Back in 2001, the Sunrise Rotary Club in Ellicott City was searching for a cause that would truly make a difference. “We wanted to focus on children,” recalled Ron Carlson, the club’s president. The club decided to start providing scholarship money for children considered high-risk and low-income to attend summer camp.

Refining that vision, the club elected to support the Summer Enrichment Program, offered by the Community Action Council (CAC) as an extension of the regular academic year at Head Start, a program that promotes school readiness for young children from low-income families through agencies in their local community. The seven-week Summer Enrichment program provides health, nutrition and educational services to children ages 3 to 5, as well as enhancing cognitive, social and emotional development.

The club also partnered with local organizations — such as Columbia Association and the Columbia Orchestra — to offer opportunities for children. Club members took field trips with the kids to broaden their cultural horizons, visiting the Robinson Nature Center and Toby’s Dinner Theatre. The club also cultivated business partners for the program. “Apple Ford and J.P. Bolduc have provided significant support,” said Carlson.

Rotary’s efforts are badly needed, Carlson said. According to the CAC, the number of low-income families in Howard County continues to grow, increasing from 4.5% in 2010 to 5.4% in 2014.

“In Howard County, there some 850 families who are at or below poverty,” he said. This means their families earn $24,000 or less per year. “We helped 152 children in 2015, so there is quite a distance to go.”

To keep one child in the Summer Enrichment Program costs an average of $840 during the seven-week period.

Reaching Out to Colleagues

As the Sunrise Club continued to strive to grow the program, the club reached out to the other Rotary clubs in Howard County. “I presented a proposal to the other six clubs in July 2015 and invited their participation in this program as a Howard County signature program,” Carlson said. “The presidents of clubs said, ‘Absolutely, we’re in. We want to cooperate with you.’”

In addition to the Sunrise Club, the participating Rotary clubs include Clarksville, Columbia Patuxent, Columbia, Columbia Town Center, Ellicott City and Elkridge.

During 2016, the program will be sponsored by the “Howard 7,” which have a combined membership of around 200 people, Carlson said. In addition to funds, Rotary members and community volunteers are helping with tutoring services for reading and math based on pre-K readiness.

“Moving this program to the next level will help ensure the program is around for a good long time,” he said. “I’ve been a Rotary club member for 25 years, and this is the first time all the Rotary clubs have come together to do a signature project of this size.”

The clubs’ continuous fundraising efforts raised about $50,000 last year through the support of several banks, including PNC Bank, Howard Bank, Sandy Spring Bank and Wells Fargo.

The Howard 7

The Howard 7 also have established community partnership programs with Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, Leadership Howard County and Leadership U, among several other organizations.

Grassroots is a 24-hour resource for individuals and families in need of immediate assistance with a personal, mental health, family or shelter crisis.

Leadership Howard County — and its youth component, Leadership U — connects business, government, nonprofit, community associations and other leaders with the aim of building and transforming the county.

In 2014, the Howard 7, realizing the strength of the clubs’ concerted efforts, joined together to make a $75,000 contribution to Howard Community College over a five-year span.

The Howard 7’s involvement is visible throughout the county’s elementary schools through, among other undertakings, support of the Dictionary Project, a nonprofit effort based in Charleston, S.C. The clubs purchase and distribute “A Student’s Dictionary & Gazetteer” to third-grade classrooms each year.

Club members visit the classrooms to introduce the dictionary to its new owners and point out some of its most popular features, such as the longest word in the English language. In addition to the traditional dictionary entries and maps, the volume also includes a variety of content such as mathematical equations, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, presidential biographies and planet descriptions.

Rotary clubs choose the organizations and programs they will support based on the shared Rotarian value of “Service Above Self: giving back and improving the quality of life in our community.”

The Howard 7 make up part of the 64 clubs of Rotary District 7620, which comprises parts of Maryland, as well as the Washington, D.C., area.