By Jann Wiswall
“The Ellicottville Rotary Club is not a social club. It’s a club of action,” says Greg Cappelli, who is the club’s immediate past president.
And, he explains, sometimes its actions are completely under the radar.
Through the Rotary’s affiliates, “Foundation for Youth” and “Family Support for Ellicottville,” the club answers private, usually third-party, requests for funds to help children and families get through tough times or meet particular needs.
These requests might come from teachers or other school staff, friends of the family or others who recognize a need and quietly let the Rotary know about it.
“Typically, the families and children don’t know where the assistance comes from,” Cappelli said. “We just arrange to have hearing aid batteries delivered to a child’s home, or another child to be fitted for eyeglasses, or another to get school lunches, or another to be driven to a medical appointment. The bills come to us and that’s that.”
The Rotary also purchases school supplies and covers field trip and special project fees or transportation for needy ECS students. Through Family Support for Ellicottville, the Rotary also provides Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for the needy, and collects contributions year-round for Santa’s Workshop, which allows people to privately choose gifts for family members.
Not all of the Rotary’s work is behind the scenes, of course. Some of the “not so quiet” work it supports includes extensive assistance to the Ellicottville Memorial Library, where funds are used to pay for a summer intern, the summer reading program, computer upgrades and more.
Its focus on children means it also supports Little League, the summer Park Program and an after-Park Summer Reading Program. It sponsors the Ellicottville Young Writers & Illustrators Club, and funds the “Arts in Education Program” at Essex Arts Center and sends two high school juniors or seniors to a youth leadership camp in Ontario each year. It also hosts the annual and very popular Ellicottville Halloween Party at the American Legion.
Rotary supports numerous community organizations, including the Ellicottville Historical Society, the Alley Katz, the Ellicottville Food Bank and Meals on Wheels. It provides aid for the local Women’s Shelter and to families in transition.
Recently, the Rotary helped the town of Ellicottville renovate the auditorium in the old Extension Service building, which is now known as the Town Center. The auditorium, which is adjacent to the Nannen Arboretum, is now an affordable and attractive wedding and event venue option and also can be used for community fundraisers, meetings and other uses. The Rotary does not earn any income from space rentals, but the “Ellicottville Rotary Auditorium” was named to acknowledge its contribution.
All this quiet and not-so-quiet community assistance sets the Ellicottville Rotary apart from many other Rotary clubs around the country, which often look more like social and business networking clubs.
Since it was formed in 1999, the Ellicottville Rotary’s membership has dropped to just eight. But those eight dedicated individuals (Jack Luzier, President, Dave Blanchard, Debbie Burkhard, Greg Cappelli, Shannon Carscallen, Michael DiPaolo, Marcia Stoddard, Kathy Trost, John Wisemantle and some “Friends of Rotary” who help with events) get a lot done and have been lauded by the Rotary’s District Governor, who said “I was very impressed with the extent of your engagement in your community, which is incredible for a group your size.”
The club knew that it was too small to meaningfully impact the international goals of Rotary International. Instead, it felt it was in a better position to use its funds right here in the community, so 80 percent or more of its annual budget of roughly $10,000 is spent in the Ellicottville community, which is defined by the Ellicottville School District boundaries.
“People outside the area have a perception that Ellicottville is wealthy, but it’s primarily our visitors and vacation homeowners who have the wealth. There is a lot of poverty in our school district, and that makes organizations like Rotary so important,” Cappelli said.
Besides occasional donations and membership dues, most of Rotary’s income comes from the Rotary’s one and only annual fundraiser, Tuscan Moon, which began as a tribute to former Rotary member and Ellicottville business leader Michael Kerns.
This year’s event on August 29, which offers the best dining extravaganza and silent auction of the year at John Harvard’s Cabana Bar & Pool Complex and Holiday Valley, brings in pretty much all of the Rotary’s income for the Foundation for Youth and Family Support for Ellicottville, so its importance cannot be understated.
“Some years the event brings in $8,000 and some years it’s closer to $11,000. The more we raise, the more help we can offer to the neediest among us,” Cappelli said.
Tickets are $65 per person and include hors d’oeuvres, the gourmet dinner created by the best chefs in the area and a dessert selection extraordinaire. Call (716) 699-8758 or stop by Katy’s Café, E’ville Spirits or the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce.
Interested in joining Rotary? Cappelli suggests: “Come to a couple of meetings and see if you like it. What you’ll see is a group of people at work solving problems in the interest of quietly making a difference.”