By Taylor Boyd
Patrick County residents donated a substantial part of more than $40,000 collected in a grass-roots fundraising campaign.
“The funds we raised were a grassroots effort supported by the residents of the county,” said Paula Drady, a member of the Rotary Club of Stuart, which was asked to act as custodian of the collected funds.
“I guess the county needed a non-profit to be the custodian of the funds for it to be all above board. I think we were asked because people trust the Rotary Club,” she said, and added the county did not have the funding needed for the engineering plan.
“The Board of Supervisors was going to pull the money for the engineering plan out of other budgets because they knew broadband was needed in the county. So, the school system, EMT, emergency services, everything would all lose some of their funds,” Drady said.
Noting that Rotary Club is a service organization which was organized to help the community, “we decided to start fundraising for the engineering plan so the other departments wouldn’t lose their funds, and because without broadband, this county is never going anywhere,” she said.
The county promised the first $25,000 for the project, and the Rotary Club promised to use proceeds from its fundraisers to repay the amount the county spent on broadband, she said.
“We started raising funds at the end of May. We put it on the radio, in the newspaper, anything to bring attention to what the Rotary Club was doing. Three or four months later we raised almost all the funds the engineering plan needed,” Drady said.
The club held a donation day on June 6, with Rotarians and donation buckets located throughout the county.
“We had six places in the county where people could donate. Loose change or $10, we gladly took anything people wanted to donate. We even had one young boy give us his pocket money. He said, ‘we need broadband,’” she said, and added that she did not expect large donations, especially in the middle of a pandemic.
“I hoped for $5,000, prayed for $10,000, and we raised over $40,000,” she said.
Steve Terry, chairman of the Patrick County Broadband Committee, said he was in Meadows of Dan on donation day. “We raised over $2,000 there. We asked tourists who visited the Blue Ridge Parkway to donate, and they did.”
The plan was an important piece of addressing the county’s broadband needs, Terry said.
“Without the engineering plan, the county likely couldn’t even apply for grants. The engineering plan makes us more competitive in getting grants for broadband projects and expansion,” he said.
When the donations from all the six areas were totaled, “we raised $4,500 on donation day,” Drady said.
Recently, the Stuart Rotary Foundation sent donated funds totaling $40,438 to Patrick County to cover most of the $50,000 needed to pay for the required broadband engineering plan.
Terry added the Economic Development Authority (EDA) also received a $15,000 grant.
“So, between the grant and the $40,000 the Rotary Club raised, the county didn’t spend any money on the engineering plan in the end,” he said, adding the extra money the Rotary Club raised would be put into an account and earmarked for broadband projects.
“Some of my more technological-friendly friends said we would raise most of our money online, but we didn’t,” Drady said, adding $11,000 was raised via online fundraising.
“We used total charity websites like GreaterGood, because the site doesn’t charge a fee for using it. So, every single penny that came to us went into the engineering plan,” she added.
Drady said most of the donations were mailed to the club by people who heard about the fundraiser. “We had people who donated tell their friends, who lived outside of Patrick County, who also donated. We had former county residents who retired to Florida send us money, and Rotarians from up north donate,” Drady said.
However, the majority of the donations came from county residents and businesses, because, “they recognize that broadband is needed to bring businesses here and expand the preexisting businesses,” Drady said.
She said the fundraiser was perhaps the first opportunity people have had to be able to do something about broadband.
“It just seems like Patrick County is always broke, and it’s hard times,” Drady said, and added that stable internet is needed for the county to grow because “the world is technology now. If people and businesses can’t access the internet, they’ll be left out and left behind.”
Perhaps the need for broadband is best illustrated by the current plight of many children and families, Drady said. She noted “there are kids and college students who are having to sit in Rotary and school parking lots at night to get access to their classes because they can’t get internet access at home.”