“To be part of something bigger”: Milford Rotary club helps nonprofits

MILFORD — When people think of a Rotary Club member, they tend to picture a white-haired old man, said Carrie Reed, president of the Rotary Club of Milford. She is hoping to redefine what it means to be a Rotarian for the modern day.

“That’s what it was in the ‘80s,” said Reed, about the 97-year-old club, which first admitted women in 1987. Of the club’s now 80 members, 25 percent are women, she said.

The Rotary Club of Milford is part of Rotary International, which was founded in 1917 and operates on the mottos “Service Above Self” and “People of Action.

“That says a lot,” Reed said. “We’re not just like a fund-raising organization, we are globally paying attention to the needs of communities everywhere.”

The club holds monthly meetings at Bridge House Restaurant in Milford.

The focus of the Milford club is to support the many nonprofits — many of them local — that help the vulnerable population, including the Beth-El Center, Literacy Volunteers of Southern Connecticut, Boys & Girls Club, Senior Center, and BHcare, which offers support for domestic violence victims. The club also supports the United Way of Milford, Ronald McDonald House, and Get In Touch Foundation, which brings awareness to breast cancer.

“We like to be involved with raising the money at those organizations, whether it’s a dodge ball tournament or jumping in the Leprechaun Leap (road race)” Reed said.

Many nonprofits are struggling these days, according to Reed.

“All clubs are feeling the same decline,” she said. “The 30-something generation doesn’t have an interest. If younger people knew how much fun and how much good we do in the world, they would want to be involved.”

For example, the Milford club, one of 35,000 worldwide, has raised more than $2.5 million in its history. It largest annual fundraiser is a lobster bake that raises $25,000 for scholarships for Milford graduates experiencing financial need.

“[The recipients] show not just good grades but an integrity and a love for the community,” Reed said.

Last year, a grant from Milford and Devon’s Rotary clubs purchased the Milford’s Boys & Girls Club a new basketball court. A current project the Rotary is supporting is getting Beth El’s Center’s HVAC system cleaned.

The rotary also serves meals at the Beth El Center twice a month.

“One of our members cooks meals that have a lot of nutritional value, and a bunch of members will serve the food,” Reed said.

Another fundraiser, a gift-certificate sale called Restaurant Rebound, has raised about $4,000 so far..

In its history, though, Rotary’s greatest success has been the fight against polio, Reed said.

“We can confidently boast that Rotary International has eradicated polio 99 percent around the globe,” Reed said. Once a worldwide scourge, polio no exists in only three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Milford members raised $1,000 on Oct. 24, PolioPlus Day. The money went toward purchasing vaccines.

And that is the heart of Rotary, Reed said.

“(We) make it possible for people to be part of something bigger,” she said. “To think that I can help people that I will never know, and to feel the confidence in my ability to do something, however small — I just feel really proud of the work that we’re doing to get help here in town and help on the other side of the globe.”