We have not been content to simply observe these needs and let someone else handle it. We often attempt to handle it ourselves – by volunteering. Former president George W. Bush referred to the sense of volunteerism in this country as a “thousand points of light.” What do these thousand points of light look like?
In Winona and across the world, they often look like service clubs. In Winona, we have at least five active service organizations:
- The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks founded in 1868 in New York City
- The Fraternal Order of Eagles founded in 1898 in Seattle.
- Rotary International founded in 1905 in Chicago
- Kiwanis International founded in 1915 in Detroit
- Lions Clubs International founded in 1917 in Chicago
But service organizations are in trouble in this country. As they expand throughout the world, their membership in this country is declining. Clubs are disbanding. Lodges and aeries are closing.
Why? Young people – especially young professionals, it seems – simply do not have time to socialize in the environments of these organizations that were created in a different time; a slower time. While they are as eager to provide volunteer service as ever, they don’t have time to attend breakfast or lunch meetings, or sit in a club chit-chatting. Ever on the run, they chit-chat by texting; they rush from work to home, or church, or school; they must make efficient use of their time. Twenty-first century life it seems is squeezing the late nineteenth and early twentieth century life out of service clubs.
I am a former member of Rotary and a current member of Kiwanis. I can only speak to the situation for Kiwanis in Winona, but I know other service organizations have similar difficulties.
There used to be three Kiwanis Clubs in Winona. Now there is one.
Each of these clubs had 30-40 members. Our single remaining club has less than 30 members.
I estimate the average age of our club membership to be nearly 70. They are mostly retired or nearing retirement. If they even have a smartphone, they often leave it in the car during the meetings. They enjoy the breakfasts. They enjoy the programs. They enjoy the service and fundraising activities. But there is now a heck of a lot of work for a lot fewer – and older – members.
Kiwanis clubs – as well as other service organizations – are working to create alternative categories of membership. These new membership categories – it is hoped – will encourage more young people to join our clubs and participate in the many service activities that we carry out.
I’ll talk more about what our Kiwanis Club hopes to do in order to increase its membership in my next column. I hope this discussion encourages young people to take a look at Kiwanis, Lions, and all Winona service clubs. Indeed, they are changing. But they need young members to help them make these transitions.
This commentary was subsequently published July 15, 2014 in the print edition of the Winona Daily News under the title: Let's rekindle spirit of volunteerism.