Thanks to Carrie Jones, who traveled with the MDI High School Interact Club to New York City, and the United Nations and wrote the following article, and sent the pictures!

It was still dark Friday morning when 12 Mount Desert Island High School students loaded up two white vans with backpacks and bags and then strapped themselves into the van’s bench seats.

“I’m tired,” someone whispered, “but I’m excited.”

“I’m excited too,” came a reply from the dark depths of the van as it pulled out of the high school’s parking lot, preparing for a long journey south.

The MDI High School students, part of an Interact Club sponsored by Bar Harbor Rotary represented Maine at the Rotary Day at the United Nations last weekend as a fellow Mainer was presented an award for her social activism. They traveled in two 15-passenger vans named Inky and Roxie, ear buds and cell phones in hand as they travelled a total of 18-hours in three days, just for one day at the United Nations in New York City.

According to the club’s president Grace Drennan, they chose to go to Rotary Day at the United Nations, “because our group is really good with helping out with local community needs, but we’re not as strong on large-scale projects. We want to do more far-reaching projects while keeping our strong local community service.”

The Mount Desert Island High School’s Interact Club fundraised and planned for the last few months so that they could spend just one day and two nights in New York City. Inspired by the group’s fundraising efforts and community service, an anonymous donor from Bar Harbor generously supported the trip. It took a lot of planning and effort, negotiating and patience, not to mention nine hours of driving each way to get there.

"It was definitely worth it,” said Pierce DiMauro. “It is such a once in a lifetime opportunity to get to see the Rotary International president and hear his words of wisdom. The best thing all of us could have gotten out of it is a better understanding of what Rotary International is about and I can only hope that it will inspire us to continue to do good in our community.”

They are the only Maine high school Interact club that has ever journeyed to the yearly event. The students represented Maine as another Rotarian, Dr. Deborah Walters, received one of six Global Woman of Action Awards. Walters kayaks 1,000 miles every year to raise money for Safe Passage, which helps give economic, nutrition, and education assistance to the children and family who scavenge and live on the Guatemala City garbage dump.

It was stories like Walters and the other six women who helped reinforce the students’ commitment to making the world a better place.

“I wanted to go to the UN so that I could learn what others had done to help community members and bring back those ideas to other Interact members who couldn’t come,” said Brittany Corson.

About 1,000 members of Rotary and Interact and Rotaract celebrated Rotary’s 7-year partnership with the United Nations on November 7. UN experts and Rotarians learned about sanitation, hunger, poverty, education and water projects as well as focusing on women of action and human trafficking. The Interact club attended the morning youth session and then listened to the adult session’s afternoon live streaming topics.

“I think that listening to the adults helped to give us an understanding of how human trafficking works. It’s given us the incentive to look for ideas of what we should do to help make a difference,” said Maddy Shields.

Interact is meant to provide students between the ages of 12 and 18 help to make a difference in their world while also having a good time doing it. Interact clubs are required to carry out at least two projects each year. One should be local. One should be international. That’s too low a goal for the Mount Desert Island High School club that is approximately 35 members strong. Of those members, Cassidy Parady, Valerie Del Cid, Madeline Macauley, Jennifer Clemens, Nicole Brown, Meg Stevens, Eleanor Shields and Xan Rush, along with Maddy Shields, Kirsten DiMauro, Grace Drennan, Pierce DiMauro, and Brittany Corson.

They have done so many projects in the last 12 months that they almost blur together as President Grace Drennan and Treasurer Kristen DiMauro attempted to tick them off, staring into the space of the Maine rest area where they’ve stopped to have lunch. They’ve raised money to end polio, volunteered at the Bar Harbor Kids Book Festival, local film festivals, the Hancock County ASPCA fair, and also repainted the shelter. They’ve raised money for ShelterBox, which provides emergency housing and supplies to those in need, had a food drive for the local food pantry, a toy drive and also participated in a project that gives food to students in need. Their signature event is the Interact Prom with Downeast Horizons.

As the students gathered up their things to get ready to get back on the road, a traveler at another table, gray-haired and massive bellied, nodded at them and said, “Those seem like really good kids.”

"They are,” replied Shaun Farrar, a Bar Harbor police sergeant and one of six volunteer chaperones on the trip, which included Maryanne Mattson, the Rotary liaison and advisor, Annette Higgins, Amy Madden Roebuck, Doreen Willett and Carrie Jones, all local Rotarians.

“Makes you feel a bit better about the future,” the man announced.

Mattson agreed, posting on the local Rotary club’s Facebook page, “We have come back inspired, motivated and transformed. It was an awesome experience, in so many deep and fulfilling ways. I am honored and grateful to have been a part of this awesome adventure.”

Even as they left the United Nations building and walked back to the hotel, the Interact students were planning their impact on the future, discussing the possibility of becoming involved with supporting anti-human trafficking efforts and preparing for their next fundraiser, a gratitude-gram. The proceeds will help go to those who have escaped the Syrian war. Both are causes endorsed by Rotary International.

“Just by having a presence at the United Nations building and in meetings of [nongovernmental organizations], it’s given Rotary much greater credibility,” says Joseph Laureni, the primary representative to the UN in New York. “We’re not just a name you see on a billboard.”

The MDI High School High School club has proved itself much more than a name on the billboard multiple times, and its members hope that the UN trip will inspire them to do even more.