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Mentor program fuels successful Interact Club in Michigan

It’s 07:15 on a Tuesday, and already the choir room at St. Joseph High School in Michigan, USA, is filled to capacity with members of the school’s Interact club. 

With 147 members, they have maxed out the space and will need to find a larger space. For now, officers calmly go through committee reports and announcements, then linger afterward to talk about their major international service project, a trip to the Dominican Republic to install water filters. 

One past participant, Grace Adams , talks about meeting a five-month-old boy who had lost his parents.

“His mother had left him, and his grandparents were dead. The village took turns taking care of him for a night,” recalls Grace. “Seeing how the village came together to raise him and try and make him a happy little boy moved me. I still get emotional thinking about it.”

The Interact Club at St. Joseph High School in Michigan, USA, is so popular, it has maxed out its meeting space.

The Interact program in southwest Michigan is thriving, a direct byproduct of a student mentoring program run by the Rotary Club of St. Joseph & Benton Harbor. Through Interact, young people ages 12-18 develop leadership skills and discover the power of community service.

In 2012, Charles Jespersen and Charlie LaSata persuaded Jackie Huie, founder of their Rotary club’s student mentoring program, to start an Interact club to further help students.  A single email drew 60 students to explore the idea. Jespersen invited the president of a nearby Interact club to speak about how Interact had helped her.

“The kids were excited to try something new,” says Maria Kibler, a member of the St. Joseph &  Benton Harbor club who has shaped the mentoring program and advises the Interact club. “We met at the area agency on aging, which seems kind of ironic looking back, and every seat was taken.”

The Interact club does several service projects in the community, including a recent career night that involved professionals from across the area. Members also plan myriad social events. When one club got too large to manage, they broke into six smaller, school-based clubs. But the clubs remain connected through a monthly officers’ meeting, where they plan cooperative efforts.

Find more information about providing safe and secure travel opportunities for all youth involved in Rotary programs and activities in the Rotary Youth Protection Guide.

The biggest of those is the annual trip with the Rotary club to the Dominican Republic to work on a water and sanitation project. It’s a major incentive for the Interactors. Members earn service points to qualify for the trip. Last year, more than 40 students participated, and even more plan to go this year.

Jespersen, who spearheaded local Rotary members’ involvement in the project to deliver bio-sand filters for more than a decade, was responsible for organizing Interactors to join Rotary members on the trip in 2013. Since then, the Interact clubs and their chaperones have organized, planned, and raised funds for a yearly trip of their own.

Huie says the Dominican Republic trip gives Interactors a global perspective and helps develop qualities they will use the rest of their lives. By combining such a trip with a student mentoring program, clubs can help youth and be visible in their communities.

“This is really the future of our organization. What community doesn’t have kids?” says Huie. “I have had many parents come to me and say, ‘How do I get into Rotary?’ after seeing how involved these kids are.”

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