Sponsored by the Springfield Rotary Club, the student-run organization is one of just five Rotaract Clubs in Rotary District 6670, which covers the southwest quadrant of Ohio. The club was the brainchild of Ozge Sayginer, class of 2009 from Mersn, Turkey, who was a member of Interact, a Rotary organization for high school students, in her home country.
Leslie Chasteen, class of 2010 from Cincinnati, Ohio, has picked up the mantle since being named Rotary's student of the month in February 2008. As president, she led the March 2009 meeting and expressed optimism that the organization will continue to expand its reach.
"It would be my goal to double or even triple our membership in the next year," Chasteen said. "As we become stronger as an organization, we are creating more interesting and beneficial opportunities for students. Once we can get the word out about Rotaract, it is my hope that many people would be interested in what it has to offer.
"Along with increasing our membership base, I would also like to be more visible and involved on campus. We are starting a few projects right now that are taking these steps. The first of these is a sunglasses drive for the people of Lesotho."
Chasteen has first-hand experience with the plight of the people of Lesotho after traveling there on a 2008 service trip led by Wittenberg Associate Professor of History Scott Rosenberg. She said the idea for a sunglasses drive was introduced by Rotaract's previous president, Katie Adams, class of 2010 from Fairfield, Ohio, who noticed children wearing sunglasses in photos from the trip.
Rotaract's current international service coordinator, Catie Stipe, class of 2012 from Lorain, Ohio, took it from there, developing a project called "Shoes and Shades," which was co-sponsored by the Class of 2010. The sunglasses go to those in need in Lesotho, while shoes collected will benefit Kan Espwa (Creole for Camp Hope) in Milot, Haiti.
Conor O'Rourke, class of 2011 from Mendham, N.J., is one of the organizers of Kan Espwa, which will offer 10 days of soccer and basketball opportunities in June to underprivileged young people in the impoverished Caribbean nation. O'Rourke has volunteered his time working sports camps in Haiti for the last four years, but this is the first time he has played a role in organizing the entire event.
The "Shoes and Shades" project concluded recently, with tremendous support from the campus, according to Chasteen. Springfield Rotary members helped with the collection and reached out to community donors to help ensure the project's success.
Along with increasing student participation and completing the service project, Chasteen said her goals for the organization are to extend ties and improve relationships in the Springfield community through a newly implemented Business Mentor Program, which offers students practical advice about the "real world" from business leaders.
Through the new program, community leaders have been matched with Rotaract members based on their majors and professional interests. For instance, Stipe is an English major who has been paired with Steve Sidlo, publisher of the Springfield News-Sun, while Chasteen is a history major who now calls Wittenberg President Emeritus William Kinnison her mentor. Kinnison was a history professor at Wittenberg, and he has published several books on the history of the university and the Springfield community.
Wittenberg's Director of Corporate, Foundation and Government Relations Lin Erickson serves as the group's adviser, along with local Rotary member Jane Deer, Wittenberg class of 1981. The connection with Deer, Springfield Rotary's executive director, services for people with disabilities, is an important one, both from an alumni and a community leader perspective.
"Wittenberg's Rotaract Club provides a wonderful opportunity to connect our students, who are passionate about service, with Springfield Rotary members who serve as mentors and role models," Erickson said. "Rotaract members are future Rotary members who will become leaders in their communities."
Springfield Rotary has not only embraced Wittenberg's Rotaract organization, but its members have committed to supporting projects for Lesotho as well. Steve Neely, Wittenberg class of 1975, chairs a Rotary committee for international service, and three members – Wittenberg emeritus board member Pete Noonan, Cathy Crompton and Erickson – plan to travel to Africa with Wittenberg students in June to explore future opportunities for collaborative projects.
The efforts to support the poor in Lesotho don't stop there, however. Neely is contacting other area Rotary and Rotaract organizations to gain further support for Lesotho projects, with money raised potentially matched by Rotary District 6670 and Rotary International. To date, Springfield Rotary has committed $17,000 to support this year's trip to Lesotho, and the district has awarded an additional $3,000.
Neely said he hopes to raise at least as much toward trips in 2010 as well.
"My experience in the organization thus far has been extraordinary," Chasteen said. "We are a relatively new organization, so while we have a solid foundation, we also have a clean slate and the ability to blaze our own trail.
"I look forward to the future of Rotaract on this campus, and I am honored to be a part of an organization that aims to develop young adults into strong leaders and caring citizens."
According to the Rotary International Web site, "a Rotaract club offers Rotarians the opportunity to mentor dynamic young men and women who want to provide service in their local and global communities. Rotaract has become a world-wide phenomenon."
Founded in 1905, Rotary was the world's first service organization. Today, Rotary has more than 30,000 clubs in over 160 countries around the world, and Rotaract continues to grow with more than 8,000 Rotaract clubs in 155 countries and geographic areas, with an estimated membership of more than 186,000.
Current members of Wittenberg's Rotaract Club include Chasteen, Katie Adams, Stipe, William McKelvey, class of 2010 from Gahanna, Ohio; Lisa Adams, class of 2011 from Brunswick, Ohio; Samantha Imfeld, class of 2011 from Lakewood, NY; Kim Miller, class of 2011 from Bethel Park, Pa.; Cesar Gonzalez, class of 2012 from Chicago, Ill.; Susan Duffield, class of 2010 from Springfield, Ohio; Brittany Baldridge, class of 2011 from Hilliard, Ohio; and Isabelle Beegle-Levin, class of 2012 from Hollidaysburg, Pa.
Written By: Ryan Maurer
Photos By: Erin Pence
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