All kinds of professionals are members of the Rotary Club of Woonsocket – lawyers, small business owners, nonprofit executives and more, says newly-minted Rotary President Roger Bouchard.
And many are like him – veterans. Best known as the voice of morning talk at radio station WNRI (AM-1380 FM-95.1), Bouchard has been a Rotary member more than 30 years, including an earlier stint with another chapter in Warwick.
It’s that kind of loyalty and commitment that helps the charitable club raise funds, and dole out, on average, some $65,000 a year to a slew of community-based organizations in its service area, which includes North Smithfield and Burrillville. But it may not be enough to keep the service club robust and forward-thinking.
“I think it’s important that institutions change with the times and a service club is no different,” said Bouchard. “You can’t just do the same things every year with an aging membership.”
That’s why Bouchard has made it his personal mission during his tenure as president to bring some new and younger members into the Rotary. He’s looking for people with fresh ideas and energy to get involved and make sure the Rotary remains an effective helping hand for many years to come.
As Bouchard puts it, “It’s not a social club. It’s a working club.”
And its principal mission is giving out money – in the form of mostly modest-size but numerous grants to organizations concerned with keeping up the community fabric. For example, Connecting for Children and their Families, a Fairmount-based nonprofit that’s committed to helping children from needy families get the tools they need to be successful in school, just received $500.
Virtually anyone can seek a grant by filling out one of the Rotary’s applications and explaining why the funds are needed.
Despite the pandemic, Rotary board members have continued to hold their monthly meetings at the River Falls Restaurant to consider the applications.
“Most of the time, we make the contribution if it’s in our service area, it’s something that will help the community,” says Bouchard. “It’s done once a month at the board meetings. Sometimes we’ll have five requests, sometimes we’ll have 10, sometimes we’ll have one.”
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Keeping that stream of green flowing through the “out” door, of course, means Rotary members spend a lot of time figuring out ways of bringing some flowing through the “in” door. Some of the most familiar fundraising traditions in the area are the work of Rotarians, including the Autumnfest Beer Tent. Unknown to most who attend the Columbus Day weekend bash, the Rotary also makes money from selling soda during the festival, but somehow soft drinks don’t get as much attention.
Unfortunately, the Rotary won’t get much income from soda or beer this fall with festivals like Autumnfest socially-distanced out of existence due to COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, but members will still be selling tickets for Project Charities in the near future. The raffle for cash prizes is one of the Rotary’s biggest fundraisers of the year.
And the Rotary is now accepting nominations for the annual Rotary Vocational Service Award, which is given out to recognize an individual who has made exceptional contributions toward keeping the community vibrant. Past recipients include Jeanne Budnick of Pepin Lumber for spearheading the “Buy Local” campaign; Former Landmark Medical Center President Richard Charest, for his role in rescuing the financially struggling hospital several years ago; and Cathy Levesque, executive director of the Stadium Theatre, which she’s guided to success through good times and bad.
“Anyone who wants to make a nomination is welcome to do that,” says Bouchard. “It’s something we can still do during the pandemic.”
Bouchard says you don’t have to be young to be a member of the Rotary, but it doesn’t hurt. While much of the effort that goes in carrying out the Rotary’s charitable mission is often organizational, sometimes it’s just, well, plain work – the physical kind.
For example, Nicole Brien – wife of City Council vice president and mayoral hopeful Jon Brien – spearheaded the remodeling of two elementary school libraries, most recently at Globe Park. Much of the effort – painting, rebuilding shelves, cleaning – was hands-on and performed by Rotary volunteers.
“To do a hands-on project you have to have members young enough to do it,” says Bouchard. “I guess I can still bang a hammer but somebody 30 years younger than me can probably do a better job.”
Bouchard says the ideal new member might be a man or woman about 40 years old, but the most important attributes they can bring to the club are passion and imagination. He’s looking for people with vision and drive as much as youth, says Bouchard.
He hopes some fresh blood will bring about what he calls “a change in culture” among members that keeps the Rotary relevant on the road ahead.
With about 35 members on the current roster, Bouchard took over as president of the Rotary in June, succeeding longtime member Edward Skwirz. In keeping with the traditions of the civic club, it was Skwirz who asked Bouchard to serve as president for the usual term – one year.
“I already know who the next president is going to be,” he says.
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo