By Lanier Laney
I caught up with Melissa Beere, President of the Exchange Club of Beaufort, right in the middle of one of their biggest fundraisers of the year — the annual Ghost Tours in October that raise money for the Child Abuse Prevention Association (CAPA), a local nonprofit that offers many community and school-based education outreach programs focused on child abuse prevention and intervention.
The Exchange Club has been fundraising for CAPA since it was founded. Says Melissa, “We have supported child abuse prevention in Beaufort to our greatest capacity. We have raised over $600,000 with our auction, ‘An Evening of Hope for the Children’ and over $250,000 with our Ghost Tours, and between the many other small fundraisers throughout the year, we estimate we are very close to having donated a million dollars to CAPA since our beginning in 1987.” A mighty amount considering the current membership is only a little more than 30 people.
The club was founded in 1911 in Detroit by business leaders who wanted to “exchange” ideas on making their community better. Its core values — family, community and country — are held by each Exchange member with pride and commitment. For more than 100 years, Exchange Club volunteer efforts have supported the needs of the country and of local communities, making it the country’s oldest American service organization operating exclusively in this country.
Says Melissa, “We try to change the world daily with our actions.” They do that by “working to make our community a better place to live, through programs of service in Americanism, community service, youth activities and national projects,” adds Melissa. By Americanism they mean promoting pride in country, respect for the flag and appreciation of our American freedoms. The group puts up close to 50 U.S. flags for events like Independence Day and Military Appreciation Day.
The Exchange Club of Beaufort also honors a “Youth of the Month” each month that school is in session. And at the end of the year, the honorees are asked to submit an essay for a possible scholarship and advancement to the Exchange Club’s national awards. They also honor a firefighter, law enforcement and first responder annually.
I asked Melissa if she would like to share any funny stories from the group and she told this: “Last year we had one of our regular Thursday get togethers at Southside Park. We had gotten permission to have a fire pit (with an extinguisher on hand) and to be there, but five police cars showed up to check out a ‘bon fire with a large group of rowdy partiers’ reported by a concerned citizen. No arrests, but a lot of laughs. We’re a pretty low-key group, but tons of fun!”
Membership in the group has brought Melissa and others some surprising benefits. “You join and soon after you’ve begun working as a volunteer with the group, you feel a sense of belonging, a sense of attachment. I think that feeling extends far beyond the group of members; it reaches into our community and brings you closer,” she said. “I’ve built friendships, many that I know will be life long. And we have made a difference in our future and hopefully that of several generations.”
Regarding membership, it’s a diverse group of women and men of all ages and backgrounds that meets the second and fourth Thursday of each month at noon for lunch in the back meeting room of the Golden Corral. Says Melissa, “We have speakers that talk about topics ranging from hurricanes to horticulture, social issues, nature, etc. Anyone interested can come through the front doors, grab lunch and join us in the back meeting room. All are welcome!”
If you decide to join, there is a membership fee of $25 and quarterly dues of $80 for which you receive two lunches at Golden Corral monthly and your national dues are paid. What do you get in return? “The potential for memories for a lifetime, while helping the children of Beaufort County, thus, our future!” exclaimed Melissa.
The club’s biggest fundraiser, “An Evening of Hope” to benefit CAPA, is coming up in two weeks on Saturday, November 17 at 6 p.m. at The Shed in Port Royal, so save the date.
“We have an incredible silent auction with many items from throughout Beaufort and surrounding areas,” said Melissa.
As far as the future of the Exchange Club is concerned, she says, “We want to grow, gain new members, have bigger auctions, and raise more money for CAPA and other organizations in our community.”
Any final words for our readers?
“Yes,” says Melissa, “we’d love to have you be a part of our organization.”
To that end, attend a lunch meeting, give Melissa Beere a call at 263-0866 or check out their website: www.scexchangeclubs.com.