TRAVERSE CITY -- Rotarians around the globe believe making the world a better place begins with a commitment to local communities. Members of the Benzie Sunrise Rotary Club honor that commitment by dedicating themselves to making a difference in the lives of Benzie County youth.
The business men and women of the Sunrise Rotary are working with the Benzie County Central School District to bring educational programs and extracurricular activities to students to encourage them to stay in school and continue on to higher education.
“We know that Benzie County is one of the most economically challenged counties in Michigan, but we didn’t want that fact to deter our kids from thinking higher education is beyond their reach,” said Kris Thomas, the Sunrise Rotary Club president. “We decided to try to build a partnership with the schools, and we were welcomed with open arms.”
Thomas said club volunteers began in 2011 to hold Career Days for middle school seventh graders. They also offered Choices workshops for eighth graders that emphasize how making good educational choices in middle school can affect their futures. Thomas said other volunteers help middle school students run their school store, and in April they took the eighth grade class, about 130 students, to Michigan State University.
“We wanted them to be able to actually visualize themselves in a major university campus setting,” Thomas said.
The trip took some Benzie students a step closer to what might have been only a dream.
Between 60 and 65 percent of the district’s children are on a free or reduced lunch program, an indicator of the economic conditions in Benzie County, said Benzie Central High School Principal Peter Olson. Benzie Middle School Principal David Clasen said opportunities like the MSU trip have been lost, given the region's financial harships over the past several years.