Rotary Club’s Southwest Austin chapter celebrates 35 years of ‘service above self’


Chartered in 1982, Rotary Club Austin-Southwest is a group founded on the principle of “service above self” and is a way for professionals in the area to help those in need, both locally and globally.

Members meet Thursdays at noon at the Red Lobster located at 3815 S. Lamar Blvd. Anyone is welcome to attend the meetings, but official members are admitted by invitation and sponsorship only.

Rotary International has over 35,000 clubs worldwide and more than a dozen in the Greater Austin area, according to the organization’s website. The Southwest club has partnered closely with Austin Public Library’s Hampton Branch at Oak Hill, said Gary Cataldo, the club’s newly elected president.

“We’re still very heavily involved with the library and its maintenance,” he said. “We still go out, and we do our mulching; we do a lot of gardening there.”

The club built a gazebo on the library’s grounds; constructed a trailhead for the nature path that runs behind the building; and sponsored the Learning Tree, a small picnic area behind the library shaded by a large oak tree. Club members have also raised $170,000 in scholarships for more than 160 local college students pursuing vocational degrees, Cataldo said.

Literacy is a key concern for the club, Cataldo said. Members have donated about 11,000 dictionaries, thesauruses and atlases to students at St. Elmo, Oak Hill and Patton elementary schools. Cataldo said he hopes to work with more area schools as well as the community as a whole to address relevant needs.

“We’ve done everything ourselves, but I’m looking for opportunities to partner with other people in the community,” he said. “What is it they would like to do that we can help them [with]?”

The club also donates money to and volunteers with several projects in Mexico, Cataldo said.

In addition to its literacy efforts, the club has also donated $15,000 to the polio eradication project sponsored by Rotary International, Cataldo said. To date, Rotary International is a major contributor to the eradication of polio worldwide.

In 1979, global club members took on a project to deliver the polio vaccine to more than 6 million children in the Philippines. In 1985, Rotary clubs launched the first internationally coordinated private-sector support of a public health initiative with a contribution of $120 million toward polio vaccinations, according to the Rotary Club’s website, and has since contributed more than $1 billion toward the eradication of the disease.

Although the Southwest Austin Rotary club is still involved in community projects, Cataldo said he hopes to make the club more visible in the coming years as well as gain 15-20 more members.

“If you want to do something [important], then you want to come see us,” he said. “This is where you can take something that you think is important and work on it.”

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