Hilton Head Rotary club puts the "fun" in fundraising for Memory Matters

Hilton Head Island Rotarians have discovered how eating meals and enjoying entertainment with friends can help families affected by Alzheimer's disease.

In fact, they were having such a good time they overshot their goal by about $1,500 on a three-year campaign to raise $250,000 for Memory Matters, a local nonprofit agency that provides counseling and care for families struggling with Alzheimer's and dementia.

The Hilton Head Island Rotary Club, which officially ends its campaign this month, tried a new fundraising technique to help Memory Matters pay for its new building and expand its programs, which include caregiver support groups and training and day care for patients.

Through the Rotary's "Dining with Friends" campaign, members invited guests to their homes for dinner. The guests donated to the charity what they would have spent going out to a restaurant. The idea spread to buffet dinners for entire gated communities, birthday parties with donations instead of presents and bridge games in which entry fees went to the campaign.

"There were a lot of variations, but almost universally, people had fun. And when you can have fun and raise money, that's a good thing," said club fundraising chairman Jim Collett.

The club also collected pledges from local companies, estates and families and held oyster roasts and book sales.

Memory Matters executive director Edwina Hoyle said the club's donations, which have been rolling in during the past three years, allowed her organization to serve 30 percent more families than in the previous year. The end of the fundraising campaign will be celebrated Feb. 24, with a ceremonial check presented by the Rotary club.

The money has gone toward paying the mortgage and renovations to Memory Matters' headquarters on William Hilton Parkway, where it moved in December 2009. Previously, the programs had been scattered at five area churches, and the lack of a headquarters hindered the agency's mission to provide relief for overwhelmed caregivers, Hoyle said. The agency often had to talk to frustrated and sleep-deprived caregivers in pews or while walking around a parking lot.

In January, the organization hosted 320 sessions at its new facility, breaking its previous record of 288 in a month, she said.

"Thank God for the Rotary," Hoyle said. "Their motto is 'service above self,' and each and every single one of the 150 people I have met in the island's Rotary club exemplifies that beyond your wildest imagining."