Estero Rotary Goes Green: Planting Trees & Growing Philanthropists

The Rotary Club of Estero is all about giving. With more than 30 diverse initiatives, Rotary improves the lives of many in the local community and throughout the globe. Now these philanthropic folks are getting out their green thumbs and teaching Estero’s children to do the same.
Club members have modeled their commitment to the environment with a $4,000 gift to the Lee County Parks and Recreation Department, enabling 44 new trees to be planted throughout Estero Community Park. Simultaneously, the Estero Rotary Club has launched an Interact Club at Three Oaks Middle School with an initial project of planting a community garden.
“At this time in their lives, we’re helping to mold them into better adults and to make them leaders and teach them our motto, which is ‘service above self,’” explains Interact Club Adviser Jamie Lienhardt-Engle, past president of the Estero Rotary Club.

Planting Trees
Modeling commitment to community, Estero Rotary took on Rotary International President Ian Riseley’s challenge for all 34,000 clubs across the globe to plant one tree for each Rotarian (1.2 million worldwide) by Earth Day 2018. Estero Rotary, which has about 40 members, partnered with Lee County Parks. The club’s generosity couldn’t have come at a better time, says Kathryn Ball, senior supervisor for the Parks & Recreation Department.
“Hurricane Irma took about 150 trees out, so we needed replacement trees,” she reports. The Rotary Club’s donation funded planting of 20 live oaks, 10 cypress trees, 10 sable palms and four Shady Lady trees at Estero Park.
The tree planting project is symbolic of Estero Rotary’s enduring commitment to the community, which grows greater each year. The Rotary Club supports local initiatives to fight hunger, help special needs children, develop young leaders, promote literacy, advocate for water safety, honor veterans, support local police, mentor disadvantaged youth, and much more. This year, Estero Rotary also initiated a scholarship program, awarding $7,500 in college scholarships to three Estero High School graduates.
“It’s always nice to give, and I really enjoy the camaraderie of the members and the giving attitudes everybody has,” says incoming President Rich Hart, a Rotary members since 1998.

Interact Club Community Garden
A new initiative launched during the past year was establishing an Interact Club for middle school students. Estero Rotary runs a RotaKids Club at Three Oaks Elementary School and supports an Interact Club at Estero High School, but until last school year, there was a gap at the middle school level. Now budding Rotarians can continue participation in a service club at Three Oaks Middle School.
“It’s a place where you can help the community but still have fun hanging out with your friends,” says Interact Club Vice President Sarah Glass.
“I like meeting people, helping causes and making the world a better place,” adds President Addison Altom, who recently graduated from eighth grade but plans to return as a high school helper this fall.
The club’s first project is a community garden in the courtyard at Three Oaks Middle School. Before they left for summer vacation, Interact members painted a raised garden box and planted sweet potatoes (a vegetable that will grow without much care over the summer).
They aren’t sure yet if they will share their crop with the school community or perhaps give back to the food pantry at Interfaith Charities of South Lee (ICSL). The wooden box was donated to the Interact Club in honor of ICSL “Garden of Hope” volunteer Sue Hewitt.
Hewitt was an ICSL client who enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to give back by volunteering daily at the garden located at Hope United Presbyterian Church. She loved bringing a harvest back to the food pantry to share with others in need, says Garden of Hope Manager Garth Errington.
“She said, ‘I’ve always gone in the front door to get my food when things got tough; now I can finally go in the back door to bring food in,’” Errington recalls. “To her, that was the most wonderful feeling.”
Hewitt was preparing to take home a raised garden bed to plant at her home and then teach her neighbors how to grow their own food. Unfortunately, she suffered a stroke but continued to volunteer at Garden of Hope, aided by a walker, until her recent death.
Now the garden box that was meant to be Hewitt’s has been donated to the Interact Club. Errington believes Hewitt would be happy to see students learning to grow food and sharing the bounty with their community.
“We want to do more projects to help the community next year,” says Glass, who will be an eighth grader at Three Oaks. She’s looking forward to sampling the sweet potatoes that she and her Interact Club friends planted together.
It’s a sign of more growth to come for this group of young philanthropists.
“At a young age, the Interact club teaches kids this aspect of serving,” says Lienhardt-Engle. “It gets kids to understand what Rotary is all about.”

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