A Year of Service: La Jolla’s Rotary Clubs discuss 2016 projects, accomplishments

The motto of Rotary International is “Service Above Self,” and while each of the 35,000 clubs worldwide interpret that their own way, La Jolla’s four Rotary Clubs (those west of Interstate 5) truly go above and beyond. Whether it’s across the street or around the world, La Jolla’s Rotarians were busy in 2016 putting service above self. 

The “rotary year” starts in July with the election of a new club president, but the clubs work together throughout the calendar year to raise funds and volunteer for causes close to their hearts. 

La Jolla Sunrise Rotary

Mark Powell, past president of the La Jolla Sunrise Rotary, which meets 6:55 a.m. Thursdays at The Shores Hotel, said this year, individual members brought to the forefront causes their club could (and ultimately did) support. “The kindest people in the world are at the La Jolla Sunrise Rotary Club,” he said. “We have about 40 members, mostly retirees, and we meet each week to listen to speakers, raise some money and have a good time.” 

Two Sunrise Rotary members, Henry and Estelle Ebert, came to La Jolla from New York, where they started the Gift of Life program, which helps establish medical labs in other countries that are used to treat children born with heart conditions. “When they came to our club, they let us know about the program, so in the last year, we raised enough money to establish a lab in Jamaica where children can be prepped for surgery and have a chance to survive,” Powell said.

Another member, Dave Irwin, told the club about his project to travel to Mexico with other dentists to repair cleft palates and replace missing teeth. “The project is called A Thousand Smiles, because once Dave and the other doctors are done, these children are no longer afraid to smile,” Powell said. “All the work is done for free, so some children come from miles away. We were happy to support that project.” 

In addition to fundraising for international efforts, Sunrise Rotarians volunteered with Feeding America this year. “We had a speaker from Feeding America, who told us how many kids in San Diego go to bed hungry. And we know they do food drives during the holidays, but they need food all the time. It was heart-wrenching to hear how many kids in San Diego aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from, so our club volunteered in August to sort food,” Powell said. 

The club also has an ongoing relationship with the San Pasqual Academy, a residential education campus designed specifically for foster teens in Escondido, thanks to a member who has been involved with the school for years. “We go to their football games and their graduations, and give scholarships,” Powell said. “But during the holidays, we stuff stockings to give to them.” 

Locally, the club also has a regular presence at the La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival on Dec. 4, sponsoring the annual visit from Santa Claus. 

To raise money for all this, members collected donations and dues each week, and hold fundraisers throughout the year. To close the year, the club will have a holiday party fundraiser for members only and their guests.

Rotary Club of La Jolla

At the Rotary Club of La Jolla, which meets at noon Tuesdays at the La Valencia Hotel, Rotarians have the choice of which organizations to support and how, said past president Lora Fisher. 

“Some people have been Rotarians for a long time, and if something touches their heart, like a scholarship program, they write a check. Other Rotarians say I like to actually do things and want to get involved in the community. For others, the international efforts touch their hearts, so that’s what they get involved in. A special few get involved in a bunch of different things. What’s nice about our club is you can get involved in whatever means something to you,” she said. 

She noted the La Jolla Club won “Rotary Club of the Year” for 2016, and thinks it’s because of their international focus. 

“We went to Haiti and built a chicken coop … and we’re going to go back to build a playground that was destroyed during Hurricane Matthew, and maybe build some homes,” she said. “We also do a lot of work in Tijuana, like our Day of Kings trip, where we partnered with Tijuana Rotary Clubs and some Clubs in Los Angeles to bring wheelchairs to children who need them. Some people bring toys or dress up, it was amazing.”

The club also has a partnership with Project Mercy through which they build homes for families in Tijuana. This year, the Club built its 27th and 28th home, and Rotarians are going back this month to build more. 

The club also facilitates the Tijuana Scholars Lab. “Once these students are finished with middle school, their parents pull them out of school so they can work. We provide a stipend to pay the parents, so their kids can stay in school, and every Saturday we Skype call them to teach them English and computer skills,” Fisher said. “Each year, the percentage of students that go to college is higher and higher.”

To help students locally get into college, the club raises funds throughout the year for its scholarships program that benefits students at La Jolla High School, The Bishop’s School and the Preuss School, supports leadership camps for young people and participates (with other clubs) in a speech contest for area students. 

