We’ve frequently covered stories about the Sioux Falls Rotary Clubs raising money for various projects or hosting influential speakers at their weekly meetings. However, do you really know what the Rotary Club is?

We take a closer look at this international group making a difference in Sioux Falls. 

Each week, a group of Sioux Falls business leaders get together to discuss the biggest topics of the day. It’s a tradition that started with four businessmen over 100 years ago in Chicago.

While this may not sound like it could impact your life, local Rotary Clubs are much more involved in the community than you may realize.

In recent years, the Sioux Falls chapters have raised $100,000 to give back to the community.

They did this through projects, like the Arc of Dreams coming to downtown Sioux Falls, as well as local non-profit work.

“Bishop Dudley House, for sure, we’re very involved in that. We gave a substantial amount of money for that when it first opened. Then we continued to be involved, like providing lockers for when folks had to leave there. We would provide lockers,” Michelle Lavallee, Downtown Rotary Club President, said.

That’s not all. At each meeting, the club asks a person of interest to speak to the club. The Downtown Chapter has been using this time to get people who can answer questions about hot topics.

Dr. Mohammad Qamar from Sanford Health recently shared his life experiences as a Muslim American. The Downtown Rotary Club not only opened this talk up for members of the other three clubs in town, they also share these experiences online.

“Somebody recently said to me, just by us providing services through social media of some of our programs is a service to our community that most people wouldn’t necessarily have access to. Like Dr. Kumar when he spoke about being Muslim in Sioux Falls. So that’s a new world for thinking for service,” Downtown Rotary Club Vice President Tony Burke said. 

That’s just the local impact of the club. Around the world there are 1.2 million Rotarians in 170 countries. The Sioux Falls Clubs alone have over 500 members.

“We’re usually in the top 20 every year of largest clubs in North America. Little old Sioux Falls again in one of those top ten lists; there’s one of the top 20 lists,” Burke said. 

They’re also making a big impact around the world. For several years, the Rotary Clubs of Sioux Falls have been providing wheelchairs to people in need in third world countries, like Romania.

This sort of service is why the Club is so popular in all parts of the planet. That’s also why sophomore Maria Maestra decided to take part in the Youth Exchange Program through the Rotary Club to come to Sioux Falls from Spain.

While it’s not what most people would have wanted, she’s learned a lot about the world and herself through her time in Sioux Falls.

“Okay, when they told me I was coming to South Dakota, I was kind of not excited. Because I didn’t even know what South Dakota was. But right now if they told me to go back to the beginning of my exchange and if I could go to like California or New York, where everyone wants to go, I would say, ‘No.’ And I would stay in Sioux Falls,” Maestra said. 

The Youth Exchange is designed to teach young people about the world outside their own home, so they can be better ambassadors for peace. 

“Having our next generation of leaders have a different lens and a different view on what our world is will only make them better leaders in the long run,” Burke said. 

“The main goal is that everyone opens their minds when they’re a teenager so that there will be a point when there’s not like international conflicts so then there will be peace,” Maestra said. 

One of the main missions of the Rotary Club internationally has been to eradicate polio. With this disease nearly wiped off the map, they’re looking for their next big mission.

In the meantime, they’re focused on serving others anyway they can and connecting with others in the community.

“Watching our Rotarians come in, it is just really to share experiences and talk about what’s going on. And keeping up with topics of the day. And we facilitate that really through our programming as well,” Lavallee said.

There are four different rotary clubs in Sioux Falls, each catering to different interests and ages.