November 2017

VanLandingham Rotary: A Small but Mighty Force

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

They say if you want something done, ask a busy person. On Hilton Head Island, 60-70 busy VanLandingham Rotary Club members are proving that a small group of dedicated people can make a whopping difference in a community. Since its inception in 1983, the club has raised more than $1.7 million, all of which has been funneled into children’s charities and non-profit organizations that benefit children, mostly right here at home: Boys & Girls Club, The Children’s Center, Coastal Discovery Museum Discovery Lab, The Sandbox, The Deep Well Project, Neighborhood Outreach Connection, 1st Tee, and more. What all these organizations have in common is their mission to make sure that children get what they need.

It’s no secret that children require food and shelter to survive. To thrive, they need education, health care, recreational programs, responsibilities, experiences, social interaction, and opportunities to explore. They also need attention, love, encouragement and understanding. When all these needs are being met, they have the best chance at success in life and at making their own unique contributions to the community and the world. And that is why VanLandingham Rotary has chosen to concentrate its efforts on distributing funds to various organizations that collectively provide what children must have to become responsible, happy adults. “This club has had a hand in building virtually every facility on Hilton Head Island dedicated to the growth and education of our children,” said Ben Shelton, current VanLandingham Rotary president.

Before you think to yourself, ho-hum, another organization, another fundraiser…consider what’s at stake. When we hear big numbers and read about charitable organizations, the real significance is often blurred behind the statistics and logistics of the projects themselves. Boil it down to the people instead of the business, and the picture becomes clear.

Imagine you are a nine-year-old girl whose mom is a service worker on Hilton Head Island. It’s November, a.k.a. “off-season.” Money is short and work is scarce. Mom can’t afford rent, much less a Thanksgiving feast or Christmas toys. A knock comes at the door, and someone delivers a turkey and two bags of groceries. How excited are you? Betsy Doughtie, executive director of The Deep Well Project, remembers the sheer elation of this child, jumping for joy over a frozen turkey. The annual holiday baskets are contributed by VanLandingham Rotary.

Local Realtor Sonny Huntley, a Rotarian since 1988, said he was most moved by a presentation concerning children’s dental care. “It’s heartrending when you see what bad teeth do to children. It affects their entire life—their social life, their schoolwork, and everything. It’s not just bad, it’s devastating,” he said. VanLandingham Rotary gave $110,000 towards Volunteers in Medicine’s pediatric dental clinic.

These are just two examples of how this relatively small group of volunteers is reaching into the corners of the local community to give children a boost. How do they do it? They raise money.

Movers, shakers and moneymakers
It was 1994 when Huntley and fellow Rotarian Brian Goode dreamed up what has turned out to be the local organization’s largest and most successful fundraiser: the VanLandingham Rotary Auction. (The other big moneymaker is the food booth at the annual Heritage golf tournament.) Prior to starting the auction, the club was selling pecans (“that’s PEE-can,” Huntley emphasized, in his native Southern tongue). They were raising a few thousand dollars selling nuts, but Huntley and Goode were convinced they could do better. And better they did, starting out with a live auction, where Huntley, a trained auctioneer, chanted the bids.

“We used to do a live, a silent, and a radio auction. But it got too confusing,” Huntley explained. “We quit the live. Later we quit the silent because it was so labor intensive. Now, we do the whole thing online, and we can broadcast from anywhere.”

Narrowing the focus to projects that benefit children helps keep funds moving into places where the greatest effects can be seen and felt. “We raise a lot of money and we touch a lot of people,” Huntley said. “When we first started, we would get $10,000-$15,000 [from the auction]. We now gross about $110,000. None of the money that we raise is used for anything other than charitable giving. The club itself runs on the dues collected. We don’t have an executive that gets paid, and our members are volunteering their time.”

“Many people may not realize that our club also invests money raised through the auction, raffle, and our annual Heritage booth into four-year scholarships awarded to local high school graduates,” Shelton said. “This project was recently raised from $5,000 a year to $10,000 a year in annual scholarship proceeds distributed. Further, by our club’s efforts working with Water Missions International and Rotary International, in 2015, a new freshwater well was installed at an orphanage in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This year, we have sponsored a sewer hook-in on Hilton Head Island through Project SAFE, helping both the health of a local family and increasing the quality of our local environment. It is truly a phenomenal privilege to be part of an organization, which, through the work of its members, makes a constant difference in both our community and abroad.”

The success of the annual auction can be attributed to the generosity of our local community and the thrill of the game. “People always love a bargain, and they perceive an auction as a place where they can get a bargain,” Huntley said. “We have a lot of good things. Most everything is local—local services and local items. People are very generous.”

“Having fulfilled our $75,000.00 pledge to the Sandbox in less than two years, we took on an additional pledge of $100,000 to help complete the capital campaign of the 1st Tee of the Lowcountry,” Shelton said. “I fully expect us to meet our remaining pledge to 1st Tee through the 2017 Fall Raffle and 2018 Auction. It is my goal as president this year to help us exceed the remaining pledge and have money available to carry forward towards our next beneficiary, which is yet to be determined, and to help grow the Zach VanLandingham Scholarship Fund.”

Share the joy
There are two ways in which you can share the joy of giving and be part of this small, but mighty effort that directly benefits children in our community. If you are in business here, now is the time to contribute to the cause by donating your services to the 2018 auction and/or sponsoring a segment of the televised event. Besides the wonderful feeling of knowing that you did your part to help area children, the triple spotlight on your business is invaluable: 1) Each item and related donor selected for television will be described briefly during a 15-minute auction segment on WTOC (the Savannah-based station has a potential viewer base of 700,000); 2) Donated items and their donor’s name will be listed in the newspaper on the day of the event; 3) Each item will be presented on an interactive website, allowing bidders the opportunity to view a photo and description of the item along with a link to your website.

The second way to give is to participate in the auction. The VanLandingham Rotary Auction takes place in February (date TBD), at which time you can bid on restaurant meals, tennis and golf packages, pool services, legal services, fishing trips, salon and spa services, vacation getaways and more.

The stakes are high, and everybody wins!

For more information regarding VanLandingham Rotary Club’s service projects and activities, visit or become a Facebook friend at\VLRotary.

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