‘Service above self’: Derby-Shelton Rotary aims to improve lives

SHELTON — Scholarship programs, grant awards, and sand and salt for seniors each winter are only a few ways the Derby-Shelton Rotary Club lives up to its motto, “Service above self,” club officials say.

The local club, founded in 1927 and part of Rotary International, is not just a businessperson’s round-table. The goal, club President Julie Blakeman said, is to improve the lives of Derby and Shelton residents.

“We build friendships with local businesspeople to work toward common goals,” Blakeman said. “The benefit of Rotary is giving back to the community and building better business friendships.”

Rotarian Ernestine T. Luise said the club’s members connect in friendship and purpose.

“The connection that each of us has, individually and professionally, enables us to help where and when needed,” said Luise, who has served in the past as Rotary International Governor and International Assembly Training Leader.

Blakeman said the club annually contributes multiple scholarships to high school seniors in Derby and Shelton, and delivers salt and sand to senior citizens in the winter, and dictionaries to every third-grade student in both communitie. The club also participates in the Read Across America program in the schools.

Derby-Shelton Rotary also awards grants annually to various community applicants such as Boys & Girls Club, Scouts of America, and BHCares, to name a few, Blakeman said.

“We work with the district to award grants for such programs as Warm Coats, Warm Soles for under-served children,” she said. “We are currently working on a grant to work with the Echo Hose Ambulance HQ to convert one of their rooms into an IT community room.”

To raise money for the grants and programs, the club hosts the annual Shelton Day, Hoptoberfest, and participates in the Liberty Bank food drive around Thanksgiving, plus other fundraisers throughout the year.

This year, the club is working to host “Flags for Heroes” on the Shelton River Walk from Memorial Day to mid-June.

Currently, the club counts 31 members, but Blakeman has spent her time improving the club’s programming offerings, which in turn helps raise funds for the scholarships and grants while also increasing the club’s visibility. The goal, she says, is bringing more people into the fold.

“Being in the Rotary means you volunteer with like-minded businesspeople who want to be an active, positive figure in the community,” Blakeman said. “We do not promote our individual businesses or make our meeting about self-promotion.”

Luise said the motto is the cornerstone of the members’ efforts.

Rotary was founded in 1905 with a purpose of networking, but always based on service to others, according to the organization’s website.

Blakeman said as Rotarians, members contribute to the club’s foundation, with that money going to Rotary’s global goals - the number one of which is eradicating polio from the world. She said the organization also focuses on disease prevention and treatment, water and sanitation, maternal and child health, and supporting the environment.

“Being a Rotarian gives me the opportunity to grow and to serve,” Luise said. “Being a member of the Derby-Shelton Rotary club gives me the opportunity to make a difference in both my local communities and the international community.

“Rotary opens doors on many levels: service, fellowship, leadership, networking, world understanding, diversity, integrity. There is something for everyone, but always the opportunity to serve,” she said.