PATERSON, NJ- Several members of the Paterson Great Falls Rotary Club put their organization’s mission of “service above self” to the test on Sunday by teaming up with the New Destiny Family Success Center to host a Winter Festival for local children and families.

The event, according to President Heru Keonte, is an extension of similar efforts in previous years and a reflection of the organization’s activites that support their community. Keonte, born and raised in Paterson, and an English teacher at John B. Holland Charter School, said that it’s “an awesome feeling” to have an impact on the lives of the children he teaches outside of the classroom, and is just another way that Rotary is “making a difference” in the lives of local children.

The Paterson Great Falls Rotary Club is part of Rotary International which boasts more than 1.2 million members in 34,000 clubs across the globe.  Rotary is, according the Great Falls club’s website, “respected worldwide for its humanitarian efforts, peace keeping initiatives and commitment to voluntary service.”

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While each of the approximately 60 children that participated in Sunday’s event left with a new winter coat, hat, and scarf, donated by Raj Bhatia, Past Governor of Rotary District 7490, and the Northern Valley Rotary Club, through his family’s Lakshmi Dream Foundation, the effort was geared mostly towards simply getting children and families from the area out and engaged.

Engagement, according to the New Destiny’s Executive Director Carolyn McCombs, is really at the core of the Center’s mission. As McCombs listed off a litany of activities and resources they provide to over 1500 Paterson families, including ESL classes, computer training, domestic violence support, and opportunities to hear from speakers on a wide variety of topics, it seemed safe to assume that she had a large staff at her disposal.

“We couldn’t do it without our volunteers,” McCombs said immediately after informing TAPinto Paterson that her full time staff consists of five individuals. Today’s event, she said, was “a beautiful thing,” and about much more about the coats that were given away. Motioning around the room McCombs referred to the space at 79 Ellison Street as a “homelike setting,” and a place where parents and children can come out to “build relationships” and have a “rich experience” that sets their efforts apart from other social service organizations that tend to be more “transactional.”   

Also on hand was longtime Paterson Housing Authority (PHA), and Rotary member, Irma Gorham, who said that many of the children in attendance were residents of the PHA. The event, Gorham said, was a reminder that while Paterson is a “community of need” it is also one where a diverse array of organizations and individuals, such as all of those that gave their time on a Sunday, are willing to “help each other” and, despite limited resources, find ways to “make it happen.”

A quick glance around the room, full of smiling children, parents, and volunteers, provided an obvious indicator that the event was a success, an accomplishment, Gorham was quick to point out, no one was looking for a pat on the back for.

“This is what we do,” Gorham said. “The community is better because of what we do,” and that, she indicated, makes it all worthwhile.