Small Rotary club had big impact on Irene recovery
by Kelly Pawlak
Sep 06, 2012 | 1860 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rotarian Betty Crawford helped organize volunteers in the days and weeks following Tropical Storm Irene.
Rotarian Betty Crawford helped organize volunteers in the days and weeks following Tropical Storm Irene.
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Editor’s note: This is a special report for our ongoing look back at Tropical Storm Irene and the community’s response to it. Rotarian Kelly Pawlak has prepared this article for a book that will be produced on Irene later this year. We felt the story was important enough to include in The Deerfield Valley News due to the large role the Rotary has played in local flood relief and recovery.

The Deerfield Valley Rotary Club was founded in 2005. The club has 42 members, a small and young club by most Rotary standards. But what this club lacks in numbers, it makes up for with big hearts and the ability to get the job done. This became most evident after Tropical Storm Irene. Immediately, the club jumped into action, starting with the most evident needs, cleanup and funding.

Before the rain stopped it was two Rotarians, Arlene Palmiter and Frank Sprague, who took a young Macedonian man, Kiril Donev, under their wing – Donev’s girlfriend, Ivana Taseva, had just died in the flood. Despite nightfall and severely compromised roads, Palmiter and Sprague drove Donev to Mount Snow so he could be in the safety of his friends’ embrace. Sprague made time for others even as his own business sat 13 feet under water.

In the first few weeks Rotarians were very hands-on, helping to clean up flooded businesses and homes, many of them working day after day for weeks. Wherever volunteers were assigned to help, a Rotarian was just around the corner, directing traffic, serving breakfasts, organizing volunteers, or driving a golf cart with water, snacks, face masks, and rubber gloves. The DVRC assisted with a Carhartt surplus clothing distribution and provided a barbecue lunch at the same time.

Rotarians put their skills to work. While some prepared sandwiches for the Red Cross, others manned the phones, taking more than 100 calls a day. Joe Kruszewski from the Matterhorn, an inn that suffered severe flooding, made rooms available for showers, gave rooms to National Guard troops, and fed the Dover police, firemen, and road crew. Other Rotarians took numerous people into their homes for showers, beds, and food.

Within days it became clear that it would take millions of dollars to rebuild. Adam Palmiter, son of Rotarian Arlene, put together WilmingtonVTFloodRelief.com to raise money for local businesses that could not find funding through insurance and FEMA. Rotary joined forces with Adam Palmiter and to date $406,305 has been deposited into the Tropical Storm Irene Relief Fund, administered by Rotary. More important, applications were reviewed carefully by a board, including several Rotarians, and money was awarded in a timely fashion, when it was needed most.

Little did the DVRC know that this would be just the beginning of their fundraising efforts. Their traditional Vermont Life Wine and Harvest Festival pancake breakfast became a free breakfast for the valley. More than 300 people attended and donated $3,690, surpassing revenues generated at past breakfasts.

When the Floodstock concert fundraiser needed liability insurance for the event, Rotary assisted and Rotarians helped cook and direct traffic at the event.

The DVRC coordinated with a sister club in New Jersey and that club’s Rotary District for a grant to fund the replacement of underwater rescue gear for the Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department.

The DVRC provided funds to help with repairs to the Baker Field athletic fields.

The club also raised $5,700 to help restore the Trebbe Memorial Tennis Courts. The Deerfield Valley Rotary Club was able to raise $3,014, including $1,000 from a matching grant. News of the devastation spread across the country and Chris Adams, who vacations at a family home on Lake Raponda, rallied his local Hillcrest, OH, Rotary Club to raise $1,500 for the cause. The final $1,185 donation came from an anonymous donor from Dover, a friend of a Rotarian.

Along with local and regional fundraising, a global tactic was taken and the DVRC members toured with the Rotary Cadre Team, from Rotary International, through the valley to document Irene damage and ongoing needs. This led to the approval of a $412,000 Rotary International grant for long-term recovery in Vermont, which was awarded in time for the first anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene. This is one of the largest grants ever written in the United States by Rotary.

Raising almost $850,000 was critical to recovery, but in the end it will be the human service assistance that each Rotarian will always remember.

Club members “adopted” and have helped nine families affected by Tropical Storm Irene to guide them through the recovery process, to seek out and apply for assistance, to make repairs and help with clean-up, even finding used furniture and appliances for the replacement of items lost in the storm. In one case, Rotarians Kruszeski and Bruce Mullen built a foot bridge to give a family access to their home.

As the holidays neared, DVRC partnered with the Whitingham-Halifax Lions Club to provide holiday cheer baskets, many of which targeted families hurt by the storm. DVRC prepared and delivered baskets to 60 families within their service area. The baskets were filled by in-kind donations from DVRC members, from $1,575 donated by members of the community and from a $1,000 contribution from the club treasury.

In July 2012, almost a year after the storm, the Deerfield Valley Rotary Club was awarded a Zone 32 Community Service Award for 2012. Rotary clubs are grouped by districts and zones. The DVRC is one of 60 clubs in District 7870, which covers southern New Hampshire and Vermont. Only two Zone 32 Community Service Awards were awarded in District 7870. The DVRC is located in zone 32 and is one of 1,048 clubs having a total of 35,059 members. Only 54 clubs received a Zone 32 2012 Community Service Award.

It was a very meaningful for the Deerfield Valley Rotary Club of 42 members to be recognized among such a large group of Rotarians.

On September 7, more than a year after Tropical Storm Irene, Rotarians will gather at Sprague’s new shop to celebrate the resilience and hard work it took to get there. Sprague’s comeback and achievements personify all the little victories that Rotarians have witnessed and helped to provide, by simply putting service above themselves.

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