Other local efforts include volunteer partnerships with the Balboa Naval Hospital, Just in Time for Foster Youth, the USO (Rotary members volunteered to feed service members and their families at the USO at Thanksgiving) and La Jolla’s League House for low-income seniors. “Twice a year, we do a party for League House members, one in the summer and one in the winter,” Fisher said. “At the winter party, we provide giftcards for the seniors and perform a sing-along concert for them.” This evening is slated for Dec. 13. 

Other December evenings include riding in a car during the Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival, ringing bells in front of the Girard Avenue Vons to collect donations on Dec. 17, and holiday parties for the members. 

La Jolla Rotary Club president Ken King said the makeup of members consists of those in their 30s all the way to their 90s, and the retirees are “anything but retired,” he said. “They get involved and stay involved.” He added that members still in the workforce appreciate the lunch-hour meeting time. 

To raise funds, the group holds events throughout the year, including the recent “Laughing Under the Stars” benefit, and collects donations and dues during meetings. 

Torrey Pines Rotary Club 

Unlike several other larger clubs in the area, the Torrey Pines Rotary Club is what president Alex Robertson calls “small but mighty.” The 20-member group meets 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays at Rock Bottom Brewery. 

“We’re a tiny club, so we can’t take on huge projects, but we do what we can to help people in our community and in Tijuana,” he said. “When I came in (as president in July), I had a different vision from what we normally do. In choosing the United States as a place of residence, I learned 20 percent of children and 15 percent of the nation’s adults live under the poverty line. So rather than tackle international projects, we’re focusing on this area and Tijuana.”

The Scotland native said the club’s biggest undertaking is the annual Care ‘n Share toy drive run by member Nancy Stokes. “She collects toys throughout the year, which are given to children in county hospitals,” Robertson said. “Most organizations think to host a toy drive during the holidays, but children are in hospitals all year long, so we collect starting in May.”

One key site is the Del Mar Fairgrounds, where Rotarians set up boxes at the exits for toys or stuffed animals that are won through carnival games that the winners might not need. “A great deal of effort goes into this. We can’t just take the toys to the hospital, they have to be cleaned and repacked so they are sanitary,” Robertson added. 

A new toy-raiser this year has come through a partnership with the San Diego Blood Bank. “When people give blood, they get points from the Blood Bank, and this year, they offered the option to trade in those points for toys that would be given to the Care ‘n Share toy drive,” Robertson said. This year, the Torrey Pines Rotary Club collected just under 8,000 toys. 

Across the border, the club also partakes in a bi-annual trip to Tijuana to deliver sanitary items such as toilet paper, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, paper towels, etc. “There is a dump in Tijuana and there are lots of people that live off its contents, so once every six months we collect these items and drive them down to that area,” he said, adding that the items are collected throughout the year. 

Golden Triangle Rotary Club 

Although the Golden Triangle Rotary Club did not respond to La Jolla Light’s inquiry by deadline, we still wanted to give them kudos. About 100 members strong, the club is self-proclaimed as the “most dynamic Rotary Club in the world” and works to develop projects to improve health, well-being and self-sufficiency in the surrounding communities and beyond. 

The club has carried out projects in more than a dozen countries and has partnerships with 20 San Diego organizations. One of its signature fundraising events is the “Quintessential Festival,” and features beer and wine tastings, family activities, music and more. The 2017 event will be 12:30 p.m. April 22 at Nobel Park, 8810 Judicial Drive.

Coming next week: Read about the 2016 accomplishments of La Jolla’s Kiwanis Clubs.

Want to Know More?

  • Sunrise Rotary of La Jolla meets, 6:55 a.m. Thursdays at The Shores Hotel, 8110 Camino Del Oro. $20. (619) 992-9449. 
  • La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club meets 7:15 a.m. Fridays at La Jolla Marriott, 4240 La Jolla Village Drive. $20. (858) 395-1222. lajollagtrotary.org
  • Rotary Club of La Jolla meets noon Tuesdays at La Valencia Hotel, 1132 Prospect St. Lunch $30. Guests welcome. Lora.fisher@usbank.com
  • Torrey Pines of La Jolla Rotary meets 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays at Rock Bottom Brewery, 8980 La Jolla Village Drive. $20. (858) 459-8912. gurneymcm@aol.com
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