Southern Regional Interact Club Wraps Up Its 30th Year

May 24, 2017
Courtesy of: Southern Regional High School Southern Regional High School’s first Interact Club, in 1988.

Growing up, Joe Martin had an idea that he wanted to get into practicing law. But developing his public speaking skills through the Southern Regional High School’s Interact Club solidified his plans to pursue law as a career.

“When I was in high school, that was your world and there wasn’t much outside of it,” said Martin, a 1988 Southern grad and the Interact Club’s first president, who now owns the Martin Law Firm, based in Marlton and Wilmington, Del. “But the first time I stood up in front of the Rotary Club and spoke about what Interact was planning to do that year, that was my first exposure to public speaking.

“There’s no doubt being a part of Interact helped me on my path toward becoming an attorney.”

On May 18 at its last regular meeting of the school year, current Interact President and Southern senior Ryan Thorn introduced the incoming club officers for next year, as Interact wrapped up its 30th year in existence.

“I’ve been a part of Interact since sixth grade, and for me it started as something to get involved in because my mom had to take me to Interact events,” said Thorn, whose mother, Cheryl Conley, has been the teacher adviser for eight years. “But I really got interested in Interact when Haley Stack, the president when I was a freshman, pushed me to go deeper. She was energetic, happy and included everybody, and she made a difference for me.”

Affiliated with the Long Beach Island Rotary Club, the Southern Interact group started during the 1987-88 school year, and Don Myers has been the Rotary Club adviser since the beginning.

“In 1986, the superintendent at the time, Bob Daria, was the Rotary Club president, and he tapped me to be the Rotary adviser,” said Myers, who in 2010 was the Rotary Club president while his daughter, Madeline, was the Interact president at Southern. “Over the years, it’s grown by leaps and bounds, and it’s now the largest student club in the school. It’s been a lot of fun and very interesting to see how big Interact has become for the students at Southern.”

So big, in fact, that it had 415 members participating in various ways this year –129 seniors, 95 juniors, 148 sophomores and 43 freshmen. Alongside Thorn, Billy Maloney was vice president while Annie Larkin was treasurer, and other officer slots were filled by Drew Barbera, Savannah Bickel, Noelle Tranchida, Kailee D’Amelio, Melanie Thorn and Brianna Topchev. For Interact’s 31st year, Jenna Kulinski will be president and Tranchida the vice president.

“I’ve been an officer since my sophomore year, when I started out as a 9/10 representative,” said Tranchida, whose father, John, once was one of the Interact officers, as was her older brother, Cole. “Interact’s really great because you make a lot of new friendships while you work together to help others. You meet a lot of people in the community, and it becomes a very personal experience.”

According to Myers, the first Interact – which originally was an acronym devised from International Action – came about in Melbourne, Fla., in 1962. And after he was tapped to be the local Rotary adviser to the student club at Southern, he knew it would become a hit.

“There was so much the students could help out with in the community, so it really made sense to start Interact at Southern,” Myers said. “Nowadays, we sometimes have a hundred or more kids helping out at an event – a couple of them being the 18 Mile Run and Chowderfest – and they’ve made a big difference in how those events turn out. And they’ve been doing this for 30 years now, so the impact has been significant.”

For the LBI Commemorative 18 Mile Run, Interact volunteers do everything from manning water stations to helping with the cleanup to walking the runners through the finish-line chute while explaining where they can locate their belongings, refreshments and medical assistance, if needed.

But whether it’s Chowderfest Merchants Mart, during which students help vendors lug their wares and supplies; Challenger League softball games, during which they are buddies to their special needs peers; or the annual Ship Bottom Christmas Parade, where they help in various ways, Interact volunteers seem to be everywhere during the course of a year. And that’s the way it should be, according Conley.

“The students love it, and, as the adviser I love it, because they really do a lot of the work on their own,” she said. “I say a few things here and there, but most of the time they’re the ones making the plans and figuring out how to get things done. And that’s all part of this, learning together how to better serve the community and have fun doing it. A lot of times, I just stand back and let them handle it.”

Tracy Paulillo, a Southern psychology teacher in her 23rd year and Interact adviser from 2006 through 2009, was the club’s second president during the 1988-89 school year, and she believes the social aspects and rewarding feeling the students get when they help out are what make the club such a hit with the student body.

“It’s always fun to work and help out others alongside friends,” said Paulillo, whose daughter, Abby, is now part of Interact along with many of her friends. “Interact teaches kids that they can do something good in the community, even if it’s something that seems small. And part of becoming independent and gaining an identity is seeing the needs of others and helping them. Some of these kids will find their life’s passion through Interact.”

Martin credited Myers as the catalyst for the rapid growth of Interact as “the guy who came up with a lot of stuff for us to do” and said his involvement has been a driving force behind Interact’s success.

“He won’t take the credit for it, but he really shaped what community service by a student group looked like before it became the cool thing to do,” Martin said. “Now, kids have to get service hours to put on their college resumes. Back in the late ’80s, we didn’t have anything like that. But beyond that, Interact at Southern became much bigger, and Don was a big part of that evolution.”

And, nowadays, it doesn’t seem as if that evolution is going to slow down anytime soon. In fact, Thorn believes Interact will continue to be a popular draw among Southern’s students for another 30 years.

“You’re helping others. You’re building connections. You’re making lots of friends,” said Thorn, who this year focused on ramping up the group’s social media presence within the school. “We make it look fun, and it is. But it’s more than that. It helps you grow and become a better person. And it’s something every student in the school can be a part of to help make a difference.”

— David Biggy

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.