Traverse City Record-Eagle


January 19, 2013

Another View: Service clubs key to communities

Service clubs have been a force for much good in our communities.

They've raised countless thousands of dollars for charitable activities and scholarships.

Through friendships and camaraderie formed at meetings and project activities, they've been a cohesive force in their communities.

Through that cohesion, they've developed leaders within the groups and many of those leaders have gone on to become leaders in their communities and beyond.

So it's distressing to see a general decline in membership and activities among the clubs.

As we reported in recent days, club memberships are aging. New members aren't replacing retiring ones.

Across Oakland Country, membership in Optimist International has dropped from 115,000 to 78,000 in a decade.

Such declines translate to individual clubs. Don Green at Mount Clemens Rotary said membership has dropped from 120 to less than 90 in the decade.

Club leaders tell us that even existing members in some groups find it difficult to devote the kind of time that has made the organizations such a force for good. Some members have offered to write checks rather than spend time on a project. The willingness to contribute cash instead of time is useful, but it doesn't add to community cohesion.

"People don't know who their next-door neighbors are," Green said. "When people talk about the good old days, they talk about communities getting together and doing things."

Younger members and would-be members are typically parents. The kids are busier than ever and dependent on the parents, but it's possible the kids may provide a path to stabilizing membership.

Several of the international organizations have established youth chapters within their organizations.

Young people, some find, are willing and eager to do community service.

The L'Anse Creuse Public Schools for 20 years has required its high school students to perform 40 hours of community service in order to graduate.

Some of those hours — they add to nearly a million — included helping Kiwanis members with holiday baskets for needy families, tutoring younger students and helping out at the district's Latch Key program.

The requirement for community service has been copied in other districts.

Perhaps partnerships between service clubs and school districts with their own community service requirements will benefit all, including the kids, the clubs and the communities they serve.

The Oakland Press, Pontiac

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