HOBOKEN, NJ - Rotary International Clubs in Bayonne, Hoboken, and Jersey City saw a changing of the guard on July 1 as new presidents took control of the community service group’s local chapters.
The recently elected leaders have the next year to assess their cities’ needs and determine proposals to address them. Already, they are looking to usher in a wave of original goals focused on feeding the homeless, assisting the elderly, and delivering resources abroad.
Kimberley Bueno-Schonig, Hoboken Rotary Club
Kimberley Bueno-Schonig rapidly advanced through the ranks at the Hoboken Rotary Club, ascending to president just two years after she first joined. But she can trace her time as a Rotarian back to her days as a high schooler in California.
“My intention with taking the role was to kind of do a whole overhaul and revamp it,” Bueno-Schonig said. “Just because I think we really need to go back to the basics and reorganize its structure, and make sure we find a way to incentivize people to become a member.”
As founder of Women Entrepreneurs of Hudson County, Bueno-Schonig is no stranger to activism. And she gained even more experience in administration by opening two startups: The Cuddly Cottage, a pet-sitting service, and The Cuddly Boutique, an online retailer of pet supplies.
Bueno-Schonig must now utilize those skills as she attempts to expand her club and entice more small business owners into volunteering.
“I think in order for us to actively host events and be able to be managing programs…it starts with the people that are involved with Hoboken Rotary," Bueno-Schonig said.
More members would mean better fundraising and participation for projects similar to one that the organization launched last summer, when its executive board gave $500 to the Spa Diner in exchange for 85 sandwiches that the restaurant donated to the Hoboken Shelter.
The coronavirus outbreak has increased food insecurity, which directly correlates to the demand for contributions to the soup kitchen. Bueno-Schonig explained that she wants to hold the event monthly with backing from companies and people, but the pandemic imposes its own obstacles on her plans.
“Because of the current situation with COVID-19, it’s a bit difficult for us to kind of put things in stone or set a permanent pathway…if things change,” Bueno-Schonig said.
Joseph Branco, Jersey City Rotary Club
Early in 2012, Joseph Branco heard news of the 300 Washington St. fire in Hoboken, a four-alarm inferno that decimated the five-story business and apartment complex and displaced all its tenants. Sensing a chance to aid those affected, the realtor and restaurateur hosted a Rotary fundraiser at Room 84, his former nightclub, which collected over $17,000 for the blaze’s victims.
Like his counterpart in the Hoboken Rotary, Branco volunteered with Rotary International in high school before resuming as a professional. Now in charge of Jersey City Rotary, Branco described that his main goal is prioritizing the community, both by continuing the chapter’s preexisting initiatives and introducing some of his own.
“[Board member] Aaron Foreman…and I came up with this idea of a ‘Cooking for Seniors Series,’ where every week we cook for a different senior building,” Branco said. “And we found a couple of people to sponsor the events and buy the food.”
Branco added that he intends to take Rotary’s work with the elderly a step further to safeguard them against the coronavirus, collaborating with Jersey City Ward A Councilmember Denise Ridley to eventually provide her district’s seniors with portable hand sanitizer bottles.
And then there are the programs established under prior presidents that Branco mentioned will carry over. They include free feminine hygiene products for local shelters and schools, holiday cookie giveaways to crossing guards, and winter coat drives for the underprivileged.
Branco has branched into missions abroad as well. Soon, he expects to ship a fully stocked ambulance to Villa Tapia, Dominican Republic, and he previously arranged the donation of equipment and three fire trucks to towns across the Caribbean nation in 2018. And last year, Branco helped with the logistics of transporting protective law enforcement gear and three police cars to Hoboken’s sister city of Villalba, Puerto Rico.
Looking ahead, Branco expressed the importance of better promoting Jersey City Rotary’s campership fund, which pays for one qualifying Boy and Girl Scout to attend camp. He envisioned a jamboree featuring activities and a barbecue in Liberty State Park to inform the scouts and their families about the grant.
“Service should be fun,” Branco said. “And when you surround yourself with people that want to give back and enjoy service, it’s a great time.”
Cindi Sisk-Galvin, Bayonne Rotary Club
After advancing to the role of business development officer at BCB Bank in 2017, Cindi Sisk-Galvin received a personal invitation from her employer’s president and CEO asking her to visit the Bayonne Rotary Club. Intrigued by the opportunity and motivated by the bank’s community-centric outlook, she accepted.
Sisk-Galvin quickly went from an eager newcomer and awareness-raiser to the chapter’s foremost advocate and organizer.
“Our mission is service above self, and…we’re going to do everything we can to help everyone,” Sisk-Galvin said. “So we want to get out there right now and generate renewed interest citywide for people to come and join and see what we do and how we help locally and internationally [to] support all kinds of efforts.”
Those global endeavors include a project to solicit donations benefiting potable water infrastructure in Guyana, Haiti, India, and Jamaica. Within Bayonne, Rotary finances student scholarships and a read-along program for one elementary school annually, supplying books and occasional guest readers for classes.
Sisk-Galvin and her board have also championed two key strategies in response to the coronavirus: preparing meals for frontline workers and distributing masks to veterans for protection against the disease.
And to commemorate the Bayonne Rotary’s centennial anniversary this year, Sisk-Galvin proposed a public contest for creating a cornerstone celebrating the milestone. If the Port Authority permits the marker’s installation at the base of the Bayonne Bridge in New Jersey, the winning design will appear on the roadway in perpetuity.
On top of her goals, Sisk-Galvin must handle a major issue akin to the struggles facing Hoboken Rotary. Membership losses leave fewer individuals pitching new ideas and limit the options to whom Sisk-Galvin can turn for funding.
Still, she is optimistic she can energize an upsurge of fresh volunteers.
“I coined this as the year that I hope to be of change, where we bring hope and renewed interest in the Rotary Club so that we can spread it to the next generation…[to] keep this organization growing,” Sisk-Galvin said.
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