By Jennifer Shertzer, member of the Plano West Rotary Club
As rallies for racial justice happened throughout the U.S. in the summer of 2020, members of Plano West Rotary Club (PWRC) located in Plano, Texas felt compelled to find a COVID-safe way to help create equity for the Black community, as well as involve more community members in Rotary’s efforts.
PWRC brought their desire to be allies of and strengthen Black neighbors throughout the local community. The club met with several community members with deep roots in the Douglass Community, Plano’s historically Black neighborhood founded in the 1800s. Working with local leaders, the Rotary Community Corps (RCC) of Plano Douglass Community was formed on 26 June 2020 to formalize a relationship with the club and partner on service projects in support of this underserved community.
Boots on the ground
Almost immediately after its creation, the RCC worked with our club to identify some of the Douglass Community’s most pressing needs: access to nutritious food and educational resources. The RCC has empowered the Douglass Community to voice their needs, and to work with us to jointly develop projects to help the community meet their most basic needs. The collaboration between our club and the RCC also proved successful in engaging non-Rotarians in community service. A diverse group has volunteered alongside Plano West Rotary Club in at least 21 service projects so far.
A total of 929 volunteer hours have been served, and $174,937 worth of in-kind goods have been distributed to neighbors in the Douglass Community. The majority of in-kind goods received were food boxes donated by Plano-area food pantries and food banks. Over seven months, PWRC and the RCC went out 11 times to deliver an approximate total of 1,500 food boxes door-to-door to community members in need. On every delivery date, between 125 and 200 homes received boxes filled with fresh food and nonperishable items.
Meals were delivered to individual homes because not all community residents had vehicles or could drive. Some residents won’t go to a food pantry because they are concerned about the social stigma, explained PWRC President Alex Johnson, “Our goal is to serve and empower.”
The RCC and PWRC have also partnered to collect and donate shoes for international micro-entrepreneurs and received funds to repair the roof on the home of an elderly Douglass Community resident. Volunteers also came together to help provide students in the community with critical resources, supplies and meals for the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.
All of these efforts align with Rotary’s Areas of Focus to grow local economies and support education.
Service leads to a growing, more diverse club
The aid that PWRC and the RCC provided to the Douglass Community caught the attention of many non-Rotarians. Through highly visible acts of Service Above Self, PWRC grew its membership significantly, attracting members of the RCC who wanted to be more involved on a permanent basis.
In May 2020, before the formation of the RCC, Plano West Rotary Club had 21 members. In the 14 months since the RCC was formed, the club has grown to 65 members. From 1 July 2020 to 1 July 2021, PWRC was the fastest growing of the over 7,400 clubs in the U.S. who started the year with more than 20 members, according to Rotary International.
The partnership with the RCC has also increased the diversity in the club’s membership. As of 13 August, 54% of the club members are women, 34% are under 40 years of age, and 51% are people of color. The club includes immigrants from eight different countries, as well as members of a wide range of ages, including several college students. Our growing club truly reflects our diverse community throughout Plano. Our different backgrounds, experiences, and identities help us find innovative solutions to pressing problems. Our diversity also gives us credibility and allows us to build stronger partnerships with our neighbors, like in nearby Douglass.
Alex is certain the RCC impacted the community in a way that PWRC could never have done on its own. “The need came from the community, and we focus on partnering first. We prefer to never do it alone.”