Rotary Club partnership helps Everett school, neighborhood
A few years ago, Mark Stephens saw a need at Everett Elementary School and mobilized 245 of his Rotary Club friends to help.
Today, the result is a partnership between Downtown Rotary Club #14 and the school that continues to expand to help the neighborhood in a variety of ways.
The partnership began in 2016, when Stephens was considering the goals he wanted to achieve as the club’s president and realized that the club didn’t have any permanent affiliation or partnership with a downtown school. He said he proposed the idea to the club’s board and they loved it.
“I thought that would be a win-win,” he said. “I thought that would be good for the school because (the club) could provide, hopefully, some manpower and financial support when need be, and it would be good for our club to get energized with a new project and feel good about helping Lincoln’s youth.”
The school has big needs, Stephens said. About 90 percent of the 500 students attend Everett Elementary in preschool through 5th grade come from “impoverished families,” and 78 percent of students are minorities, according to the school’s website.
The first order of business was fund-raising for a new playground.
Over the past three years the club has raised $50,000 for new equipment, which was recently installed.
Students “absolutely love” the new playground, according to Principal Mike Long, who noted that when the announcement was made that the playground was open, cheers went up throughout the school.
Rotary members also volunteer to work with a group of 20 to 30 mothers of Everett students to help them navigate American life, Stephens said. And the group helped bring to the school a national health and fitness program — Fuel Up to Play 60 – that focuses on nutrition and exercise, he noted.
This year, proceeds from the club’s annual fund-raising event – “Rise, Shine, Give” — will focus on raising funds for a neighborhood community event center in Everett. The club wanted to expand its fundraising to benefit the entire neighborhood.
Current club president Randy Bretz said he wholeheartedly backed Stephens’ Everett initiative then and now because he knew the idea was coming from Stephen’s inherent goodness and generosity.
Stephens, born and raised in Lincoln, works at his family’s business Bob Stephens and Associates, an advertising specialty distributer that creates promotional products that are custom imprinted with a corporate logo. His grandfather started the company in 1937, and Stephens is the third generation to run the business. He has worked there for over 35 years and loves what he does, he said, but his true passion is helping others, and the club allows him to do just that through all the service they do.
“I like to give back in ways that I can,” Stephens said. He said he has always been interested in the success of Lincoln and that he joined the club because it allowed him to give back and volunteer while also being able to meet new people and get involved in the community.
Even today, Stephens personally attends the activities and events the club sponsors at the school. Being able to see the changes the club is making in the lives of the families at the school makes it all worth it, he said.
“Our relationship, our partnership is with the entire school,” he said, “and we try to touch as many different needs, family and student needs, as we can because it’s that important.”