The petite president of Santa Maria Rotary South, Billie Jo Cravello, is much like the club she leads: smaller than some but possessing a mighty spirit.

Cravello speaks with passion about Rotary International and points with pride to the accomplishments of this dinner club.

BWhen asked what I love about Rotary, I?d have to say it?s the people,C Cravello said. BRegardless of personal, political or ethnic beliefs, Rotarians have one big heart, always smiling because they are always doing helping others. They live the Rotary motto of >Service above Self.?C

Cravello gave an example of a Rotary-sponsored project that is close to her heart.

Three years ago, Cravello went to Africa. She said that at the time she thought of Africa as a place to Brun with the animals, capture the excitement of the chase, take my pictures and return home.

"What I came home with was so much more,C she said. BI had difficulty comprehending the hard life of the people. It changed me. Coming home I realized that most of us don?t know what most poverty is.C

It was at a Rotary meeting in Nipomo that Cravello learned about Seeds of Hope International, an organization dedicated to bringing clean water and hygiene education to Zambia, an African country where Cravello said she left her heart.

She is overjoyed, she said, that her own Rotary Club is not only a sponsor of Seeds of Hope but that Rotary South member Steve Dastic led the charge to get the life-giving, life-saving program approved as an Rotary International Services project. Like many Rotary International projects, Seeds of Hope works with a local Rotary club, the Zambian Ndola-Makuba Rotary Club, to achieve their goals.

Dastic reported that last year Seeds of Hope water wells brought clean water to about 68,000 Zambians. Hygiene training was taught throughout the Zambian project. In addition to the water wells, Seeds of Hope plans to provide 100 bio-sand filters to households, schools and clinic. People can easily be taught to use the sand-filters, he said, which eliminate 97 percent of pathogens from the drinking water.

Rotary South members work hard but they play hard, too. They sponsor one of Santa Maria?s most glittering social occasions, the Strawberry Ball, where Rotarians and their guests dance the night away to the Central Coast best bands. Or they may be entertained by the popular Three Caballeros 8 tenors Jed Bebee, Kurt Genge and Craig Scott 8 as they were last spring?s Strawberry Ball.

They may have fun, but these Rotarians never take their eye off the ball, or, in this case, BService above self.C The Strawberry Ball, chaired this year by Dr. Lynda Gantt, is Rotary South?s major fundraiser and over the years it has raised tens of thousands of dollars to help meet the needs of local, national and international agencies such as the Boys and Girls Club, the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross as well as victims of Hurricane Katrina and the water project in Zambia.

In addition, they have raised money to purchase and mail needed items for U.S. service men and women who are stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan and for fire fighters and victims of the recent fires in Southern California.

Locally, Santa Maria Rotary South supports the YMCA, Santa Maria Public Library, Hancock College, CASA, RYLA, Community Partners in Caring and Santa Maria Rotary Park.

While Rotarians are happy to be able to write checks for worthy endeavors, they are even happier when they can help person to person. Many Rotarians have paid their own way to other countries to help immunize people against polio. Rotary South members actively work to support the American Cancer Society?s Relay for Life, they provide food for and prepare and serve food to the hungry at Good Samaritan Shelter

Working with the Todo Santos Rotary Club in La Paz, Mexico, several members of Rotary South traveled to La Paz to see how they could jointly help a struggling school in a nearby rural community.

Former Rotary South President Ken Parker and community leader Bill Thompson made the trip. When they returned to Santa Maria, they reported that for a school that needed so much, they asked for very little: a shade structure to protect the children from the blistering sun and paint so that they could paint their school. With support from Rotary South, Parker and Thompson returned to the school to deliver 40 gallons of paint.

Santa Maria Rotary South recently formalized a sister club agreement with the Todo Santos club.

BSuch international service fosters goodwill between people of all countries,C Thompson said.

Where there is a need, local, national or international, Rotary is there. Santa Maria Rotary South is right there with them.

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