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Old Saybrook Rotary Club President Sam Fulginiti and his wife Lori in 2005 bought the Robinson Wright & Weymer Funeral Home in Centerbrook, one of the last locally owned funeral homes in the area. (Photo by Becky Coffey/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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After 11 years as a member of the Old Saybrook Rotary Club, P. Samuel Fulginiti last year took the helm as club president. Committed to the club’s community service and its projects to raise funds for student scholarships, he and other club members are seeking other like-minded adults to join them as club members.
Sam says that Rotary International is the biggest service organization in the world. Towns throughout the world have active Rotary Club chapters.
“I’ve been told by other club members that when you visit other countries, you are often treated as a dignitary by local Rotarians. It’s amazing,” Sam says.
The Old Saybrook Rotary Club, founded in 1926, serves the residents of Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook. Club member Pete Zucco confirmed that the Old Saybrook Rotary Club awarded more than $27,000 in scholarships to local students last year.
Sam knows that some potential members have declined to join because of Rotary International’s long-standing and strict attendance policy: Members in good standing had to attend weekly Rotary Club meetings. Even if they traveled for work or pleasure, they still were obliged to seek out a local Rotary Club meeting to attend in the towns where they traveled.
But Rotary’s mandatory attendance policy, while it encouraged active and consistent engagement, also tended to discourage membership, especially from busy business travelers or the busy young adults. So in an effort to cast a broader net and encourage younger members to join, Rotary International several years ago voted to relax the organization’s attendance rules. That means that local Rotary clubs likely now have a broader pool of potential members and are seeking to reach out to people who might now consider joining.
“Our ideal new Rotarian is someone who says, ‘I can make a couple of meetings a month, but I want to be involved in all of the activities that raise the club’s scholarship money,’” Sam says.
“We have a scholarship committee that reviews each application and conducts an in-person interview [with applicants]. Most of the awards are based on need. A few thousand dollars can make a huge difference toward someone’s education,” he adds.
Old Saybrook Rotary Club fundraisers include an annual wine-tasting event held in the main ballroom at the Saybrook Point Inn each February. And each October, the club organizes a golf tournament. But the place where most area residents likely see the most local Rotarians is in a food vendor booth, cooking and selling hot dogs. Each July, the Rotary Club is the hot dog vendor for the attendees at the Old Saybrook Arts and Crafts Festival, and this month, the club will repeat that role as the only food vendor at the first annual Old Saybrook Youth & Family Services Agency’s CommUNITY Day on the Town Green.
“Each of these activities raise funds for scholarships, for Rotary Club projects, and for Rotary International’s Clean Water in Africa program,” said Sam.
The Rotary International Clean Water in Africaproject raises funds to dig new wells and install water filtration systems to serve villages in Africa.
The club is also heavily involved in local projects.
“One recent club project was to help a family, displaced by the hurricane in Puerto Rico, to settle in Old Lyme; the club gave them a grant to help them buy furniture and basic appliances.”
For special Rotary projects like the one to help the displaced family, the club’s membership votes to award grants, if requested. After the hurricane hit Houston a year ago, in another example, the club reached out to local Houston-area Rotary clubs to ask what they most needed. The answer from one club was new refrigerators, so the Old Saybrook Rotary Club voted to send a grant for refrigerator purchase to that club.
“The most rewarding thing for me personally as a Rotarian is to give out dictionaries to 4th graders in our towns. The look on those kids’ faces is so rewarding when they get their book,” he says. “In this age of technology, it’s amazing the reaction you get when giving them a book. It’s very heart-warming.”
Giving out dictionaries to 4th-grade students has long been one of the Rotary Club’s community projects.
Sam said that the Old Saybrook Rotary Club meetings are scheduled for once a week and last for one hour. Two meetings each month are breakfast meetings that go from 7 to 8 a.m. The other two meetings will now be either a lunch or a dinner meeting. Each meeting honors a Student of the Month and his or her family from each town; these students are recommended by their schools. Meetings also focus on club business and may have a speaker. Anyone interested in joining can visit osrotary.org and click on the Membership heading.
As owner of a small business in Centerbrook and a longtime Rotarian committed to service, Sam is proud to help out organizations in his community. The Robinson Wright & Weymer Funeral Home in Centerbrook was founded in 1894 and Sam says he and his wife are only the fourth owners over all that time.
“We love being in this community. As a local business, we support local charities and organizations with donations when they ask. It’s about serving your local community in many ways. People matter to me,” Sam says. “This business is a calling. It’s unbelievable to be with the people on what is truly the worst day of their lives and keeping everything organized and running smoothly. Our best compliment is to hear that everything was done professionally and smoothly.”
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