SIUE Rotaract Club wastes no time giving back to surrounding community

The group gathers to clean the roadside, picking up trash and helping the environment. 

While many have heard of Rotary International, people may not be aware of just how big of an impact they have around the world, even at the college level. 


Rotaract Club is the college-level version of Rotary International, a worldwide nonprofit organization dedicated to helping out in the community. Alison Howard, senior in the elementary education program and president of Rotaract Club, said SIUE’s branch works mostly in the Edwardsville and St. Louis areas, along with other nonprofit organizations. 


Howard said Rotaract Club has worked with Restore Decor, a nonprofit furniture store, and the Humane Society in the past. 


“Another big one for our particular branch at the college level is Adopt-a-Highway,” Howard said. “So we will clean up trash along Route 157, by SIUE. That’s where we actually tie into campus, is we clean up trash along the campus entrance.”


Jenna Lercher, sophomore nursing major and vice president of Rotaract Club, joined Rotaract after being involved in the high school version of the club, Interact, which Howard was also a part of. Lercher said one unique challenge of attracting members to a club dedicated to service is that some of the ‘dirty work’ necessary in service may not be appealing. 


“We clean up trash on the side of the road, and it doesn’t sound enjoyable, but as a member, as an officer, you make it enjoyable,” Lercher said. “The stories we have, the projects we have fixing up old furniture, you get dirty, it’s a lot of work, [so] you make it enjoyable for everyone.”


Howard agreed, saying one of the club’s core strengths is the relationships made between each of its members. 


“You get to know your members and know your officers so well, because you’re literally standing outside – in hopefully nice weather – with them,” Howard said. “You learn about each other, and from that, you’re able to grow connections and relationships with people you probably otherwise wouldn’t have met.”


Lercher said she feels that Rotaract is different from other clubs because of its focus on service rather than any one specific hobby. 


“We’re all different majors,” Lercher said. “If you split us up, we all have different qualities or hobbies. The only thing we really have in common is giving back.”


Safat Shoeb, an international student from Bangladesh who is working towards his master’s in pharmaceutical science, said he was interested in joining a service club from the first days of his study at SIUE. Shoeb said he was involved in a service club back home, but that Rotaract has given him more opportunities socially. 


“Rotaract is different because here you can meet people from all around university, from each department,” Shoeb said. “Another thing is they have people from different cultural backgrounds where you can also learn about new cultures and make new friends.”


Rotaract has not always thrived as much as it has in recent years, however. Howard said when she joined, the club was nearly dissolved because of how small it had become during the pandemic. Howard said she was the president, secretary, treasurer and PR officer when she first took over the club. 


“We were very stagnant, especially because of COVID, because we are a community service club, so not being able to go out into the community really stunted our growth,” Howard said. “I was just trying to keep the club alive … and I implemented a lot of things I’d learned from community service opportunities I had through Interact.”


Howard and Lercher said club membership has more or less tripled since the early days of their involvement in Rotaract, now boasting around 30 members. Shoeb said he has been very impressed with the work being done to revitalize the club and hopes it will continue to grow in the future. 


“Everyone is taking initiative, putting their hands up and helping each other in the events, and they’re there for the mission, to bring the change, to help the society and give back to the society,” Shoeb said. “I see this club growing a lot, being one of the biggest clubs at SIUE, because it’s fun, people can give back to the society, and it’s not boring.”


Since rejuvenating the club, Howard and Lercher said they have focused fundraising projects on various nonprofit organizations that can use the money to help out around the world. Howard and Lercher both said Rotaract raised over $600 for the American Cancer Society last year. 


“We also donated $250 last semester to UNICEF, which is a Rotary partner helping people in Ukraine, particularly children and making sure they’re still getting an education and making sure they’re doing okay due to the unrest that’s been happening lately,” Howard said. 


More recently, Rotaract raised approximately $200 for the End It Movement, a nonprofit dedicated to human trafficking prevention. 


“To some, that probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but for us, because we are so small, I’m just so proud of how much money we’ve raised in the last year,” Howard said. “In terms of financial contributions, we’ve done a lot more than I ever thought we could.”


Howard, Lercher and Shoeb all said they hope to see Rotaract grow in the years to come. 


“We are always welcoming new members,” Howard said. “Anyone can join any day, any time, any place.”

For more information on SIUE Rotaract Club, visit their webpage on GetInvolved. SIUE Rotaract is found on Facebook and Instagram as well.

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