Originally created 07/18/04

Civic groups on look out for younger, successful candidates



It's a tough time for civic groups.

When the Chronicle of Philanthropy surveyed charitable organizations in 1998, it found that traditional service-based groups such as the Jaycees, Rotary International and Kiwanis are struggling to maintain their numbers as departing members leave a void in membership rolls.

Since the 1980s, Rotary International has lost 9,000 U.S. members, Kiwanis membership has dipped 9 percent and the Jaycees have lost 80,000 members, according to the study. Lions International, which at 1.4 million members is the largest service organization in the world, declined 12 percent in 10 years.

The picture isn't nearly as bleak in the Augusta area, but many groups are locked in a never-ending battle to replenish their ranks with new members. Their natural target, successful people in their 20s or 30s, also is the hardest to reach.

"We're basically losing more people than we can recruit, either because of death, or we have some older members who are still active but are getting up there in age," said Beth Miller, the outgoing president of the Augusta Lions.

The 40-member chapter has three or four members younger than 40 and an average age of about 60. Mrs. Miller said that six years ago, she resisted joining for the same reasons she hears from others.

"I was always very active in high school and church when I was young, and when I was in my career stage, I put a lot of time into work," she said. " I was interested in it, but I didn't think I had the time."

When her boss made joining a civic group a priority, Mrs. Miller said, she reluctantly joined and that ultimately, it was to her benefit.

"When you call bingo for disabled people or help people get glasses, you get a real sense of doing something for the community. But to be honest, if my boss hadn't made it a goal, I would probably still say I don't have the time," she said.

Mrs. Miller often hears the same excuses when recruiting new members.

"People are just so overwhelmed with their job that they're fearful they can't get it into their schedule," she said. "There have been days where I've had to stay later at work to get something done with the Lions, but it's worth it."

Carolyn Irvin, a member of the Augusta Garden City Lions Club since 1987, said that two other area Lions clubs have folded and that her own chapter, which is 50 years old, just lost its last charter member, leaving seven members.

The youngest club member is 37.

"That is not a good number; that is not a surviving number," she said. "Some people will say, 'Oh, my father was a Lion, but I just don't have time.' They don't want to even listen."

Members still rely on word-of-mouth referrals to help fill their ranks, and many of the groups, including the Lions, Rotary International, Toastmasters and Kiwanis, start recruiting at an early age with offshoot organizations targeting the younger-than-35 crowd.

Like the Lions, Rotary, which is a year shy of its centennial, has many chapters in Augusta.

Ed Enoch, the president of the South Augusta Rotary Club, said that at 25 members, his group is small by Rotarian standards, but a few members are in their 20s, so the average age is in the 40s. According to the Rotary International Web site, the organization is geared toward people in management positions, which usually precludes young adults. Mr. Enoch is reaching out to entrepreneurs.

"I expect we'll lower the age, because most of the people I know who are starting businesses are in their 30s," he said.

Randy Ripkey, the president of the Martinez Evans Rotary Club, said that having 50 members is healthy but that membership is an ongoing struggle.

"A retiree whose kids are out of college has more time, but it's important to get the younger members because they've got the fresh ideas," he said.

Toastmasters International, an organization devoted to public speaking and developing leadership abilities, also works hard to attract young people.

Jean L. Embry, the outgoing president of Toastmasters 5051, said about 10 percent of her members are younger than 40.

"They come in, they see a bunch of gray-haired people and I don't know what they're thinking," she said, chuckling. "But we have fun; someone makes a speech, and it's always educational and entertaining."

Many young people don't realize how the groups can help them speak off the cuff and learn leadership skills.

"They're not interested because they don't know what it is, or they don't think they need it; it's not political or religious; it's not edgy," Ms. Embry said.

At the Augusta Boys & Girls Club, the challenges are a little different.

The Rev. Derwin Jackson, the club's mentoring and volunteer director, said it's easier to recruit recent college graduates to mentor grade-school children.

"It's especially hard to get African-American males.

There's no specific age group; we'll take all men," he said. "But if I had my choice, I would get someone at least 28. It's not too old to relate to; but at the same time we want someone who has a career."

To do that, the club turns to large companies to get groups of volunteers.

"When they're 28, they're married or in a serious relationship; they'll say, 'Well, I have my own kids to worry about,'" the Rev. Jackson said. "But when you can say to a group of people, 'You can teach a chess club for one or two hours a week,' that's so much easier."

Reach Patrick Verel at (706) 823-3332 or patrick.verel@augustachronicle.com.

Mr. Allen listens to the speaker during the club meeting. He is one of the youngest members of the Augusta South Rotary Club. Civic groups have run into problems because they have not recruited new members to replace older members who leave. The groups hope to attract successful people in their 20s and 30s - a difficult age group to reach.

WANT TO JOIN?

THE ORGANIZATION: Rotary International

THE HISTORY: The Rotary Club of Chicago was formed in 1905 by Paul P. Harris, a lawyer who wanted to recapture in a professional club the same friendly spirit he had felt in the small towns of his youth. The organization has taken a special interest in eradicating polio.

MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS: Hold or be retired from a professional, proprietary, executive or managerial position, have the capacity to meet the club's weekly attendance or community-project-participation requirements, and live or work within the locality of the club or the surrounding area.

CONTACT: (847) 866-3000 or www.rotary.org

THE ORGANIZATION: Lions Clubs International

THE HISTORY: The International Association of Lions Clubs was organized in 1917 by Chicago businessman Melvin Jones. He believed that local business clubs should expand their horizons from purely professional concerns to the betterment of their communities and the world at large. In 1925, Helen Keller challenged the Lions to become "knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness," and preventing blindness has since been a goal.

MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS: Weekly or twice-a-month meetings and a willingness to participate in service projects

CONTACT: (630) 571-5466 or www.lionsclubs.org

THE ORGANIZATION: Kiwanis International

THE HISTORY: The first Kiwanis club was organized in Detroit in 1915. The groups focuses on the special needs of children, including a campaign to eliminate iodine deficiency disorders, the leading cause of preventable mental and physical retardation.

MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS: Kiwanis clubs meet weekly or twice a month. Members, on average, invest about six hours a month by participating in meetings, projects and volunteering in their community.

CONTACT: (317) 875-8755 or www.kiwanis.org

THE ORGANIZATION: Toastmasters International

THE HISTORY: Formed in October 1924 by a group assembled by Dr. Ralph C. Smedley in the basement of the YMCA in Santa Ana, Calif. The purpose was "to afford practice and training in the art of public speaking and in presiding over meetings, and to promote sociability and good fellowship among its members."

MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS: Groups meet once a week, where they begin with a short business session, which helps members learn basic meeting procedures, give impromptu and prepared speeches and offer constructive evaluation.

CONTACT: www.toastmasters.org or (800) 993-7732

THE ORGANIZATION: Boys & Girls Club

THE HISTORY: Boys & Girls Clubs of America was started in 1860 by several women in Hartford, Conn., who believed that boys who roamed the streets should have a positive alternative.

MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS: Volunteers of all ages, but especially black men in their late 20s are needed as mentors.

CONTACT: 312-2200 or www.bgca.org

NOTE: All clubs have initiation fees and monthly dues that vary according to individual groups.