Capital Rotary is awarding scholarships to two college-bound Midlands students following 19 applicant interviews in late March. Club members on the selection committee included (from left in photo) Paul Gillam, Allyson Way Hank and Darren Foy, plus Pete Pillow (not pictured). A $20,000 scholarship – $5,000 annually for four years – is going to C.A. Johnson High School senior Amariyah Ayee, while Ben Lippen School senior Claire Davis is getting a $10,000 scholarship – $5,000 annually for two years. Ayee, second-ranked in her class, plans to attend Claflin University and hopes to become a pediatric surgeon. Davis will seek to major in engineering and plans to use that knowledge to solve clean water problems in third-world countries. Capital Rotary has been supporting higher-education opportunities for local high school students for more than 20 years. The club’s scholarships are based on a combination of academic performance, extracurricular activities and economic need.
Richland County and the City of Columbia need to focus on growing more career jobs, not just adding to the area’s store of hourly-wage work. Carl Blackstone, president and CEO of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, delivered that message to Capital Rotary at the club’s March 21 meeting. Blackstone (shown talking with Rotarian Ann Elliott) said strong private sector leadership is key in addressing what he called a local economy that “putters along.” As examples, he cited (1) Richland County’s 5% population growth from 2011-2016 – compared to 11% growth in Charleston County and 9% for Greenville County – and (2) Richland’s -2.6% job growth rate during the same period versus 26.2% in Charleston and 8.3% in Greenville. Disincentives for doing business in Richland and Columbia include the highest industrial tax rate in the country and commercial property taxes that are 8th highest in the country, Blackstone said. He said the chamber believes in Columbia’s potential, but the public and private sectors must “move forward together” to meet economic and employment challenges over the next 20 years. Blackstone’s background includes extensive government relations experience at state, local and federal levels. He has a business degree from the College of Charleston and is a graduate of Leadership South Carolina.
Sponsor Allyson Way Hank and president Blake DuBose (right) introduce Alex Serkes as Capital Rotary Club’s newest member. Serkes practices commercial real estate and corporate law in Nexsen Pruet’s Columbia office and graduated cum laude from the University of South Carolina Law School. At USC he was research editor for the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Journal, and was an executive board member of the Constitutional Scholar’s Pipeline, a program to mentor middle schoolers interested in attending college and law school. Serkes has a communications degree from East Carolina University, where he was a member of the Student Government Association, the Inter-Fraternity Council and a sportswriter for the campus newspaper. The Salisbury, MD native is a member of the American and Carolina Bar associations and has previous community service with the Metro Charlotte YMCA.
Today’s students today have a greater capacity for learning and applying what they know to real world issues than ever before, according to Lexington/Richland District Five school superintendent Dr. Stephen W. Hefner. But public education’s challenges include solving a persistent teacher shortage and helping families with social/emotional issues that cause stress, anxiety and depression. Hefner (seen speaking to Capital Rotarians as club member Bryan Goodyear looks on) led Richland District Two for 16 years before joining District Five in 2011. During his career he’s seen school responsibilities expand in (1) serving needs of special education students; (2) fielding, equipping and coaching over 150 athletic teams; (3) offering full-day and four-year-old kindergarten; (4) building and maintaining facilities; (5) providing nursing services for a daily average of more than 600 students; (6) meeting breakfast, lunch and afterschool nutritional needs; (7) communicating with a diverse population where English is a second language for nearly 800 students; (8) technology becoming essential for teaching, learning and assessment; (9) ensuring safety with school resource officers and 360 practice drills scheduled yearly; and (10) dealing with a “generational change” in employee and family attitudes that focus primarily on lifestyle.
Capital Rotary members put in a solid hour of community service Feb. 21 when they volunteered at Harvest Hope Food Bank’s Shop Road headquarters in Columbia. Rotarians sorted and stocked 1,363 pounds of bakery items; bagged 611 pounds of snacks and 1,714 pounds of produce; and bagged and stocked 443 pounds of dairy goods – all destined for the Emergency Food Pantry. Harvest Hope, begun in 1981, works to meet the needs of hungry people in 20 counties in the Midlands, Pee Dee and Greater Greenville regions of South Carolina. Food Bank executive director Denise Holland is a Capital Rotary member. In photo, club members on work detail are (from left) Ione Cockrell, Trey Boone, Frank Rutkowski, Ben Carlton and Ann Elliott.
