Members of Marblehead High School’s Interact Club have a friendly bet going. If they raise at least $1,000 for their Polar Plunge in March, which supports the eradication of polio, their adviser and teacher Joan Stomatuk will dive into the icy water.
Stomatuk has pretty much accepted that she will be taking a cold swim at Devereux Beach, confident the committed group of students will raise the $1,000 — and more.
Interact is a Rotary International-sponsored service club for high school students. Led by two passionate seniors, the nearly 50 members at Marblehead High have become adept at making a difference both locally and internationally without much adult input.
“The students run the whole show, which is neat,” said Jim Nye, one of the club’s advisers from Rotary. “They’ve really taken control this year. The previous years they relied on the advisers a bit more. Teenagers are starting to get it. They’re starting to be not as ‘me.’ ”
The club’s primary approach to raising money is through bagel sales.
Interact has been selling the breakfast favorite during midterm and final exams for nearly six years. Just recently, the club sold 85 dozen bagels and raised $1,200 during midterms — its most successful bagel fund-raiser yet.
Senior Kelly Roland, copresident of the club, said bagels have proven to be a reliable way to raise the funds needed to fuel the group and give its members the opportunity to support causes they are passionate about.
“I think we’re having one of the best years that we’ve had, ever,” Roland said. “We’re doing a lot of new things that we’ve never done and we’re reaching out to a lot of communities and organizations outside of just Marblehead. I’m really proud of the work we’re doing and it’s really fun work, too.”
During the past two years, Interact has organized two fund-raisers for the BARKA Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps the people of Burkina Faso in Africa, and collected donations for local food pantries and Toys for Tots. Last year, the club raised about $8,000.
“We’re noticing that young adults in both high school and college are just so eager to get involved in helping to solve the problems that the world is facing,” said Esu Anahata, cofounder of the BARKA Foundation. “They’re no-nonsense, ready for business. The programs that we do with them really enable them to step into their role as leaders and give them sometimes the first leadership experience in organizing events. We’ve had students at Marblehead High School create a concert fund-raiser for us. They’ve raised probably over $7,000 for us in the last three years.”
The club has yet to decide what to do with the proceeds from its most recent bagel fund-raiser, but is thankful to have the cushion to be creative.
“It’s great being part of such a big group because you have so many personal stories from people,” said 17-year-old Brian Hough, another copresident of the club. “Someone might be really affected by ALS; they might have had a family member who had it. So then we can say ‘Why don’t we donate to an ALS organization?’ Being able to ask people what they want to donate to is really helpful.”
The club is also considering investing in a teen center slated to open this year at the Marblehead Community Center.
“It’s teens helping teens,” Roland said.
The club’s biggest challenge is the time it takes to plan events and get the word out about its fund-raisers.
Fliers are posted on bulletin boards and the school website, and e-mailed to parents. Roland and Hough attend weekly breakfast meetings with Rotarians, who spread the word to their friends and families. It is not easy, Roland said, but in the end the work is gratifying.
“We’re all pretty busy high schoolers, so planning definitely gets tough,” Roland said. “When you’ve got your tennis meet or your track meet or your paper due, or you’re helping out with something else in the community, there always seems to be something. It’s a lot but it’s worth it.”
Another challenge is satisfying the desire to help everyone in need. It is difficult to see so many people and communities struggling against disease, poverty, and other problems, Roland said.
“By just knowing that we did reach out and help them, it’s like a hopeful feeling,” Roland said. “And you just want to hope to do the best for everyone that you can, and I think that’s really what the Interact Club comes back to, just hoping that you can make some difference and I think we definitely make a difference in our own way.”
As for the club’s March polio fund-raiser, Stomatuk has already accepted that she is taking a dip in the frigid water.
“If everybody does their part we should have at least the $1,000,” Stomatuk said. “It’s sort of a done deal. If it’s cold like this, what am I going to do? I hope it’s warmer by the end of March.”