Every Wednesday afternoon Martha’s Vineyard Rotary members meet for lunch at the Ocean View restaurant and drop happy dollars into a bucket. “I have a happy dollar for my last tuition paid for Kate, at least she swears it is,” said Chappaquiddick ferry captain Liz Villard, referring to her daughter’s master’s degree.
“Happy dollar for Liz, for another great job with the soup supper,” said Mike McCourt, referring to Ms. Villard, who coordinates a community supper hosted by the rotary club at the Edgartown Whaling Church.
“Well, I’m just happy,” said club secretary Christina Baker, as she tossed a dollar bill into the bucket.
Like the other 34,000 rotary clubs across the globe, the Martha’s Vineyard chapter meets once a week, attendance mandatory. And contributing happy dollars?
“That’s just peer pressure,” laughed club president John Rancourt.
Other obligations for club members include paying annual dues and participating in the club’s fundraisers and events. Otherwise, the club’s objectives and beneficiaries change year by year, with rotarians maintaining the motto “service above self.”
“There are some vague guidelines, a few rules, but besides that it’s whatever your community needs,” Mr. Rancourt said. “Which is probably why it’s lasted so long.”
The club began on the Island in 1991. Today it has 53 active members, from bankers to restaurateurs to inn keepers.
The club hosts annual fundraisers like a golf tournament at the Vineyard Golf Club in October, a five-mile Murdick’s Run the Chop challenge in Vineyard Haven in July, and a pancake breakfast on the Edgartown waterfront in August where rotarians are “flying around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to feed 800 people breakfast,” said Adam Wilson.
The pancake breakfast alone raises $7,000. A year of fundraisers raises about $30,000, and “the money goes back into the community in ways you don’t normally see,” Mr. Wilson added, with 90 per cent of the money going directly to Island nonprofits, organizations and charities.
Past beneficiaries include Women Empowered, Island Food Pantry, Vineyard House and Martha’s Vineyard Little League, among many others over the years.
“We have a very robust, successful nonprofit community here,” said Dee Lander, vice president of Edgartown National Bank. “But they are usually more singularly focused, while we have a broader approach.”
The club donates quietly. Mr. Lander said the club “has a huge awareness problem,” admitting that he did not know what rotary was when he first came to a meeting.
“It’s the type of thing you think, well, I should know what rotary does. I’m not going to ask.”
When asked who rotarians are, the response from all members was the same: people dedicated to making a difference in the community.
“We are first and foremost focused on the local community,” Mr. Lander said. “But a byproduct of the club is that through our dues, we are able to make a difference, internationally, too.”
Last year, Martha’s Vineyard made its mark internationally by proposing a new rotary initiative.
For 25 years Rotary International has committed itself to eradicating polio globally, contributing more than one billion dollars to the effort.
“With the exception of a few cases in obscure countries, we have wiped it out,” Mr. Wilson said.
“So the question is, what’s next?” Mr. Lander said.
Two summers ago at the Vineyard Golf Club, member Dick Pratt met Jeff Morby, founder of Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, and asked him to speak at a rotary meeting. The fund’s goal is to find a cure for the disease through research. Approximately 38 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s, with the number on the rise, the fund reports. Rotarian support for the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund began at the Island meeting, which they then presented at the New England district meeting.
“It was kind of unusual to get that impact, where people hear something for the first time and say, ‘This is something we should be involved with,’” Mr. Lander said.
The Martha’s Vineyard club members presented the Alzheimer’s pitch at the 2012 Rotary International convention. They are now in the process of formulating a rotary action group, the next step in gaining international rotary recognition.
“It shows the power of rotary,” Mr. Lander said. “One rotarian can meet an individual more or less by chance, and it can grow and evolve into something that can make a difference locally, nationally and internationally.”
Meanwhile the Martha’s Vineyard club uses its weekly meetings to prepare for future events and to build camaraderie, welcoming off-Island members just as they are welcomed elsewhere in the world.
While visiting Seattle, Ms. Villard attended a meeting where she happened to sit next to the city’s head of transportation.
“What are the odds of a Chappaquiddick ferry captain having lunch with a head of transportation in Seattle?” Ms. Villard said. “Only rotary.”