As Congaree Riverkeeper for the last six years, Bill Stangler works in the Midlands to protect the environmental quality of three different rivers and their tributaries because “water is a common good,” as he explained at Capital Rotary’s Feb. 14 meeting. Stangler (pictured with Rotarian Ann Elliott) is a former outdoors guide who studied ecology and river science at the University of South Carolina. He now monitors water, wildlife habitat and recreation conditions on the Congaree, Lower Saluda and Lower Broad Rivers – including 90 miles of river, 2,000 miles of streams and five different counties in the watershed. Stangler said preserving “our rights to our rivers” involves (1) outreach and education about issues facing rivers; (2) advocacy work and voluntary cleanups, plus water quality sampling; and (3) suing to enforce environmental laws when regulatory agencies fail to do the job. Congaree Riverkeeper is a non-profit organization, one of six in South Carolina affiliated with the Waterkeeper Alliance, a global movement of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect rivers and coasts all over the world. One of Rotary International’s areas of focus is support for local solutions to bring clean water, sanitation and hygiene to more people every day.
Addressing South Carolina’s information technology “talent gap” is the mission of IT-ology, a Columbia-based nonprofit working to attract, retain and educate citizens about the IT profession. Capital Rotarians were briefed on those efforts during a Fifth Wednesday meeting with IT-ology staffers (from left in photo Lauren Wells, Kristy McLean and Bonnie Kelly). The Palmetto State has (1) a limited pool of trained, experienced potential IT employees; (2) an insufficient number of students in IT classes; (3) women and minorities underrepresented in the profession; (4) a high demand for more cybersecurity professionals; (5) a need for a statewide culture that encourages innovators and entrepreneurs; and (6) a need for workers with more “soft skills” like communication, collaboration, teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking and negotiation. IT-ology says the key to answering these needs includes more pre-K-12th grade programs, expanded technical college outreach, teacher professional development and IT career development seminars. Capital Rotary’s Fifth Wednesday program substitutes local field trips to sites like IT-ology in place of a regular club meeting.
Homeschooling is a good option for parents seeking one-to-one, individualized learning opportunities for their children. That’s what Capital Rotarians heard when Beth Martin – high school director for the South Carolina Association of Independent Homeschools – spoke at the club’s Jan. 24 meeting. Martin is a former public middle school teacher who homeschooled her own three children. She said the state association – a nonprofit founded in 1990 – works to ensure accountability for some 22,000 to 33,000 homeschoolers across South Carolina. That includes assistance with curriculum, counseling and class schedules; meeting test requirements; maintaining transcripts and issuing diplomas; providing for special needs students; and college/career planning. Martin said homeschooling can offer young people a superior education – aligned to their own specific needs, learning styles, personalities and interests – at less cost than a private or public school setting. (SC Assn of Independent Home Schools photo)
Columbia’s Capital Rotary has recognized three members for contributions to The Rotary Foundation, the international service club’s charitable arm that funds programs for world understanding and peace. Honorees include (from left) Mike Montgomery, a Paul Harris Fellow plus-six donor, representing an initial $1,000 donation, plus six additional gifts of $1,000 each; Hal Peacock, a plus-two Fellow with an initial $1,000 donation followed by two more for $1,000 each; club president Blake DuBose; and Tommy Gibbons, a plus-three Fellow with an initial $1,000 donation followed by three at $1,000 each.
Commercial banker Austin McVay (second from left in photo) and healthcare professional Jon Belsher (second from right) have been inducted into Columbia’s Capital Rotary Club. McVay – shown with sponsor Denise Holland – is a Greenville native with undergraduate and graduate degrees from Clemson University. He is a commercial relationship manager with TD Bank and previously worked at Verizon Wireless and ScanSource in Greenville and for GE Energy in Atlanta. Belsher – shown with sponsor Tommy Gibbons – is president and chief operating officer of UCI Medical Affiliates, Inc. A native of Palo Alto, CA, he was educated at Amherst College, the University of Arizona and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He has worked for the Mayo Clinic and Scott & White Healthcare and spent 13 years in the Air National Guard. He’s a former Big Brother and Special Olympics clinical director.