ORANGE PARK – Dozens of students at Ridgeview High devote their time outside of school and work to community service on both a local scale and a global stage as members of the school’s Interact Club.
The first official Interact Club came into existence at Melbourne High, which is two and a half hours south of Clay County, 58 years ago on Nov. 5, 1962. Ridgeview’s club came into existence nearly a decade ago and this year, it’s bolstered its numbers to nearly three dozen students. Each of these students work day in and day out to service the local community and the world in any way they can.
“One of the things we focus on at Interact that is unique to us is that we’re really global-minded as a group,” Interact Club President Christian Holt said. “We’re not just thinking local community...we have these really large-scale events that we do that really help build that message and image of us being globally-minded.”
The Interact Club at Ridgeview consistently is busy with community service. Within the next few weeks, the club will finish up its Salvation Army Food Drive, write Christmas cards for the elderly and overseas soldiers, lay wreaths at veteran grave sites for Wreaths Across America and ring the Salvation Army bell at local grocery stores to name a few upcoming events – and all of these are local events.
The club works on a global scale in a number of ways too with things like Rise Against Hunger, which saw the club create 22,000 meals for families in need around the world last year. They also developed an aquaponic pond in South America recently.
“We’re able to build and create this kind of community and still be able to help those outside of us,” Holt said. “That’s really special I think.”
Holt said the club is in a unique position with the kind of work it does because it has the ability to pull in students who otherwise might not be interested with the promise of community service. As any high school student knows, community service is essential to scholarships and college applications and community service isn’t something to look forward to for some.
That works in favor of the club, though, because in a school where many students need community service hours, the Interact Club shines like a beacon.
“Every student needs community service and that is one of the key things we focus on in this club,” Holt said. “We’re an easy way to find a lot of forms of community service and people might join to get that community service only to find it’s something they truly love.”
The club only had a few members when Holt joined it two years ago. It’s now 30-plus members strong, according to Holt, and that’s a result of the work the club does for the surrounding area.
“Word gets out and the service kind of speaks for itself,” Holt said.
The Interact Club nationwide was created by a rotary club and has since spawned into the high school version of an otherwise adult rotary club. The word interact in Interact Club is an amalgamation of the words international and action and holds the story of why Rotary first created the Interact Club in the first place: to give high school youth the chance to take action internationally to help the global community.
The Rotary Club of Orange Park Sunrise sponsored the Ridgeview Interact Club as a way to bring that message to the students of this high school. Rotary Club Director of Youth Services, Peter Denoncourt, is extremely happy with what the club has grown to today.
“Seeing what they’re doing now, at this age, is inspiring,” Denoncourt said. “It gives up hope for the future of this kind of service.”