San Juan County is home to hundreds of nonprofit organizations. The League of Women Voters of the San Juans invited representatives of six active groups to speak at their monthly meeting Nov. 13, at the San Juan Island Library.
“All of them are worthy causes. We don’t want you to pick the best one; they are all worthy,” said Clare Klem, the league’s president, introducing the panel to the packed room.
Each representative was given 10 minutes to discuss their organization. San Juans Lions Club was represented by president Attilio Galli, Rotary Club of the San Juans by President Adam Eltinge, San Juan Island Community Foundation by Executive Director Carrie Unpingco, United Way of San Juan County by board member Tammy Cotton, Soroptimist International of Friday Harbor, by president Mary Campanella, and Kiwanis of Friday Harbor by Founding Member David Eden.
Galli with the Lions was up first. He discussed the Lions’ dedication to providing testing for eye disease. Last month Lions held their first annual “Bike and Brew” as a fun, health-oriented event to raise money for early eye screening in local schools. The event, according to Galli, was well received with nearly 100 bikers participating.
The Lions also provide scholarships, and have an active chapter in the local school San Juan Island School District, the Leos.
“The organization is reflective of the community,” Galli concluded, “We hope to grow and continue those services.”
The rotary club, according to Eltinge, was formed nationally in that 1905 when founder Paul Harris realized the array of skills he and his friends held could do a lot of good for the world if they banded together.
Rotary International has been instrumental in eradicating polio across the world by raising funds for vaccinations, outreach and education.
Eltinge explained that rotary is not involved in politics or religion and works with many other service clubs.
“We don’t care who gets credit; we just want the job done,” Eltinge said.
Rotary encourages their members to ask four questions before acting, Eltinge explained: “is it the truth, is it fair to all concerned, will it build goodwill and better friendships, and will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
“When you start living your life by these ethics, it really changes your whole worldview,” Eltinge said.
The Community Foundation was founded in 1994, according Unpingco, but did not offer grants until 1996. They fundraised for PeaceHealth Peace Island Medical Center in Friday Harbor, and in 2009, Unpingco said the foundation conducted a critical needs study of the county.
Many issues flagged during that analysis are still problems nearly 10 years later, she said, citing affordable housing as one example.
The foundation also matches donors with projects and nonprofits and provides scholarships, including the four-year Jerry Inskeep scholarship. After the only senior rehabilitation facility, Life Care Center, closed this month, the foundation has been looking at needs and options for local seniors.
“People often don’t realize there is a United Way on the island,” Cotton said. There is, and they work frequently with other charity organizations, like the San Juan Island Family Resource Center’s program Neighbors helping Neighbors, where volunteers help island seniors.
United Way has been working to increase job and vocational-tech training in the islands. The organization teaches life skill courses in the high school, since many students graduate without a clear understanding of balancing checkbooks or interest rates and supports the elementary schools’ Primary Intervention Program, which provides children with special needs with professional mentors. They have also bought groceries for students on the low-income lunch program, to assist on days when lunch is not provided.
“Education is the golden bullet,” said Campanella, and providing educational scholarships is one of Soroptimist’s key programs.
Soroptimist members also work with the resource center. For example, when a woman has an urgent need such as a hot water heater, fireplace, or car issue Soroptimist volunteers steps up. The money goes directly to the vendor to pay for the item.
They also work with the San Juan County Department of Health. Soroptimist doubled Women Infants and Children funds available at the San Juan Island Farmers Market. The funds were at the farmers market. Last year, funds assisting senior nutrition was also added.
“Not everyone is fat and happy,” said Campanella said. Soroptimist volunteers deliver Thanksgiving baskets and buy gifts for seniors and those in need.
Eden was a founding member of the local Kiwanis Club in 1986. Internationally, he said, Kiwanis has fought against iodine deficiency, which is the leading preventable cause of mental and developmental disabilities in the world.
Kiwanis works with the United Nations Children’s Fund in supporting salt iodization, testing monitoring, community outreach and education. Kiwanis ‘main focus is children, according to Eden.
They are involved in the local Children’s Festival and hold an annual Christmas clothing drive.
After the presentations, the discussion opened to audience questions. One hot topic was the progress of United Way’s cold weather shelter.
“There are six to eight families that would utilize it, so we definitely have a need,” Cotton said. The San Juan Island Grange at this point, she continued has backed out as a viable location.
There were concerns, like what happens if it’s 33 degrees Fahrenheit, and people assume the grange will be available, but events are scheduled during a cold snap.
“The hard part is where we put this group of folks,” said Cotton adding that they are forging ahead, fundraising for a space, and budgeting for one paid position to coordinate the shelter.
Eltinge was asked details regarding the rotary exchange, also known as their travel abroad program.
“It is a year-long program, and you stay with three different families to get a sense of the culture and country,” he said, going on to explain how important it is to learn about one another’s differences.
“Rotary really is a global mindset. With chapters all across the world. I once saw an Israeli rotarian and Pakistani rotarian hugging,” Eltinge said.
A recording of this meeting, plus all other league meetings, can be found at www.sjmedia.org.