President Bruce Belfiore and International Services Co-Chair Hannah Rael | Credit: Gail Arnold

On July 9, the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara Sunrise hosted a fun Dolphin Dive Festival at Chase Palm Park, featuring two popular live bands — the Molly Ringwald Project and Do No Harm —and several food and beverage purveyors. Dolphin races were held throughout the afternoon in a giant, inflatable slip-and-slide-like course, which raised funds for the Club’s projects locally and internationally.

For the races, S.B. City Fire Department staff filled a water tank, and when the gate opened, hundreds of brightly colored plastic dolphins purchased by guests raced down the 200-foot water course, with prizes going to the lucky winners, including a $2,500 grand prize. 

Among the large contingent of members present, there was a palpable sense of camaraderie and dedication to serve. Rotary invited other nonprofits with which it has a relationship to participate as well. These nonprofits sold race tickets before the event, receiving half of the proceeds they raised, and set up booths at the event to interact with guests.

The 48-member-strong Rotary Sunrise meets twice a month at 7 a.m. at the Santa Barbara Club, with interesting speakers throughout the year. The Club provides financial assistance and volunteer assistance in Santa Barbara and in Nicaragua and Mexico.

In an interview, President Bruce Belfiore, who has been in the club for 20 years, shared his enthusiasm for the Santa Barbara Club, with benefits inuring to members and the local and international communities it serves. It is a good feeling, according to Belfiore, when you are “with a group of people who are similarly motivated to contribute to the community” and who have the same “desire to do things that are useful, and also put it in a context that is fun.” 

Members bounce ideas off each other, and “that process of vetting ideas and making the good ones come to life is very satisfying, and also good for the community.” The friendship element within the Club is strong, Belfiore noted, with members forming a good support network. 

With the assistance the Club provides in Santa Barbara and abroad, Belfiore explained, rather than just hand out checks, the Club has relationships with the nonprofits it helps. Locally, the Club has a longstanding relationship with the United Boys & Girls Club, which it supports financially and sends a team of members to Camp Whittier each year to do repairs and upgrades. La Cuesta Continuation High School is another longtime beneficiary, with the Club honoring one student each month, having members volunteer on-site, and providing computers to graduates continuing their studies.

Its international work is focused on two rural communities in Nicaragua, and one rural community and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, which is in keeping with Rotary’s approach of making long-term, sustainable impacts. A key asset of Rotary, according to International Services Co-Chair Hannah Rael, is having clubs all over the world, enabling clubs in the U.S. to partner with local clubs to tap into their knowledge and ensure that there is a local voice involved with the project. Funding comes from the local club and from various entities within the international organization’s structure.

In Nicaragua, a project brought clean water directly to 500 families who previously had to travel a long distance each day to obtain water that wasn’t even clean. Another project set up an aquaponics facility where families raise tilapia fish and vegetables for their own use and sell the surplus. 

The Club also funds the Ecological Brigades, which takes youth to nature parks to foster an understanding of the importance of environmental protection and introduce youth to eco-tourism, a rising industry there. The Club also funds a health clinic serving 6,000 low-income residents.

A group of Club members will visit the community next month to help discern how to direct future aid.

In Celaya, Mexico, each year the club partners with SEE International and a local Rotary Club to provide sight-restoring cataract surgery to residents, some of whom have been blind for years. The Club provides funds, planning assistance, and volunteers on-site.

In Puerto Vallarta, which was chosen in part because of its Sister City relationship with Santa Barbara, the Club provides funding for scholarships for higher education and for a community center.

According to Belfiore, the Club “can’t do everything we would like to do, but we do an amazing amount with what we’ve got and in the 20 years I’ve been involved with the Club, I’ve been really impressed with that.”

The Club welcomes new members and welcomes donations to the Club’s charitable foundation from those who want to support its work without becoming a member. The Club is one of nine Rotary Clubs between Goleta and Carpinteria.

International Services Co-Chair and Event Co-Chair Oscar Zavala, Fundraising Chair Erik Ryan, and President Elect Ellen Chase | Gail Arnold

Past presidents Judith McCaffrey and E. Russell Smith | Gail Arnold
Dolphin Dive | Gail Arnold
Guests dance to music by Molly Ringwald Project. | Gail Arnold
SB City Fire Department Engineer Nolan Barickman and Captain Brandon Paige | Gail Arnold


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