It must have felt a little like Christmas at the Belle Haven Country Club on Tuesday when Alexandria Rotary Club members gave “a bit over $80,000” to thirty needy charities in the city, in an annual ritual attended by many of the city’s top civic leaders.
The 80-year-old club, populated with many of the city’s movers, shakers and other luminaries, bestowed the largest chunks of cash from the Alexandria Day Nursery and Children’s Home, a foundation overseen by the club.
According to club Vice President Steve Wharton, the original funding for the Old Town nursery back in the 1940’s came from the Rotary Club of America in answer to the need for day nursery services, mostly for the Ford Motor plant and the Torpedo Factory. “It was needed as women first entered the work force in large numbers, an unintended wartime consequence,” Wharton said. “Later, a children’s home was needed. Rotary funded these originally with prize fight proceeds. Prize fighting was illegal so they were scheduled when the Chief of Police and Commonwealth’s Attorney, both Rotarians, conveniently were out of town.”
Later as regulations became stricter and these services became more available, the building was sold and a foundation was set up with similar goals in the charter. Funding today is mostly by investments and bequests, Wharton said.
Rotary Club donations are less restrictive and now cover a wide range of charities, with most being education- or health-related.
Speaking at Tuesday’s event at the Belle Haven Country Club was Catherine Morrison, the former director of the Campagna Center. Introducing the charities were Charles Lanman for the Rotary Club of American and Gordon Peyton for the Alexandria Day Nursery and Children’s Home.
A history of Rotary giving
The official charter of the Rotary Club of Alexandria was awarded in 1928 with C. S. Taylor Burke serving as the group’s first president.
As they endured a historic crash of the economy and the onset of “the Great Depression” of the 1930’s, members of the club realized there was a critical need in the community for day nursery services to ease the burden of working mothers. A house in the 300 block of Prince Street was rented, a matron was hired, and so the “Day Nursery” was born.
Within a year, the original quarters were outgrown, and the purchase of a larger house at 411 Prince Street was underwritten by several members. To raise funds for the eventual purchase of the building by the entire club, “The Alexandria Athletic Association” was incorporated and for about two years, leased and staged boxing bouts in the old bottling plant of the Portner Brewery. Enough money was raised not only to purchase the Prince Street building, but also for an endowment fund.
A corporation, whose members were the members of the Rotary Club of Alexandria, was formed to take title to the property. The members of this Sec.501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, known as the “Alexandria Day Nursery and Children’s Home,” continue to be members in good standing of the club. Shortly thereafter the Courts of the city filled a pressing need to provide housing for its young wards when the “Day Nursery” agreed to do so at the Prince Street site. It was the final step in the development of what continues to be familiarly know as the “Day Nursery was born.
When the City’s need ended in the mid-1940’s, the building was maintained for a time and used as a Rotary Club office, also providing rent-free space to the Alexandria Visiting Nurses Association. Some years later, the “Day Nursery” found a purchaser for the building, using the proceeds plus accrued monies from several endowments to form the capital for the current “Day Nursery” fund.
“Throughout its existence, the Rotary Club of Alexandria has focused its interest on the welfare of the children of Alexandria. This interest has been expressed tangibly in another project, the “Little League of Alexandria,” which the club sponsored for several years. In addition, the club has participated in the usual fund drives, and in conjunction with the Salvation Army, supplied Christmas baskets and hosted a Christmas party for underprivileged children.”
Through the years
In 1948, the Rotary Club of Alexandria began a unique custom presenting a printed and bound copy of the Last Will and Testament of George Washington to the visiting Rotarian who traveled the farthest to “make up” his attendance at an Alexandria Rotary Club meeting. On one occasion, “the Will” was presented to a visiting Rotarian while he was actually flying over Mt. Vernon, Washington’s famous home on the Potomac.
Alexandria Rotarians have their very own musical entertainment, furnished by the club’s famous “Rotary Rooters.” The “Rooters” are an orchestra of about a dozen volunteer Alexandria Rotary musicians.
Now widely known throughout the District 7610 of Rotary International, the “Rooters” play before, and during the opening minutes of scheduled club luncheons meetings (usually once a month), as well as for special events of the Club and occasionally for worthy “outside” groups and events, including Rotary District Conferences, local retirement and nursing homes.
In 1990 the members of the Rotary Club of Alexandria expanded the Club’s charitable outreach with the establishment of another Sec.501(c)(3) tax-exempt subsidiary known as “The Alexandria Rotary Foundation. Now its first decade, this “Club Foundation” (not to be confused with the Rotary International Foundation) has realized substantial growth.
Proceeds from major fund-raising events and projects of the Club are channeled through the Club Foundation, which then makes annual awards on behalf of the Club to worthwhile charitable groups and projects in the area. Here again, emphasis is usually given to projects which benefit the area’s health and education of deserving youngsters.
This years recipients include:
Alexandria Boys & Girls Club
Alexandria Choral Society
Alexandria Education Partnership
Alexandria Neighborhood Health Services
Alexandria Office on Women
Alexandria Red Cross
Alexandria Seaport Foundation
Alexandria Symphony Orchestra
Alexandria Tutoring Consortium
Alexandria Volunteer Bureau
Beverly Hills UMC Preschool
Child and Family Network
Eclipse Chamber Orchestra
First Night of Alexandria
Inova Health System Foundation
Metropolitan Washington Ear
Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association
Resurrection Children’s Center
Senior Services of Alexandria
The Literary Council of Northern Virginia
The Meeting House Cooperative Preschool
The Scholarship Fund of Alexandria
Valley Drive Preschool
Washington Street UMC Preschool
Westminister Weekday Preschool
Wright to Read