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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019 2 months ago

Rotary donations top $45,000 this year, almost all of which funnels into local community

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With a ‘service before self’ attitude, the Winter Garden Rotary Club donated $45,500 to local nonprofits, its largest amount yet.
by: Hannah Swayze News Editor

As its fiscal year comes to a close, the Rotary Club of Winter Garden has been handing out some big checks. 

In July, the local Rotary Club donated $45,500 to local community organizations in an effort to support its neighbors.

In the last fiscal year — running annually from July 1 to June 30 — the club raised $45,500, which was distributed to more than 22 nonprofits locally and internationally in gifts ranging from $1,000 to $7,500, according to the club’s secretary, Pam Bozkurt.

The recipient of the largest amount — $7,500 — is the West Orange Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to graduates of West Orange High School. The fund has been providing scholarships to students in need annually since 1925. 

Other local recipients of the fund include the Garden Theatre, Matthew’s Hope, Oakland Nature Preserve, Women Build at the West Orange Habitat for Humanity, and West Orange Boys and Girls Club. 

Rotary Club of Winter Garden President Ralph DiSciullo said 95% of the money collected in Rotary goes back to local organizations. 

“Nowadays, you see a lot of these national charities that are great … and we donate sometimes to them also, but we also need to look a the local charities that are doing work in your community,” DiSciullo said. “And you see a direct reaction to the money that we’ve raised for them whether it be the Medical Bank or the Garden Theatre so they can do events for students.”

There are 60 members of the Winter Garden Rotary Club, one of the oldest in the area at 97 years. It is one of more than 40 in Central Florida. Throughout the year, members volunteer their time and money hosting fundraisers, conducting need-based drives and donating their own earnings to various causes in the community. 

Donation recipients are chosen by the Rotary Club board. Board members assess each organization and needs in the community. Some are groups such as the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, which the club donates to every year. Others result from speakers who attend meetings to share their cause, according to Bozkurt. 

“Sometimes, we have a speaker who comes and just blows us out of the water,” Bozkurt said. “For example, we had the Girl Scouts of Citrus come this year, and we were just very impressed with what they’re doing for the young women in the community.”

Another way the club raises money is through what it calls “happy dollars.” At meetings, each member donates $1, $2, $5 or however much they want to give and talks about something that made them happy that week. This year, some of that money was contributed to the Lift Disability Network, providing two scholarships for deserving children involved in the program to attend a Building Pathways camp.

This year, through “happy dollars” and other initiatives, the club raised more than $8,000 to be invested back into the community, according to Bozkurt. 

DiSciullo said the club does not have a monetary goal for the next year, but it always tries to either match or exceed the previous year’s numbers. He also said he wants to get the word out to the community to get more people — especially the younger generation — involved in Rotary. He said a lot of younger people associate Rotary with old men playing poker and raising money. 

“We’re not talking a whole lot of time — we’re not looking for their money or anything,” DiSciullo said. “If they give us the time, that will help us raise the money because we have events in place to help generate the revenue.” 

The club also is a part of Rotary International, giving the opportunity for members to also give to causes that affect the global community. Rotary International spans 130 countries, with more than 1.2 million members in 35,000 clubs. 

The Winter Garden Rotary Club is accepting new members. Meetings are held at 12:15 p.m. Tuesdays at Tanner Hall. 

“We’re looking for local professionals, business owners, interested citizens,” Bozkurt said. “We always (invite) people to come check us out.”

For more information on the Rotary Club of Winter Garden, visit rotaryofwintergarden.org.

Hannah Swayze is the News Editor at the West Orange Times & Observer and Windermere Observer. She is former staff writer of the Johnson City Press in Johnson City, Tennessee. She is a graduate of East Tennessee State University where she earned a bachelor's degree in media...

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