‘Future Rotarians’ Learn To Serve at Hillcrest High School

Interact Club president Ivon Flores visits with Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson. Seated are Rotarians Tracy Gomes and Linda Tuttle. (Photo: Chris McGathey)

The Rotary Club of Park Cities adopted Hillcrest High School in 2007 to help create the leaders of tomorrow.

“Having kids understand the values and attributes it takes to positively impact this world is so critical,” said Tracy Gomes, immediate past president of the club. “It’s what Rotary stands for.”

Rotary is a nondenominational, nonpolitical community service organization, with 1.3 million members in more than 133 countries. The people of the Park Cities chapter — which has 173 members — are very dedicated, Gomes said.

At Hillcrest, about 130 students take part in several youth services offered. Among them is the mentoring program, where first-generation college students get assistance transitioning from high school to college.

A mentor devotes two and a half years — from a student’s junior year in high school through their freshman year in college — not only helping a teen navigate college applications and student loans, but by being a friend who “walks along with the student” each step of the way, Gomes said.

Students in the mentoring program may also take part in the Interact program, focusing on such community service projects as cleaning up the Trinity River with the National Audubon Society, visiting Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, and helping the homeless at OurCalling.

Interact members also work internationally, collecting mobility devices for Crutches 4 Africa and traveling to Nicaragua to a school for the blind.

Rohama Bekele, a senior at Hillcrest and current vice president of the Interact Club, said she fell in love with volunteering after her first event.

Her favorite annual programs include assembling red bag kits for the Salvation Army Angel Tree Program and helping out at the North Texas Food Bank.

“I was able to learn so much about leadership and what service is about,” Bekele said.

The programs sponsored by the rotary are “a demonstration of what we stand for,” she said: “service above self.”

The Rotary Club also sponsors an Ethic’s Faire, “using art as a medium to express key Rotary values,” Gomes said. The club also provides scholarships for college expenses and to attend RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards), a summer camp that teaches leadership skills.

Gomes said the programs not only teach the values and attributes to better the world but also give students a sense of empowerment.

“Everybody has something to contribute, and by working together in a positive way, we can have a demonstrable and measurable impact in improving our communities,” he said.

Kevin Burgess is the faculty sponsor of the Interact Club at Hillcrest.

“The Rotary Club has had a tremendous influence on campus, helping shape the next generation of global leaders and instilling a creed of service above self,” Burgess said. “It has challenged students to think about the issues facing their community, both local, national, and global, and take positive steps to remedying them.”

Gomes said the emphasis on the programs at Hillcrest is to prepare the next generation of Rotarians. “Rotarians are not necessarily born; they have to be instilled and inculcated with that understanding and values.”