Rotary continues tradition of supporting local nonprofits

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Rotary Club of West Orange granted a total of $12,500 to 17 nonprofit organizations benefiting West Orange and New Jersey at its annual Community Service Awards luncheon at Mayfair Farms on June 24.

All 17 organizations were deemed worthy by the Rotary’s awards committee after submitting letters describing their causes and needs. Most were no strangers to the process and receive funds from the club each year. In fact, the Washington School Rainbows support group relies on the award as its sole means of revenue.

But as committee Chairwoman Robbi Hershon pointed out, repeat winners of the award are no less deserving of the funds.

“These organizations really serve a need in the community,” Hershon told the West Orange Chronicle prior to the ceremony. “And without donations, these community organizations really would not be here. So we really need to give them some money to help them continue to serve the community.”

Hershon estimated that the Rotary gives away at least $10,000 to $12,000 per year through the Community Service Awards, all to organizations that she said are extremely thankful for the money. That gratitude was evident as the nonprofit organizations’ representatives described exactly what the monies will be going toward when accepting the awards during the ceremony. This year’s causes included funding the construction of St. Barnabas’ new west wing, paying for tutoring conducted by the West Orange African Heritage Organization and continuing to sponsor the arts and crafts pavilion at Camp Merry Hearts for special needs children.

Sangeeta Badlani of the Nikhil Badlani Foundation told the West Orange Chronicle that the foundation’s award will fund scholarships for the Music for Nikhil program, adding that she is honored by the award, which she sees as a sign that her organization is making a difference in the community.

Main Street Counseling Executive Director Steve Margeotes will also put his award to good use. Margeotes told the Chronicle that he will be able to afford 50 to 60 social workers per month to provide counseling sessions for approximately 60 senior citizens each month. This is not the first time his organization has benefited from the Rotary, either — he said Main Street Counseling has been an award recipient for approximately 30 years. And after all these years, he is still impressed that the Rotary is willing to help other service groups in need.

“It’s incredibly generous,” Margeotes said after the ceremony. “And I think it really strengthens the community. It’s a wonderful effort they do year in and year out.”

The Friends of Thomas Edison National Historical Park also have high regard for the Rotary, with Chairman Arthur Gordon telling the Chronicle that he thinks it is wonderful the club is so willing to support other organizations that, in return, do good for the community. Gordon said the Edison museum is a huge asset to West Orange because it attracts thousands of visitors to the township, which means new customers for local businesses.

Above all, Gordon said the national park preserves Edison’s legacy. Most recently, it raised money to restore the inventor’s heavy machine shop and artifacts in the Glenmont garage. The funds received from the Rotary will also go toward restoring various items at the site.

Such work is vital, Gordon said, because history should never be forgotten.

“Younger people particularly maybe are not as familiar with the history of Edison,” Gordon said, adding that the museum provides a tremendous resource for discovering the inventor’s legacy. “Learning from the past is important. Our motto is ‘Lighting the future by preserving the past.’”

The Downtown West Orange Alliance will also use its Rotary award to preserve the past, though its own focus will be local history. Township historian Joseph Fagan said the money will benefit the alliance’s new historical marker Initiative, which seeks to install plaques around town commemorating significant people and places from and within West Orange. A marker honoring Anna Easter Brown — who was part of the first group of black women to create a sorority — was erected in February. A second plaque, which pays tribute to Mary Williams — who provided supplies to George Washington’s troops during the American Revolution despite the fact that her husband and two of her sons were fighting for the British — will be installed July 7.

Fagan said the campaign hopes to construct five or six more markers by the end of 2016, including a plaque recognizing the Eagle Rock hill climb as the first in the nation to be used for automobile testing at the dawn of the 19th century. He said the goal of the initiative is to eventually have a trail of markers that people can follow throughout town. Such a trail can attract people to the community and allow them to discover the many great businesses of the downtown area, he said.

Most importantly though, Fagan said he hopes people will learn facts about West Orange’s historical significance that residents might otherwise never have known.

“There’s so much more to West Orange than just the history of Thomas Edison,” Fagan told the Chronicle following the event, saying the township has a rich history that is often overlooked. “New families coming in don’t really know the history only because they haven’t lived here. So this will help them become aware of the history and, in the process, raise awareness for all the good things that West Orange has to offer.”

The Rotary did more than recognize local organizations, however. The club gave away an additional $7,500 to international causes including Help the Children Hear, Rotoplast, ShelterBox and Gift of Life International. It also once again contributed to Rotary International’s PolioPlus program, which has nearly eradicated polio worldwide since being established 30 years ago. Accepting the award, former Rotary District Governor Karen Ziegler said Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries left in the world where polio exists, thanks in large part to PolioPlus. And within those nations, just 18 children are afflicted with the disease, she said.

Donating to such causes certainly helps the West Orange Rotary further its global counterpart’s reputation as one of the oldest and largest service organizations in history. In fact, longtime Rotarian Jerry Tarnoff estimated that the township’s chapter has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of Rotary International and numerous local causes since launching in 1928. It is all in the name of the club’s motto “Service above self,” Tarnoff said.

Of course, Tarnoff said helping people simply feels good, too.

“It always is better to give than to receive,” Tarnoff told the Chronicle in a June 23 phone interview.

Photos by Sean Quinn