Service Above Self: A Conversation with West Chester Rotary Club President Katie Martin

Katie Martin--via VISTA Today, Lance Knickerbocker.

Hers is a story of a desire to help people and the generous community members who rallied behind her. With few connections apart from those who needed help, recently promoted DNB First Marketing Program Manager Katie Martin simply shared her heart and found friendly faces all around her stepping up to make a difference.

Key to her experience is the spirit of giving back at DNB First, whose 150-year-old legacy has weaved generosity into its mission of helping the community grow and thrive. As a result, the bank takes a day each year to clear its schedule for each employee to give back through community service in whichever way is most meaningful to the individual. The employee gets to choose both the cause and his or her volunteer role in its activities. Several employees spent the whole day and night of West Chester’s Old Fashioned Christmas Parade ringing bells for The Salvation Army. And DNB First backs up those outpourings with $700,000 of financial sponsorships, donations, and Educational Improvement Tax Credit contributions.

From there, she found her niche — and 15 girls into whom she poured out her heart — in the world of Girl Scouts and quickly accumulated allies to better meet their urgent needs as a member of the local Rotary Club. The Club turned out to be a wellspring of goodwill for both the youth she was investing into as well as untold thousands of others across the community, region, nation and world.

Meet Katie Martin, a devoted volunteer who now leads the entire club in its mission to serve above self.

Katie Martin is the Marketing Program Manager at DNB First in Downingtown–via VISTA Today, Lance Knickerbocker.

VISTA Today: So tell me how you became involved with Rotary Club.

Katie Martin: Roughly 10 years ago I wasn’t feeling like my day-to-day work was really making a difference. I felt like there was something missing and I began looking for a way to get involved in a volunteer organization.

I was in my late 20’s and I said to a friend of mine: “I have this GREAT idea! We should be Girl Scout Troop Leaders! We’ll take the girls to the mall, and we’ll teach them how to bake cookies!” We called the Girl Scout Council and told them we wanted to be troop leaders.

They were excited and they told us that they had the perfect troop for us. We were assigned to a troop in West Chester that was a little unique. Traditionally Girl Scout troops are divided into small age groups: 6-8, 8-10, 10-12. Well, our troop was made up of 15 girls from low-income families, and their ages ranged from 4-14.

VISTA Today: What was that like?

Katie Martin: The girls were incredible but given the circumstances it was a little overwhelming. I remember, one day telling my coworker that I really wished I could do more. We were meeting with these girls every week but I just didn’t know that I was really making a difference.

VISTA Today: Like you didn’t have the resources you needed.

Katie Martin: Exactly. It was myself and one other person trying to make a difference for these 15 girls.  I was telling a coworker about this and they asked me if I had ever thought about Rotary. And I was like “I don’t know anything about Rotary.” At the time, I thought it was just a bunch of old men who sat around and smoked cigars. (Laughs) I had no idea!

My coworker at DNB First put me in touch with someone. I went to a couple meetings and it was really inspirational and eye-opening. It was a bunch of people who wanted to do good. There was a really great energy in the room; people wanting to help one another. So I started going every Thursday while still being involved with the Girl Scouts.

One day I went to the Care Center for Christ and while I was there the mother of two girls from our troop walked in. She was there to tell her children that their Grandmother’s home, inside which they all lived, had burned to the ground.

The mother had no idea of what to do. She couldn’t afford new clothes and shoes for her kids and didn’t know where to turn.  She asked me if I knew anywhere that she could go for help and I told her: “I don’t know but I’m going to find a solution for you.”

Thankfully, the next day I had Rotary. I was still very, very new and when you join the club you are asked to give what they call a classification talk. How you came to rotary; your history.

It was my turn to give my classification talk that Thursday. I spoke about Girl Scouts and how wanting to have a more direct impact brought me to Rotary. I told them the story about how this mother had come to the center after having lost everything and that’s why I joined rotary: because I might not know where to send this woman to get help but I can come to Rotary confident that someone in this room will.

