires, helping out at the West Linn-Wilsonville School District's Family Empowerment Center and planning a project to add peace poles at local schools.
"The whole premise is getting the kids to think about service to others, to get themselves out of the way and be in service to their community and individuals," said Rotary member Jake McMichael.
The Rotary decided to pursue the high school club following the end of the Key Club, which served a similar volunteer-focused function. Interact includes 16 members including leaders like President Lauren Ellett and Project Manager Ellie Counts. Ellett was actually a member of a now defunct club her freshman year but said the Interact Club is better organized and more productive.
The group meets once a month and each member has to complete at least 16 community service hours in a year.
Both Ellett and Counts developed a relationship with the Rotary by participating in its youth exchange program, which placed Counts in Slovakia and Ellett in Italy.
"I knew it was a great organization that liked to help the community and seemed really invested in helping me, which was really cool because they didn't benefit from me doing a cool trip to Slovakia but they still really cared about me," Counts said.
Through the Peace Pole project, they plan to place poles inscribed with "May Peace Prevail on Earth" at local schools in the coming years. They're already bought one pole and are deciding where to place it.
"It's a reminder to be bringing peace to everywhere and every aspect of your life," Counts said. "We wanted to plant it where it can be seen when you're driving in and out of the entrance of the school."
During the fires, the group baked goodies like cinnamon rolls, banana bread and rice krispy bars, sold them and raised over $1,200 for victims.
"There was a real problem and we had a real solution. All the money went to people who had been displaced," Count said.
The group has also run a coat and blanket drive for underprivileged families, stuffed backpacks with essential items for students at the Family Empowerment Center and folded cranes as part of an art display at the Wilsonville Parks and Recreation building honoring COVID-19 victims.
"A lot of kids join the service projects because they want it to look good on their resume and they need service hours for college applications," said Rotary Club of Wilsonville member Laura Lajoie-Bishop. "We've seen these kids really lean into helping the community in ways we hadn't even thought about. They're looking at it from a different lens. I'm incredibly impressed with their organization."
Along with the Interact Club, Counts said Environmental and Girl Up clubs at the high school are other examples of Wildcat students wanting to make a difference and she hopes that these clubs can collaborate in the future, which she said would grow awareness of Interact.
And recognition among underclassmen is an issue the club faces — most of its members are seniors.
"It's been challenging getting freshman and lowerclassmen to join. We've been reaching out through emails, written an article in the school newspaper, submitted a video for the club fair we have at our school. Not all of it has worked so far but we're hoping to gain some momentum," Ellett said.
During their time as leaders of the club, Counts and Ellett have learned important skills like communication, that "it never hurts to ask," along with public speaking and leadership. Counts said she plans to join an adult rotary club when she's older.
"They (Rotary Club of Wilsonville members) are my role models. They are very giving of themselves for others and that's something I aspire to be," she said.
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