Interact is a Rotary-supported Club that Helps Students Get Involved in Community Issues

Rotary Clubs inspire teens to address community and national issues.
Edina students skate to help eradicate polio around the world.

When inspiration spoke, Elizabeth Anderson listened. During the 2015 National Student Leadership Conference, this Edina High School (EHS) 2016 graduate heard about Interact, a Rotary-supported club for students 12 to 18 years old who are interested in learning about and addressing community issues through service while developing leadership skills. “The basis of Interact spoke to me,” Anderson says.

Interact launched at EHS last year thanks to Anderson and Rotary Club mentor Josh Sprague, a board member of the Rotary Club of Edina. “He was crucial in getting it off the ground,” Anderson says, noting that Sprague was instrumental in the group receiving its charter and teaching members to run board meetings, tend to financial matters and more. “It was really nice to have someone,” Anderson says. “Josh helped us be aware of everything in our community, our country and the world,” acknowledging the Rotary Club of Edina and the Edina Morningside Rotary Club, which co-sponsor EHS Interact.

“I’m always interested in service-learning for kids,” Sprague, a former city councilman, says. “Rotary is such a powerhouse for service,” adding it only makes sense to expand service opportunities to adolescents. Sprague isn’t only interested in opening the door to service for the students; he relishes watching teens enter the service-focused arena with enthusiasm. “That’s the exciting part for me,” he says of observing young members develop leadership skills, create service opportunities and implement programs.

The EHS Interact Club, led this year by senior Rozy Eastaugh, holds monthly meetings and is organizing another Skate to End Polio fundraiser for 7-9 p.m., February 10, at Braemar’s outdoor rink. “It was a big success last year, and we’d love to have a lot more in attendance,” Eastaugh says. Last year’s event raised about $1,000, which was earmarked for Rotary’s End Polio Now campaign. The event, which coincides with the Rotary Foundation’s 100th anniversary, is $10 for kids and $20 for adults.

In addition to tackling polio, which historically has been a focus of Rotary, Interact has addressed topics including homelessness by organizing a food drive, mental health issues through posting positive messages around EHS during finals week, and hunger concerns by volunteering at Feed My Starving Children. Members also donated school supplies to an African organization and rang bells over the holidays for the Salvation Army.

The young club garnered early attention from EHS students. The first year yielded about 40 members, and Eastaugh hopes to build on that number and attract new members, who are committed to service-learning programs. “Interact is a uniquely powerful club,” she says. “Being a part of something so much bigger than yourself is definitely a memorable experience.”

The success of the inaugural year was a surprise to Sprague. “It just blew my mind,” he says. There was another surprise at hand. What Sprague may not have expected was the way in which the Interact members inspired adults. He points out that Anderson’s involvement with the club motivated her mother to join Rotary. “The kids mentor adults, too,” Sprague says, highlighting their energy, enthusiasm and fresh take on the world. “There’s definitely a give-and-take that happens with being involved with Interact,” Sprague says.

While Rotary’s involvement assists the Interact members in learning about issues facing various populations, it also provides other benefits. “There’s some real-world experience they get at a young age,” Sprague says, noting the members hone skills in joining together to examine issues and search for solutions. Interact “encourages giving back and lifelong service,” Anderson says. “I think the most valuable asset is it makes me feel more connected to the city of Edina and the Edina community,” Eastaugh says. “I’ve also developed a lot of leadership skills.”