Rotarians strive to support students

ROCHESTER — Susan Ladd refused to sit idly by as her school’s Hispanic student population continued to grow.

Earlier this year, the principal at Henry Hudson School No. 28 said that she decided to reach out to community organizations on behalf of her Latino students, who constitute nearly 50 percent of the school’s 650 students.

Ladd said that she didn’t ask for money. She didn’t ask for any other kind of donations.

She wanted people, she emphasized.

"Oftentimes, people will ask for money or things," she said. "I didn’t want things. I wanted the gift of time."

The Latino Rotary Club of Rochester responded, and members attended a Hispanic Heritage Month event to get a feel for the school, said Diana Hernández, the club’s president. Soon thereafter, Ladd said that the Rotary members agreed to help with a career night next spring. Then, they decided to come in weekly and work with students in small groups.

"We are in partnership for (improving) literacy and anything they need us for," Hernández added.

The club also is looking to provide such mentoring and academic support to other schools with large populations of Latino students, including James P.B. Duffy School 12 and James Monroe High School, she said. Since the club’s inception in 2009, members have created a Reading Buddies program at Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School and each year have provided students with dictionaries, noted Luisa Baars, founder and Rotary assistant district governor.

The mentoring programs are among the many projects the Rotary has undertaken in its short history, Baars added. In order to continue its support of Latinos here and in other Latin American countries, Baars said that the Rotary will host a black-tie gala next month.

"In order for us to do the projects that we do, we need money," acknowledged Baars. "And we thought to do something different."

She said that the club strives to be responsive to the harsh realities many Latino families are facing locally. Recently, the club learned that the food pantry run by Ibero-American Action League is having difficulty helping all the people coming there, so the Rotary plans to help with donations, Baars added.

"As the needs in the community grow … there is high demand and low supply," she said. "One of the things we want to do is help with that. And we know the Latino community has been impacted greatly by this recession."

The Latino Rotary has focused on improving literacy throughout the community — not only providing support and resources to schools but also at the Clinton Family Health Center — because of the high Latino student drop-out rates that will only perpetuate the cycle of poverty, Baars explained.

"The city school district is dealing with minority populations in high concentrations," she added. "That’s a concern. We know many of these kids don’t get pre-K and many need free lunches. It’s why we try to have some impact to help deal with that."

As part of that goal, the club provides books for children and reading materials for parents for families at Ibero’s child-care center. It also sponsors a baseball team in the Rochester Hispanic Youth Baseball League and gives books to team members. And the club sponsored an Our Lady of Mercy High School student for an oratorical contest, Hernández said.

The 25-member club also aims to boost membership, noted Baars and Hernández. For the gala, members are reaching out to other Rotary clubs and community supporters from throughout the Rochester area, explained Hernández, who added that they are working on flexible meeting times as part of that effort.

"The more people we have, the more we can be doing," Baars added.

"What’s good about the Rotary is we’re very resourceful, very efficient and organized," remarked Hernández. "Our goal (also) is to reach the younger generation to become sustainable."

Through its relationship with Rotary International, the club has taken on projects overseas, said Baars. The club supports a farm in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, providing low-income families there with money to purchase seeds and plantings. The Latino Rotary joined forces with Rotary members in Veracruz, Mexico, to obtain a $21,500 grant to help a school for indigenous children buy such equipment as sewing machines and computer, Baars added.

"Those children … come from very poor families," she said.

For School 28’s students, improved academic performance will not be the only impact of the Rotary club’s mentoring program, Ladd noted. Older students also will help the club raise money for Rotary International’s efforts to end polio worldwide so they will gain a sense of pride by helping others, she said.

"It’s role models as well," Ladd commented. "Seeing Hispanics in the community who are successful and willing to give back, we don’t see a lot of that as much as I would like."

And while many of the school’s teachers are Hispanic, only one is a man, so having men volunteer in the building also makes a big impression, Ladd said.

"Any time I can get Hispanic males coming in to present themselves to the students to show the importance of education, that’s really important for us," she remarked.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Latino Rotary will host a black-tie gala Saturday, Jan. 21, at the The Rochester Club ballroom, 120 East Ave., Rochester. For more information, contact Abe at 585-503-5690 or e-mail abeh54@gmail.com.

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