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West Brunswick High School Interact Club members had a weekend to remember Nov. 2-4.
They flew to New York City and experienced the recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy hit the city a week earlier.
“The Interact Club of West Brunswick High School was very fortunate to have the chance to attend National Rotary Day at the United Nations,” Millie Venegas, a West Brunswick High School teacher and Interact sponsor, said.
“Our sponsoring club, South Brunswick Island Rotary Club, helped make this trip possible. Our mentor with SBI Rotary, Jennifer Vanasse, made all our arrangements and guided us throughout the trip,” Venegas said.
Nine students, Allison Brown, Khalil Gore, Dillon Priester, Gregory Johnson, Meg Fletcher, Victoria Humphreys, Stephanie Karvosky, Johnnie Turner and Amber Hickman went to New York.
“For a while it looked like Hurricane Sandy would keep us from the trip, but all was confirmed and we set out on our journey,” Venegas said. “Power outages and long lines for gas where available were common so we walked many miles and in the process our students got to know each other.”
Brown, WBHS Interact Club president, enjoyed seeing a new lifestyle and being immersed in it.
“(New York City) opened my eyes to the world that does exist beyond my comfort zone of little old Shallotte, North Carolina,” Brown said. “The best parts for me were going to the top of the Empire State Building, and looking out and seeing every possibility New York has to offer for everyone willing to embrace its opportunities.”
At the United Nations students sat in the room where world leaders participate in the global process.
Meg Fletcher said shealways knew she was going to be a linguist, but the trip to the U.N. inspired her to translate for the U.N.
“It was so cool sitting in those chairs with the countries’ names on them and imagining what it would be like when everyone was actually in there,” Fletcher said. “I was also very impressed with all the foreign exchange students. They were all do friendly and their English was perfect. The presentations from other interact groups were all wonderful as well. I want our interact group to grow to be as big and well-known as some of theirs.”
“During U.N. Day we met students the eastern United States and from Hungary, France and India,” Venegas explained.
“We heard speakers and were inspired by fellow Interact Clubs and their accomplishments during the past year. We also were inspired by the words of Mr. Sakuji Tanaka, the president of Rotary International.”
SBI Rotary President Dan Lynes said the Rotary U.N. Day takes place about every five years.
“The Rotary was started in 1905; the U.N. was established in 1945. Original members of the U.N. were also Rotary members and invited Rotary members,” Lynes said.
The Rotary Club sponsors an Interact Club for students ages 14-18 years old. The West Brunswick High School club has 30 members.
The Rotary Club donated about $750 per person. Interact members and their parents had fundraisers to cover the remaining trip costs.
Venegas said all Interact Club members were active in fundraising with car washes, raffles and requesting community support.
The group stayed in Times Square. Their hotel was on 42nd Street, which had power, but there was no power anywhere below 34th Street, Lynes said.
“Despite the damage, the club got to experience everything planned on their day trip except a visit to the Freedom Tower,” Lynes said.
Brown, Johnson, Priester, Gore and Hickman chose to go up to the top of the Empire State Building. Brown and Fletcher attended the Broadway play “Phantom of the Opera.” Students also visited Madison Square Garden, the New York Public Library, Grand Central Station, Central Park, Bryant Park, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and rode the subway after all the flood waters had been pumped out.
“The fact that there are so many different people and cultures in one city amazes me. I was surprised that just walking down the street you heard five different languages from five, completely different areas of the world,” Gregory Johnson said. “The city life was very cool but going on this trip has made thankful for a slower pace life.”
Venegas said students were stunned by the contrast of the affluent and the poverty on every corner. On the trip back they discussed how to make a difference for those left homeless by Hurricane Sandy.
“In our focus of ‘Service Above Self,’ the Interact Club will be busy fundraising in order to help those in need,” Venegas said.
“I thank the South Brunswick Rotary Club for giving me the chance to be able to experience everything about the city first hand. Seeing new people and new lifestyles has opened my mind to what I can look forward to in my future,” Brown said.
Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.