Editor’s note: The following is part of the Active Life special section.
In State College, there are many ways to stay active through service. However, the image of service clubs as “old people’s” clubs can deter some from wanting to get involved.
“A lot of people think of us as a bunch of old people smoking cigars and drinking bourbon,” said Chris Potalivo, president of the State College/Downtown Rotary Club. “That’s really not the case. We are really trying to bring in some more dynamic people.”
Service clubs, like the Rotary Club, often are focused on the needs of young people.
A lot of people think of us as a bunch of old people smoking cigars and drinking bourbon. That’s really not the case. We are really trying to bring in some more dynamic people.
Chris Potalivo, president of the State College/
Out of the about 60 members in the Downtown Rotary, all are local professionals and many are young people.
“That’s something we really want people to know, we have a huge youth and young adult component,” Potalivo said. “We are really shooting to recruit more dynamic people.”
Despite the emphasis on youth, the club is open to anyone and has members from their mid-20s to early 70s. The most important requirement is a desire to perform service and better the community.
Jason Browne, second vice president, said Rotary serves its own members as well as the community by connecting service-minded people.
“Groups like the Rotary Club are important because it provides a family situation — a bunch of friends and a bunch of professionals — who can come together and really do something good for the community,” he said.
Rotary’s official objective is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise. And from the boisterous laughter and smiling faces present throughout their Thursday luncheons, it’s clear they enjoy the work.
“We have a really great opportunity here in State College to connect with young professionals here ... we have a lot of expertise,” Browne said. “If we can capitalize on that and can share those experiences with other people, the Rotary Club is going to benefit, the community is going to benefit and the individuals and all of the people we donate money to are going to benefit.”
Groups like the Rotary Club are important because it provides a family situation — a bunch of friends and a bunch of professionals — who can come together and really do something good for the community.
Jason Browne, second vice president
Downtown Rotary’s local projects include big donations of time and money to the State College Food Bank. Potalivo said the club has spent “countless man-hours” on its “Farmers to Food Bank” initiative, for which members collect leftover food donated by vendors at the downtown farmers market and deliver it to the food bank. In 2015 alone, the project brought in enough food to make almost 300,000 meals that fed nearly 2,000 individuals.
Other beneficiaries of the Downtown Rotary’s service include the YMCA of Centre County, the Women’s Resource Center, Centre Peace, Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania and the Schlow Centre Region Library.
“In the past five years, we’ve raised more than $100,000,” Potalivo said. “And that all stayed in the community.”
However, while the State College club concentrates its fundraising efforts on the community, Rotary International allows for Rotarian service to go far beyond Centre County.
“Rotary’s a little unique,” Potalivo said. “We have a twofold mission. Our primary goal is the betterment of our community ... but we also have an international layer. We pick communities in other countries that need help.”
Kat Snowe, immediate past president and current chairwoman of the international community service committee, said Rotary’s international umbrella allows individual groups to partner with programs overseas.
Rotary International even has its own foundation, which exists to fund projects around the world, Snowe said.
The Downtown Rotary has worked on projects such as Bridges to Prosperity, conducted a clean water project in Haiti and has plans to help rebuild an orphanage in Bolivia.
“It’s a great organization,” Snowe said. “Between hosting (high school) exchange students and going on these humanitarian missions, it’s a good way to make you feel good about what you do.”
And being part of a major global service organization has its advantages: Besides grants for charity projects, Rotary also offers a degree of safety and familiarity for volunteers abroad with 1.22 million members all over the world.
“We have Rotarian oversight with all projects in the host countries,” Snowe said. “It allows us to partner with a club in another country.”
Browne said for those interested in travel, Rotary can be the chance to see and change the world all at once.
“It’s amazing to be able to travel and see the humanity in every country,” he said.
But while Rotarian projects provide aid and opportunity all over the world, the club’s focus is always on the community.
First Vice President Tracy Sepich said the inexpensive, community-building activities are some of her favorite. Not all Rotary events are fundraising efforts: Some are simply to provide fun services for the community.
For example, the club hosted an ice cream festival during Summer’s Best Music Fest last year. This kind of event gives club members a chance to get out and connect with people.
“I think it’s one of the highlights of what we do in the community,” she said.
Connecting with the community is one of the greatest benefits of service clubs. Social service projects can be just that: social.
“It’s a serious mission, but there’s no reason we can’t have fun,” Potalivo said.
Cate Hansberry: 814-235-3933, @CateHans216
How to get involved
In State College, there are plenty of options for service clubs. Each has its own set of values and special causes, but all share one common theme — fellowship and service.
Rotary Club International
▪ State College Sunrise Rotary Club 7:15-8 a.m. Wednesdays, upstairs at the Allen Street Grill, 100 W. College Ave., State College. statecollegesunriserotary.org
▪ State College/Downtown Rotary Club noon Thursdays, Ramada Inn, 1450 S. Atherton St., State College. downtownstatecollegerotary.org
▪ Rotary Club of State College 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Nittany Lion Inn, 200 W. Park Ave., State College. statecollegerotary.org
Lions Club International