The need to help is innate for some people, but what pushes them to take that leap can vary from volunteer to volunteer.
It was a commitment to eradicating polio — specifically in the Philippines — by Rotary International that drew Wesley Escondo into The Noon Rotary Club of Eau Claire, but it was the service to the community the organization lived by that motivated him to stay.
“Service helped me join and keeps me there,” said Escondo, who has a Filipino heritage.
Now the club president, Escondo has been involved with the noon Eau Claire branch of the organization for the last four years.
For Bill Cunningham, the call the serve stemmed from a little peer pressure and a sense of just doing something. Twenty years later, serving as the secretary for the Lake Wissota Lions Club, it’s safe to say Cunningham has found plenty to do and is grateful to do it.
Michelle Dingwall, president of the Rotary Club of Menomonie, has always had a passion for charity work and was introduced to her club eight years ago.
Now five years into her membership with the club, she is serving as its president and said she continually enjoys seeing the different members who make up their club.
“[I was] impressed with the different types of people that came together with one type of purpose,” Dingwall said.
Escondo, Cunningham, Dingwall and other members of area organizations and non-profits continue their charity efforts in the greater Eau Claire, Dunn and Chippewa counties and have served nearly all demographics and corners of the greater area.
Other organizations committed to this level of service include Rotary Clubs in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, the local Lions Clubs, such as those in Jim Falls, Tilden and Lake Holcombe, and more organizations that fall under the umbrella of service to their community like the Lions Clubs International and Rotary International.
In terms of local help, each club has its own passions and dedications.
The Lake Wissota Lions has 12 annual ongoing projects, such as vision screenings for all local students in Chippewa Falls, to Christmas presents, clothes and school supplies drives held annually.
Cunningham said the mission and work of the Lions Club is ingrained in its members, who live by the club’s motto of “We serve.”
“That’s just what we do,” Cunningham said. “We’re trying to give something back to the community and help people out.”
Sometimes, the people the club is helping are part of larger organizations and other times, they are individuals in need of service. A man in need of a ramp to get in and out of his house, and children who can’t afford glasses, are examples of individuals helped by the Lake Wissota Lions Club.
Cunningham was recently involved in vision tests at local elementary schools, an annual project by the Lake Wissota Lions Club. Seeing the high-tech detection of the camera used to monitor the children’s eyes and interacting with the kids receiving the testing was something he said he really enjoyed doing for the community.
In the past year, the Lake Wissota Lions made it a yearly mission to pay for a K9 unit and dog at the Chippewa County Sherriff’s Department. Through raising $25,000 for the dog and receiving help from other Chippewa County Lions clubs, such as those in Jim Falls, Tilden and Lake Holcombe, the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Department now has a deputy and dog in training in Anoka, Minn., for drug detection, apprehension and locating missing persons.
The deputy, Jason Bloom of Cornell, Wis., and dog, Nero, will be trained by Thanksgiving.
It’s a donated presence the sheriff’s department will likely have for years — a commitment to the community manifested in fur and a talented snout.
That dedication to the community can be seen through the Rotary’s work in Eau Claire and the surrounding areas, Escondo said.
Particularly in its devotion to helping and instilling in younger generations a drive to volunteer, Escondo said the Noon Rotary Club of Eau Claire is continuing its dedication of “service above self.”
The Noon Rotary Club gives out $5,000 worth of scholarships for higher education yearly to students at Eau Claire and Altoona high schools, and even while the students at Regis and Altoona High Schools are still in school, the Noon Rotary Club has an opportunity for them to volunteer through its Interact club.
Escondo said Interact is something the Noon Rotary Club is particularly proud of. In its first three years, the club has been able to motivate and get kids engaged in the community.
The Rotary Club of Menomonie also works closely with youth, encouraging them to continue to volunteer through its awards for students who do community-service work.
The club gives four awards a year to high school students, Dingwall said, and it is a way for the community to see the work being done by its younger residents.
Both the Noon Rotary Club and the Menomonie club also host exchange students as part of the international component to their clubs. This year, the Menomonie Club is hosting a girl from Taiwan.
Seeing the interactions with the international student and others in the United States is one of Dingwall’s favorite parts of being a Rotarian. She introduces her children to the international students with hopes that her children learn about international cultures and acceptance.
Another big project for the Rotary Club of Menomonie is its Kids Against Hunger campaign, a locally franchised organization that is part of a large network, Dingwall said.
The program utilizes community volunteers from businesses and organizations to package thousands of dehydrated meals that can be prepared with water and heat to provide six meals. Half of the meals are donated to the local food pantry and the other half are reserved for emergencies, Dingwall said.
Recently, the club sent 90,000 meals to the Houston, Texas, area after Hurricane Harvey and thousands of meals have been sent to Syria as well.
The most recent project for the Noon Rotary, Escondo said, was the Phoenix Bridge Lighting Project, which was officially flipped on Oct. 12.
The bridge, more than 500 feet long across the Chippewa River, now features 172 LED lights that will flash throughout the night until dawn.
The project is in conjunction with the city of Eau Claire, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Downtown Eau Claire Inc., Escondo said, and will utilize the students at UWEC to maintain the lights, illuminating the bridge for special events or shows.
Besides these significant projects, the Noon Rotary Club has given nearly $55,500 since 2012 to local, international and scholarship foundations, such as local schools, the American Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Eau Claire and Chippewa Valley organizations and water and cleft lip projects. The highest amount in one year the club donated was in 2015-2016, when the club donated nearly $16,000.
And the generosity doesn’t show any signs of stopping, Escondo said.
“We’re going to continue to give,” Escondo said. “That’s why we exist.”
Likewise, both Cunningham and Dingwall know their clubs will continue with their service mission — much like the other local clubs that follow their mottos.
Those interested in joining either of these international service organizations at the local level can do so by contacting any member or visiting the respective club’s website.