How a Small Rotary Club Can Make a Big Impact


The Rotary Club of Overland, located in the city of Overland, Missouri, boosts two past district governors and a governor nominee. Their service projects offer significant support to hundreds of local school children each year. The club has no more than 22 members.

The Secret of this Rotary Club’s Success

The secret of their success, says David Robinette, one of those mentioned past district governors, comes from choosing the right service projects and having a committed team of Rotarians supporting the school district. “Our members come from all over, and everybody just pitches in,” he says.

“We work with [school name withdrawn], where there is over 90 percent free and reduced lunch,” says Robinette. “So, there is considerable poverty.” As a teacher himself for a different school district, he has seen firsthand how children can struggle not just for basic necessities, but also for pride and dignity.

“They [Children living in poverty] don’t deserve the way it is or what is coming their way. The kids are the ones that suffer, and that is a shame. It really is.”

One of the club’s ongoing projects is to supply new dictionaries to every child in the third grade. But, they wanted to do even more. Robinette says he presented the idea of providing brand new coats for free to these children.

“We saw the need, and we thought it was a good thing to do, and we’ve just continued it from there,” he says “And, now it has been a number of years.”

When the Service Project Fits the Need

Operation Warm coats for kids“When the service project fits the need, it results in a huge impact,” says Rich Lalley, Director of Organization and Individual Development and Rotary for Operation Warm. “It’s a great program, an easy program for Rotary clubs,” Rich explains. “We’ve spent so many years working closely together, we can customize the experience and make sure each Rotary Operation Warm program is highly successful.”

“The Operation Warm Coats for Kids program is built to be flexible, serving the needs of both children and organizations,” Rich says. “Rotary clubs can choose to execute a hands-on coat project or provide the band new coats directly to school guidance counselors, social workers or administrators, who then give them directly to the children who need them most.”

The Rotary Club of Overland chooses the second option. “We rely on the social workers to give us the count, to tell us how many they need. We give the coats to the school, and they distribute them there,” Robinette says. “Know that you can do the Operation Warm Coats for Kids project without directly giving the coats to the kids.”

Delivering on a Promise of Service

“When we approached the school with the Operation Warm project, they thought it was a novel idea,” Robinette says. “They had never heard of it being done before.” The school board had some questions, such as if the project would just be a one-time event. “You can’t just do it one time,” he says. “It isn’t fair to the rest of the kids coming up who will need coats just as much.”

Everyone at the schools were surprised by the quality of the coats, Robinette says, despite the fact that he assured them that they were well-made, great-looking coats. “The concern was when we approached the district the first time was, well, if these coats are different, the kids are going to be ridiculed, they are going to be singled out, and everyone will know these are free coats, etc.,” he says. “Obviously, that is not the case. And, I do think that makes a difference. It is better for the kids, and that is what is important. That is the way we look at it.”

Small Rotary Club, Big Impact

“You can make a really huge impact with relatively small donations, relatively small cash outlay, and it makes a difference to a kid all the way through,” Robinette says. “We try to go where the need is.”

“And, my thought is that the kids can remember that. They can remember that someone treated them properly, and that someone gave them something, and hopefully that remembering will transfer over, and they will do something for someone else. Who knows where things can go from there?”

Interested in starting an Operation Warm community service project with your club?

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