Interact Club to open chapter

LEWISTOWN – This year, the Rotary Club of Lewistown welcomes a fifth avenue of service – New Generations – to encourage youth leadership and service in Mifflin County.

The outreach will be headed by Interact Club, Rotary International’s service club for teens ages 14 to 18. Cher Harpster, chairperson for New Generations and member of the Rotary Board of Directors, said participating youth will channel Rotary’s commitment to service above self through the four traditional avenues of service; club service, vocational service, community service and international service. This is the first time Interact has been offered locally, she said.

“The goal is to have a club of kids who will take on Rotary’s work to help the community,” she said, explaining that Interact is essentially a Rotary club at the high school level.

Interact clubs are self-governing and financially independent, allowing members to choose local and international service projects in which they wish to participate, she said. Last weekend, Interact members took part in the Dance Your Heart Out 24-hour dance marathon to benefit the congestive heart failure department at Lewistown Hospital. The marathon was one of the first service projects club members participated in together, Harpster said.

The local club is not yet chartered, but the first step is gathering interest and growing in numbers.

“Hopefully it will put a young face to Rotary,” Harpster said.

While the Interact Club gets under way, Club President Dan Bennett said Rotary continues its youth and international outreach through its long-term youth exchange. This program offers youth ages 15 to 19 the opportunity to travel globally. Bennett said the exchange usually lasts one year. During that time, students live with host families and attend school in another country.

“The purpose of that is to create this understanding of diversity,” Bennett said.

Exchange students are encouraged to be open to trying new things and fully embracing the culture of other areas. To gain a greater understanding of the culture, Bennett said most participants live temporarily with two or three different host families who are screened and selected by Rotary International.

“It is an exchange,” though, he urged.

In order to offer the opportunity to local youth, area families must be willing to invite children from other countries to Mifflin County. Bennett said Rotary always is in search of qualified host families. Host families are expected to provide room and board, family supervision of the youth and involve the student in family activities.

Phyllis Mitchell, member of the Rotary Club of Lewistown, said it was the opportunity to learn more about another country and develop new relationships that convinced her and her husband to host a student last year.

“We did have hesitations because it is a big responsibility,” she said. “But Rotary has an excellent support system for the student and the host family with clearly outlined policies and procedures.”

Throughout the year, Mitchell said the student she hosted attended as many weekly Rotary meetings as possible, participated in weekend retreats with other Rotary Club exchange students and involved herself in cheerleading and yearbook club at the school.

“She made it easy for us. She respected the rules that we had established and was very willing to help out in any way we asked,” Mitchell said. “It’s a great way to expand your circle of friends and to learn more about another country.”

Each avenue of Rotary International is meant to encourage and foster the idea of service, according the organization’s website.

“The community needs to know that you’re here to do good things. Your community depends on you,” Bennett said.

Fostering the growth and development of youth – the new generation – is a significant part of serving the community, he explained. The Interact Club and long-term youth exchange are ways to help youth learn leadership skills, connect with others from around the world and serve those in their community.

“We make volunteering fun,” he said.

For more information about Interact Club, the long-term youth exchange or other opportunities sponsored by the Rotary Club of Lewistown, call Dan Bennett at 248-2010. Families who are interested in hosting an exchange student for the next school year are encouraged to call as soon as possible for details.