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HUNTINGTON — The Huntington Rotary Club, like many other organizations, faced a difficult challenge in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Club members shifted to virtual meetings and found additional ways to focus their philanthropic efforts, and now, the Rotary is back to in-person meetings and looking to increase recruitment.

“Our ability to adapt is a testament to our resilience as a club,” Christine Anderson, past Rotary president, said. “I really appreciated that engagement with my fellow Rotarians, especially during that time we were on lockdown and being cautious as a family about how frequently to get out, so those weekly meetings were very much appreciated. We relied on the health department to help us determine when it was time to go back, and that gave us confidence as a club to make sure we were making good, sound, logical decisions about moving forward.”

Tim Hazelett, another past president of the club and chief operation officer of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, said one of the most difficult aspects of transitioning to online meetings amid the COVID-19 lockdown was keeping up the connection to fellow Rotarians.

“Rotary is an international organization of connecting, and it made it very difficult to connect to your fellow Rotarians and even more difficult to connect to additional clubs in the hierarchy of Rotary,” he said. “We often have speakers, visitors, state conferences and trainings. We have a lot of events where we get together en masse, and that was the most difficult part for our club as well other clubs — navigating how you stay connected to your higher organization as well as your colleagues across the state.”

Rotary’s motto is service above self, and the Huntington Rotary Club participates in outreach events and supports educational causes, including providing a four-year, $5,000 scholarship to incoming Marshall University freshmen from Cabell County. Rotary also supports local nonprofit organizations, financially and by volunteering time, such as Facing Hunger Foodbank, United Way and the Salvation Army.

The club has done community dedications, specifically at Rotary Park, including a shelter dedicated to Frank E. Hanshaw Jr., a former member and past president. Members assisted with the implementation of an accessible playground at Rotary Park, as well as capital improvement projects.

“Huntington Rotary Park carries our name,” Hazelett said. “So, we have folks’ support here of Rotary Park, and we make a donation to the greater Huntington Parks and Recreation district.”

Aubrey King, president-elect of Huntington’s Rotary Club, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015, said it is an invaluable organization, not only for club members, but for the city.

“Rotary adds to the richness, diversity and prosperity, frankly, of the city,” King said. “It contributes a lot to the individual members. They grow, learn, make contacts, and they find out about what’s happening in the community in a very personal, direct way. If you look at what makes a community real and meaningful, it is the contributions of all the citizens and the organizations in it. For more than 100 years, Huntington Rotary has been a rich part of the texture of Huntington, and many of the leading citizens of this city for that century have been leaders in Rotary.”

At one time, Rotary was a male-only, exclusive club, but Hazelett said those walls have been brought down, which aides in their recruitment efforts. Anderson said Rotary has made a concerted effort in recent years to focus on recruiting younger leaders. As Huntington goes through a renaissance of small business owners, members are hopeful they can begin enlisting more small business owners into the Rotary community.

“Rotary offers a wonderful opportunity for young folks starting out in business, starting out in professions, lawyers, doctors, business people, educators; one of our goals is to bring those folks together to get them in the same room and get them talking, better acquainted with each other, knowing what their goals and problems are and hopefully promote collaboration and partnerships,” King said.

The Rotaract Club at Marshall is a junior club under the Huntington Rotary’s organization, adding to the special relationship between the two entities. While conducting virtual meetings, the Lewis College of Business provided technical assistance to ensure Rotary was meeting the objectives of the community, Hazelett said.

“We tap all of our resources very effectively using Marshall University’s College of Business, so the future of Rotary is going to be leaders in these crises that have come up, continue to support education in our community and look to this equitable distribution of resources,” Hazelett said. “There’s some bright minds out there coming out of that school up there. We need to utilize them and give them the opportunity to grow as professionals.”

One of Rotary International’s main goals is the eradication of polio, and members hope to extend that mission to the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination rates.

“If you think about it, since we are a club that supported and still supports the eradication of polio, it should come as no surprise that we are doing everything in our power to be smart in our decisions about how to survive as a club and engage as a club during COVID-19,” Anderson said.

For anyone interested in joining the organization, they need to be sponsored by an existing member, as a form of endorsement.

“Our board will look at the application and vote on approving that individual,” Anderson said. “Sometimes we’ve had referrals from our district, which is another example of the advantage of having a district and a connection of other Rotarians. They may learn of people who are interested and then send that information to either our secretary or our president, and then we follow up with that individual and invite them to join the Club.”

Hazelett said when seeking out individuals to recruit, they are looking for those who embody the service about self motto by giving back to their communities and are true Rotarians at heart.

“There’s many different ways to give back to your community, but this was my opportunity to give back and I joined and have made a number of friends and colleagues,” he said. “I’m just a phone call away. I am here to serve anyone. That’s how we operate as a club. It’s certainly the culture of the club: most anybody you need is just a phone call away.”

The Huntington Rotary Club meets every Monday at noon at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Huntington and currently has almost 90 members.

“It feels good that we have the confidence to be able to meet in person again, as a club, and we do things like social distance and limit the number of people that sit at our tables,” Anderson said. “We encourage our members to wear masks, of course, but I’ve been very pleased with our club’s level of diligence in following the leadership from our health department, which is in step with also our country on a national level too, and all of those safety guidelines.”

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