This year, the Robbinsville Hamilton Rotary Club is celebrating 25 years of service. During its two-and-a-half decades of existence, the club has made a point of living its motto, “service above self.”
The charter members founded the Hamilton/Washington Township Sunrise Rotary Club in 1992. The existing Hamilton Rotary wanted to start a breakfast club in Washington Township, which is now Robbinsville. Instead of creating a separate club, they decided it would be more efficient to have one Rotary Club to connect the two communities. When the township’s name changed to Robbinsville 10 years ago, the club adapted to be the Rotary Club of Robbinsville Hamilton.
In 1994, just two years after the club was founded, Hamilton resident Megan Kanka was murdered by her neighbor at the age of 7. The community and the club members were shocked that this tragedy happened in their neighborhood, according to Greg Blair, original charter member and club president at the time.
Blair told his fellow members that they needed to do something for the community at this difficult time. As a result of the national attention that Kanka’s murder warranted, there was a lot of politics surrounding the incident. Blair knew that whatever action the club took couldn’t be involved with the politics. Club member John Carr was a firefighter who was involved in the search for Megan. He pitched an idea to Blair at one the the meetings, and together the members of the young club made it a reality.
Within a year, RHRC raised $150,000, received a NJ Green Acres Grant, purchased the home where the murder took place, knocked it down and built a quiet, beautiful park named “Megan’s Place” where people can visit to reflect.
It was a crowning achievement, and the RHRC has been busy since Megan’s Place was founded. In 2005, RHRC again took charge of a major initiative, partnering with the Hamilton YMCA to build the first Miracle League field in the Northeast. The Miracle League is a nonprofit baseball league that allows children with physical and mental disabilities to play the game regardless of their obstacles. The field is barrier-free, meaning it is ideal for those with disabilities. Blair also chaired this project.
Today, the Mercer County Miracle League has more than 100 players and 200 volunteers involved each year.
Megan’s Place and the Miracle League field are just a couple of examples of what has been made possible by the RHRC. It continues to financially support both entities through donations from individuals and businesses, Blair said.
Since many of the club’s projects involve continued financial support, RHRC holds regular fundraisers. For the past 20 years, families attend the Rotary’s Pasta Fest spaghetti dinner at the Nottingham Ballroom in Hamilton Square each Spring. Approximately 300 guests show up for entertainment, 50/50 raffle tickets, and of course, the pasta. The event is completely run by the club as members prepare the space, advertise and serve the dinner. The spaghetti and sauce is even prepared by Al Pellegrino, a member who happens to be a chef.
In the fall, there’s also RHRC’s annual Art Auction held by Marlin Art, where over 100 pieces of art and memorabilia are displayed by an auctioneer. In addition to the classic auction, there’s a silent auction with gift baskets, all to raise money for the foundation.
All proceeds go to the Rotary Club of Robbinsville Hamilton Foundation Inc., which is a nonprofit charitable fund. From there, the club finds causes and the organizations to help.
“We look all the time for groups worthy of our donations,” said Scott Biondi, the club’s current president.
Last year, RHRC debuted a new event that’s now happening annually alongside Pasta Fest and the Art Auction, called Rotarun, a 5K race beginning at the south entrance of Veteran’s Park. Members are always looking for new ways to raise money, and according to Biondi, they’ve been aiming to add a third fundraiser to their yearly calendar. This year, the Rotarun is Sunday, June 4 at 9 a.m.
Like last year, the proceeds of this event will continue go to the NJ National Guard State Family Readiness Council, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to deployed military personnel and their families. RHRC former president Joe Bellina first connected the club with NGSFRC.
The aid that NGSFRC provides is something RHRC wants to continue to support. Someone who’s serving in the National Guard may be supporting themselves or their family by other means. They could be employed in addition to their National Guard service, or they could have a family business to manage. Either way, whatever they have going on in their lives gets put on hold when they’re deployed, Biondi points out.
Biondi said the club is also currently involved in donating food to the Send Hunger Packing Program, school backpacks and supplies to underprivileged children, winter survival kits to the Rescue Mission for the homeless, children’s books to TASK and a local elementary school library, used bikes to the Boys & Girls Club Bike Exchange, and holiday season toys to Womanspace.
The club has approximately 40 members. Eight people serve on the board of directors. Each president serves for one year and then rejoins the board of directors when the year has been served.
“Several of our founding members are still members of the club,” Biondi said. The active charter members include Bob Barrett, Joe Bellina,Greg Blair, Ed Drag, Sim Rochonchou, Edna Stout, Steve Woods, Sharon Lucidi and Doug Conklin.
Biondi has been a Hamilton resident for 38 years and a member of RHRC for seven. His wife, Linda, has been supportive as he’s become very busy while serving as the club’s president.
“I like being the person who does a lot behind the throne, not sitting on the throne,” he said.
But Biondi serves to keep the Rotary’s mission in focus. When students ask him what the Rotary Club does, he tells them, “we raise money, we give it to those in need, and we have a lot of fun doing it.”