Participation in the Rotary Club starts young for students at Maple Lawn Elementary School in Sumner.

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Students at Maple Lawn Elementary in Sumner have a unique opportunity.

Their school is the only elementary in the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District that has EarlyAct, a branch of the Rotary service club.

“It’s a fourth- and fifth-grade club in the grade school that is a community-service project,” said Sumner EarlyAct founder Kathy Hayden. “It’s all about service and getting kids to think about service early in life.”

About 56 students in the Maple Lawn EarlyAct Club conduct one local project and one international project every year. In 2018, they organized a food and supply drive for people experiencing homelessness in the area. They chose the project themselves.

“A lot of them are anxious to serve,” Maple Lawn third-grade teacher Jeanne Ossman said. “It’s kid-driven.”

On Dec. 12, the students organized boxes of food and clothing. One of those students was fifth-grader Emilio Collie, who’s participated in EarlyAct since he was a fourth grader.

“I like helping out at the school, and it’s making you kind of be a leader,” Collie said.

As of November, EarlyAct had collected:

  • $1,600 for four freshwater pumps and immunizations in 2018
  • 1,400 food and hygiene items for the Sumner Community Food Bank
  • 4,000 diapers for a diaper drive
  • 750 toys for Christmas Toy Drive
  • $2,100 for water purifiers to be sent to Haiti

The club is meant to support communities locally and internationally, but it also is raising a new generation of potential Rotarians and service members.

Sumner Rotary President Brad Moericke said the club now has about 100 members, with membership remaining stagnant over the past few years.

Internationally, Rotary reports show membership in slow decline over the past three years. There were 1,209,491 members in the 2014-15 annual report; 1,207,913 members in the 2015-16 and 1,202,937 members in Rotary’s 2016-17 annual report.

Hayden said that at the local level, Sumner Rotary understands how important it is to get youth involved in service organizations.

“If you don’t have young people, your club dies out,” Hayden said.

With that in mind, Hayden, who also is Sumner’s deputy mayor, helped start an Interact Club in the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District about six years ago. Interact is a sanctioned Rotary Club for ages 12 to 18.

Hayden found it was difficult to get the club started at the middle-school level — not enough students knew what Rotary was about.

“I really saw a difference at high school because they were moving up and they knew what (Rotary) was,” Hayden said.

To boost involvement, Hayden started the first EarlyAct Club at Maple Lawn, with Rotary support.

“These kids, when they’re this young, they don’t know that they can make a difference,” Hayden said. “I’m trying to show these kids that you can make a difference no matter how old you are.”

Both Collie and fellow fifth-grader Jackson Marshall-Mitchell said they want to join Interact Club next year when they start middle school, and eventually Rotary itself.

There is one EarlyAct and three Interact Clubs in the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District. Interact Clubs are available at Sumner High School, Sumner Middle School and the Elhi Hill High School Alternative Education Program. They have about 50 student members, not including 56 students from EarlyAct. Each club meets twice a month.

Hayden is hoping to grow the clubs but can only do so if she gets more volunteers to help.

Learning to help others will help kids be better people, Hayden said.

“These are our future Rotarians right here,” she said.