What is 12,300 strong, exists in Cleveland, and stretches across 133 countries?
The answer is Interact Clubs. The Rotary Club-sponsored middle school and high school groups attract young people who want to learn leadership skills, carry out service projects, and discover the world.
Cleveland Rotary, which meets at noon each Tuesday at the Mountain View Inn, has established clubs at Cleveland Middle School, Cleveland High School, and Bradley Central High School.
Students in these three schools join hundreds of other clubs around the world in providing service activities in their communities. Each association is required to sponsor at least two service projects a year — one a local project and the other relating to the international scene — but the Cleveland-area clubs far surpass that goal.
The local group that has been around the longest is at Cleveland High. Set in motion in 1997, they celebrate 16 years of service in 2013. Out of a student population of about 1,400, 52 students are Interacters. The members must keep at least a B average and remain active in project activities.
Math teacher Don Markham and science teacher Holly Gobble sponsor the Blue Raider club.
The Cleveland High group is one of the most active in the state, last year committing to more than 20 projects. These included working with elementary school festivals, Salvation Army bell ringing, Special Olympics, diaper drives, Christmas shoeboxes, polio eradication in other countries, and many more.
Bradley High’s club is the newest, started just a year ago. Faculty members Melissa Presswood, Rachel Metzger, and Tony Clukey shepherd the Bear contingent.
The club is made up of 45 of the school’s 1,700 students, who agree to spend at least 10 hours of service during each semester. This group, too, is quite active.
The students work in elementary school service activities, raised $1,000 to build a house in the People for Care and Learning Cambodia project, collected winter clothes for young children, and several other efforts.
Rotary Clubs expanded the Interact service club concept to middle schools only a few years ago, and Cleveland Middle School was the first in Tennessee and one of the first in the South to be commissioned.
Teachers Derrick Marr and Eric Frazier champion the CMS Interact Club this year. Nearly 30 students from sixth through eighth grades make up the membership.
A major project of the middle school group last year was selling Blue Raider wristbands to raise money for the Chattanooga Ronald McDonald House. They also assisted with the Relay for Life. On-campus projects include the Library Book Fair and the Catch the Spirit celebration at the end of the year.
Besides the school-based activities, the local clubs send delegates to the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, an annual convention of young people from throughout East Tennessee held in Pigeon Forge each year.
During a three-day conference the students attend workshops and receive instruction on leadership fundamentals and ethics, communication skills, and problem solving and conflict management. The schools and individual leaders compete for recognition and college scholarships.
Additionally, a group of Interact members from the three schools alternate in attending the weekly Rotary meetings as guests of the parent club.
Cleveland Rotary Club members who have helped to begin and sustain the Interact movement include Amy Card-Lillios, David Carroll, Cameron Fisher, Rick Denning, Ashley Smith, Doug Eberhart, Roger Fuller, and Victor Boltniew.