Rotary Club of New Paltz gets new president, 23-year-old Gavin Craddock

New Paltz Rotary Club president Gavin Craddock. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

New Paltz Rotary Club president Gavin Craddock. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Gavin Craddock has been the youngest member of the New Paltz Rotary Club since he joined the organization several years ago. Now, at age 23, he is its youngest elected president. Craddock began serving his one-year term on July 1.

The new Rotary president is extremely modest about his contributions to the service club. He feels strongly about giving back to the community, and appreciates being able to see the outcome of the fundraising work that members do. “It directly benefits New Paltz. You can see the profits we make going back into the community, which is really nice. I love that.”

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Craddock succeeds immediate past Rotarian president Toni Hokanson, who is not at all reticent about singing Craddock’s praises. “Gavin is the star of the district,” she says. “We welcomed him with open arms and enjoyed him from the beginning. He is eager and willing to step up whenever there is anything to be done or someone who needs help with something. Any time there’s something to be done, he’s right there.”

Since joining the New Paltz Rotary Club, Craddock has served as liaison for several of the group’s programs, including the high school Interact Club, which is a junior version of Rotary Club, and ShelterBox.

While most of the efforts Rotary makes are local, ShelterBox is one of Rotary’s international assistance efforts to aid victims of natural disasters. Each ShelterBox, tailored to the particular disaster and costing approximately $1,000, typically contains a relief tent for an extended family, blankets, water storage and purification equipment, cooking utensils, a stove, a basic tool kit, a children’s activity pack and other essential items. It can literally be dropped down anywhere in the world that disaster relief is needed.

The New Paltz Rotary Club supplies at least one ShelterBox each year and recently just approved funding two more, says Craddock. “It’s a phenomenal organization, because it helps people who have been put in impossible positions that they had no control over. And we can actually help them out.”

Craddock also took on the position of Sergeant-of-Arms within the club, says Hokanson, in which that person checks in other members at the weekly meetings and collects payments to turn over to the club treasurer. “Gavin took that role on pretty early when he joined. It’s a big responsibility, because you’re required to be at every meeting and you’re handling the money.” Craddock has also taken advantage of Rotary district leadership trainings that have been offered, Hokanson adds, something that many but not every member has done.

The New Paltz chapter meets once a week over lunch at Shea O’Brien’s in the village. Its members are among 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide. Rotary International was founded in 1905 by a group of businessmen in Chicago for purposes of fellowship and networking, but it wasn’t long before the emphasis was placed on community service. (The name of the organization came from the group’s early practice of rotating the place they held meetings among each of the members.) These days the Rotary organization is global with members in 34,000 individual service clubs that all operate under the motto, “Service Above Self.” Membership is by invitation only.

Craddock grew up in Gardiner and maintains his own electrician business, New Paltz Electric. But while Rotarians are local businesspeople, Craddock is adamant that the Rotary Club is truly about service to community. “If you’re just coming to network, you’re coming for the wrong reason,” he says.

Craddock cites the Backpack Program as one of the Rotary projects he enjoys the most. Children who qualify for the free or reduced price lunch at school during the week may not have adequate nutrition supplied over the weekend, so the Backpack Program provides a weekend supply of nutritious food discreetly packaged in a backpack to ensure children have enough to eat throughout the weekend. The empty backpack is returned the following Monday. The program is run through the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley entirely through donations (the average cost to fill a backpack is approximately $5) and the New Paltz Rotary Club gets involved with personally packing the supplies, says Craddock. “I like to do hands-on projects.”

Craddock also likes the club’s Healing Gardens program for assisted living facilities, where Rotarians bring wagons and plant them with fragrant and colorful plants that can be wheeled into the rooms of patients to enliven their surroundings. At this point, he says, some of the residents are taking the wagons over each spring, planting herbs to use for cooking their meals and just generally becoming invested in their portable gardens.

The local chapter of Rotary also distributes scholarships each year to New Paltz High School students and purchases more than 100 new winter coats for local children in need, distributed through Family of New Paltz. They do a program called “Fishes & Loaves” around Thanksgiving in which they give out gift cards for life’s essentials and holiday gifts to our area’s neediest families. New Paltz Rotary also raised money to renovate the Family of New Paltz facility last year.

All of this costs money, of course, which is where the fundraisers come in. The next event is the Rotary Club’s major fundraiser of the year, the Win-a-Bundle event scheduled for Friday, October 23 at 7 p.m. at Novella’s. The event sells out each year, but as of press time tickets are still available. The event costs $100 for two, which includes a two-hour open bar, appetizers, a silent and live auction, raffle and the chance to win $10,000. Tickets can be purchased from any Rotarian in New Paltz or Toni Hokanson at (845) 797-3063.

Upcoming fundraisers include the annual Old-fashioned Photo With Santa event each December at P&G’s.

“The way I see New Paltz Rotary,” says Craddock, “is that, with the exception of ShelterBox, pretty much everything we do is local. You see the results.”

And has he always been so community minded?

“There are always people in worse situations than you’re in,” Craddock says. “Especially me; I definitely think I have a pretty great life. I have no complaints. Anything that I can do to help out others, I will.”

For more information about the Rotary Club of New Paltz, visit www.newpaltzrotary.org.