At the end of the meeting people just started walking up to me with checks and donations to help this family. These are the kind of people involved with Rotary. They want to help. People, to whom I was almost a total stranger, were willing to open their hearts and wallets to help people they had never met.

Within a day, I had a couple thousand dollars to help this family. People who knew of organizations that could help this family wrote down contact information for me. From that moment on I was hooked. These are people who just want to do the right thing. They live the Rotary motto which is Service Above Self.

I’m so proud of this group and I’ve been really honored to serve as president. Together we’re able to do so much good in the community. Currently, we are wrapping up a fundraiser for Fame Fire Company. They are in the process of a capital campaign to improve their fire house and we selected them to receive the proceeds from our annual fruit sale.

VISTA Today: Right! They’re almost done aren’t they?

Katie Martin: They’re almost done!

We also do a program called Soup for the Homeless that we March where members of our club agree to make gallon containers of soup which we collect and deliver to Safe Harbor. On any given week we might have 10 to 20 gallons of soup to deliver.

VISTA Today: Wow, you guys are so busy!

Katie Martin: Yes! I am also the co-chair of the West Chester Chili Cook-Off this year.

VISTA Today: Remind me–when is that again?

Katie Martin: It’s always the second Sunday in October. So this year that’s October 9th. It’s really a fantastic event. We expect to have roughly 8,500 people turn out this year. It’s the Rotary Club’s biggest fundraiser. Last year we raised a little over $60,000 and we took that money and put it right back into the community.  DNB First also participated as a team last year alongside the Salvation Army of West Chester. We took 1st place in the business division.

We have another really great project we’re working on right now.

You may not know this but in Tanzania, the limbs, fingers, or toes of albino people are superstitiously regarded as having magical properties. So the limbs of albino people are savagely removed and sold on the black market to be used in ceremonies and rituals. It’s about as bad as it sounds.

VISTA Today: Oh my God.

Katie Martin: And, in some cases, it’s not like a mob attacked them.  Some of these people that we’re working with have had their limbs removed by their own parents. There was one little boy who came over this summer who had lost his arm–his father had actually cut off his arm.

So we are working with the Shriner’s Hospital to bring these kids to the United Stated for treatment. Some of the children who lost their hands actually have had one or two of their toes surgically attached to their arm, restoring a degree of utility. It is really amazing what the doctors at Shriner’s Hospital are doing.

Thus far we’ve raised about 80,000 dollars for this project. Hopefully, by the end of January, we’ll be up to 100,000. Shriners has agreed to donate the medical end of the project and our part is raising money for travel expenses to help get these kids the treatments they need.

One of the nice things about this project is we’re partnering with a club in Tanzania so we know that once we help these kids out they’re going to be okay; they’re going to be looked after.

VISTA Today: So Rotary has boots on the ground in Tanzania.

Katie Martin: Absolutely. We’re all over the world. It’s kind of a humbling experience to be a part of Rotary because when bad things happen in the world Rotary is one of the first organizations allowed to get in and provide help. We’re not religious based; we’re not a political organization. When there’s a disaster often times we have an easier time getting in than some other organizations because of our neutral stance. Our agenda is only to help.

VISTA Today: If someone came to you and said “Katie, I want to get involved in the community,” what would be your advice?

Katie Martin: I would definitely recommend them getting involved with SOMETHING. Just volunteer for something. Just jump in and let it be a learning experience because you never really know exactly where your niche is gonna be.

I’m passionate about rotary from my own experiences but there’re so many great organizations out there.  A gentleman in my Rotary that I’m friends with volunteers on Sundays to transport folks from the Ronald McDonald House to the Hospital. For him, that’s his passion and he talks about it–he’s done it for years.

Whether you’re in your 20’s, your 50’s, whatever age you are–if you get involved with something you’re going to feel good about it.

There are people in Chester County that devote themselves every day to making other people’s lives better. I’m lucky enough to have this little small piece of my week where I can do it for an hour so and that my employer supports me in this venture–but there are so many people who do this every single day and it’s amazing.


Special thanks to Katie Martin and DNB First. For more information, including how you can get involved with Rotary contact Katie Martin via email.


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