Rotaract club feeds the soul

Volunteers and food table at barbecue

Rotaract and Rotary members and firefighter volunteers / Marc Studer photos

By Zachary Nelson
The motto for the University of Washington Bothell’s Rotaract club is “service above self.” Recently, the student members acted on their motto by hosting a free barbecue for the residents at Camp Unity, a tent village in Woodinville, Washington. It was a collaborative event, with Woodinville Rotary members and local firefighters volunteering together to help the Rotaract students serve the community. The Woodinville Rotarians also provided the funding for the barbecue.

Ariana Navarro, a Business Administration major and the club’s president, served the food with a smile. She was happy about the student turnout — and the club’s membership is on the rise.

Club president at tent camp“Giving back to the community feels so good, and students want to help,” Navarro said. “We only have so much time in the day; I want to spend some of mine helping others. I always have felt like I had a hole inside me. When I am in service, I feel that emptiness filled.”

Mia Harris, a premajor and the club's Peace Committee lead, spent her 19th birthday celebrating with the residents. “Unfortunately, a lot of the time we deprive homeless people of their humanity by ignoring them,” she said. “By interacting with them in a social and friendly way, we are acknowledging them as valuable human beings.”

At the barbecue, residents enjoyed a meal of burgers, hotdogs, chips and other snacks. Club members and Rotary mentors also distributed socks and beddings. “The students have done so much for us by coming here,” said René, a resident of Camp Unity. “The food is incredibly helpful. It is acts of service like this that give me hope for the next generation to do better when it comes to dealing with homelessness.”

Camp resident Brian with socksBrian, another resident of Camp Unity, gave the Rotaract Club a tour of the village. “This isn’t a stereotypical homeless camp,” he said. “The goal of Camp Unity is to find permanent housing and jobs for its residents. We don’t allow drugs, alcohol or abusive behavior. If you want to live here, you have to agree to certain guidelines.”

The UW Bothell Rotaract club is a chapter of Rotary International, an organization founded more than 100 years ago with the mission of bringing business professionals together to provide humanitarian services. Locally, Rotarians mentor the student Rotaract members, helping them apply for grants and scholarships and connecting them to the larger network of Rotarians worldwide.

The Rotaract club welcomes new members year-round, and all students — not just business majors — are welcome to join. The club’s activities include food drives, sock drives, “operation warm coats” and work parties. Members also help in the community through projects such as planting strawberries at food bank gardens and conducting mock interviews for people trying to find work.