Let’s do some good, people.
When I first heard about the North Raleigh Exchange Club, it was just a name. I imagined what they could be exchanging: baseball cards, junk, used clothes. When I finally talked to Michael Minotti, current president, and board member Charlie Campbell, I was surprised to learn it is actually a service organization. So where does the “exchange” come in?
Campbell has been with the group nearly since the beginning – its founding in 1966. The Exchange Club has its roots in a larger national organization that’s been around since the 1900s in Detroit.
It was a group of men who got together to – and here is the “exchange” part – exchange ideas about how to improve their communities. Campbell said it’s the largest American service club in the country, with about 800 members in North Carolina and 40 clubs. Wake County alone has six active clubs.
“The gentlemen who started this club have created a tremendous legacy and have left a lot of positive imprints on the community,” Minotti said of the North Raleigh Group’s founders.
The group holds fundraisers and other community events. Two of the biggest projects each year are a live lobster sale and selling in-the-shell peanuts at the North Carolina State Fair each year.
They’ve been doing the peanut thing since 1968, and the proceeds go to SAFEChild of Wake County.
“Our national charity or function is around the prevention of child abuse,” Minotti said.
The lobster sale is crazy, with the group taking pre-orders, shipping the lobsters in from Maine and then handing them out over a Saturday in June. They did 800 sales last year.
“A lot of the streets in Raleigh, they have street parties,” Campbell said. “They cook the lobsters and eat them, and it’s a big thing. In fact, it’s so big that the lobsters are picked up within two hours after we get them here from the airport.”
The proceeds from that go to a variety of projects, including scholarships and, of course, the prevention of child abuse.
But those are just a couple of the things the group does. Its dedication to service is tireless. Over the years, they’ve fought drug abuse and created the Millbrook Exchange Park. The group even holds an annual party for foster children in the area. It’s a picnic that brings up to about 300 kids and their families to the fairgrounds each year.
“It’s the only time some of the kids get to see some of their brothers and sisters during the year in some instances,” Campbell said.
Minotti got involved in the group when Campbell pulled him along. Minotti works at Edwards Jones and Campbell was one of his clients. In 2010, Campbell asked him if he wanted to come to a meeting. He was so insistent, that he even picked Minotti up and drove him.
“He made it very easy for me, and I appreciate that,” Minotti said. “I got to form friendships and relationships and to meet people I wouldn’t be able to meet.”
People like State Treasurer Janet Cowell and former Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata. The Exchange Club brings in different speakers for the group during its lunch meetings so members can learn more about the community they service.
The biggest challenge Minotti has had as president is increasing membership. Things were going well before the financial recession of 2008, but after that, interest dropped off.
“Prior to the great recession, there were a lot of organizations, companies and banks that were encouraging their members to go join civic clubs and sponsoring them. But the great recession changed all that,” Minotti said.
Now, to get new members, the club really has to explain the value to people of joining.
“As president, I formed a committee, a membership recruiting committee, to find ways to increase our exposure to the community,” Minotti said. “And also to brand us as a club that not only are we going to do good things for the community, but also we’re going to develop individuals as far as leadership, their contacts and their network.”
Currently, the group has about 32 members, and many other volunteers. Minotti hopes that number will grow, and with it, the impact of the North Raleigh Exchange Club.
That will be the key to taking on new projects. Maybe you want to help. If so, check out the North Raleigh Exchange Club: http://nrexchange.org. They have plenty of openings.
Alex Granados covers interesting people, places and traditions in North Raleigh. Contact him via email at email@example.com.