The Rotary Club of Sun City Center celebrated five decades of service last month, but it’s not about to rest on its laurels. On June 30, the group will induct Steve Overton as its new president and head toward its centennial with added purpose.
Overton, 55, feels his club can do more.
His vision was seeded in February at the Rotary’s annual Meals of Hope event at Kings Point, when he heard one of the organizers talk about “attacking senior hunger in Sun City Center.”
Overton’s instincts as a former investigative reporter for WFLA News Channel 8 kicked in.
“I don’t want anyone to be hungry, especially those who are no longer able to work,” Overton said, adding that having a hunger issue among seniors in Sun City Center “should be a contradiction in terms.”
“We’re a country club community,” he continued. “And the Rotary meets each week in a country club (Freedom Fairways).”
Overton soon learned the problem is real.
A map on the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger’s website shows Sun City Center as one of the locations in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties where there is a serious hunger gap.
“I couldn’t get it out of my head,” Overton said.
So he contacted the Rev. Bill Cruz Jr. at Good Samaritan Mission in Wimauma about what might be done. Cruz also had seen the map and was shocked to find Sun City Center, not Wimauma, as the area of greatest need in southern Hillsborough County. The two men discussed exploring ways their two organizations might work together.
“Even though we may come from areas of different demographics, one thing we all can agree on is that people should not go hungry,” Cruz said.
Already a potential partnership had formed.
“The Rotary has traditionally been about education, medical care and economic development,” Overton said. “But we have the resources, manpower and heart to do more. What if on a monthly basis we did something to address hunger in this community?”
Starting the day after he’s inducted, Overton plans to hit the ground running. He plans to find other agencies addressing the hunger issue, such as Meals on Wheels and area food pantries, and have the Rotary help them.
“We can’t fix the problem, but we can certainly help,” he said. “Our role is not to re-invent the wheel. We just need to be part of the solution.”
Overton’s new initiative won’t affect projects the SCC Rotary has undertaken for years.
The club, which meets for lunch at noon every Tuesday at Freedom Fairways, is part of Rotary International, a highly structured service organization of more than 1.2 million members. It was founded in 1905 by Chicago attorney Paul P. Harris to bring together a diverse group of business professionals and community leaders who would exchange ideas, serve the community and form lasting friendships.
“Rotary is not about service for yourself; it’s about service for others,” said outgoing president Mike Langjahr, owner of Sun City Center Funeral Home. “One person can strive to accomplish one thing, but many people, working together as a whole, can accomplish so much more and be able to change the world and make it a better place.”
As an example, Langjahr cited Rotary International’s PolioPlus program, which began in 1979 with a plan to immunize 6 million children in the Philippines. According to its website, the Rotary and its partners have helped reduce polio cases by “99 percent around the world” since then.
The Rotary Club of Sun City Center operates on a much smaller scale, but it has nevertheless done much good in the community.
For the past four years — with the help of the SCC Lions and Kiwanis clubs and funding by the Interfaith Council of Sun City Center and the South Shore Council of the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay — the Rotary has organized and sponsored Meals of Hope. During this once-a-year four-hour effort, hundreds of volunteers prepare 64,000 meals to replenish the shelves of five area food pantries: Good Samaritan Mission, Beth-el Mission, Calvary Lutheran’s Community Cupboard, St. Anne Catholic Church and Lord’s Lighthouse.
The club awards renewable scholarships twice a year to East Bay High School graduates. So far this year, it has given out $13,000. Funding comes from the Rotary’s annual sale of pecans, which was started in 1979.
Other successful efforts include the club’s annual gift of dictionaries to local grade schools and its S4TL (Seminar for Tomorrow’s Leaders) program, where area students attend a weeklong event at Southeastern University in Lakeland to learn leadership skills.
“Rotary isn’t simply about networking,” said Natalia Diaz, 32, marketing director for South Bay Hospital and vice president of the SCC group. “It’s about doing something bigger than you are for the good of the community and in the process of that building a vast network of friends — potentially all over the world.”
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