Our Views: Service clubs do great things for Janesville as times change

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Leaders of local service clubs sound hopeful about the clubs' futures, but maintaining membership is a constant struggle for most of them.

We live in a mobile society, where families are less likely to put down roots in a community than in decades past. Many people aren't joiners like those of earlier generations. In this era of social media, young people seem more comfortable conversing by computer than interacting face to face.

Facebook and other social media, however, are among the ways that the Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions and Optimist clubs are spreading the word about their deeds and recruiting new members.

In Tuesday's Gazette, reporter Shelly Birkelo detailed efforts of these well-known clubs to seek members and retain those already in the fold. Some clubs saw drastic reductions in their ranks as club memberships fell worldwide in the past two decades. Age is catching up with some clubs—nine members of the local Rotary club died in the past year. The clubs, however, express optimism that membership has stabilized or say they've even gained a few newcomers.

Still, the clubs constantly explore ways to encourage residents to join. The Janesville Kiwanis moved meetings to a centralized spot, reduced meeting frequency to twice monthly, shortened meetings and cut lunch costs. The Wednesday Optimists neither mandate attendance nor fine members who don't show up.

It's disappointing that some employers are reluctant to grant workers time off to attend club meetings.

It likely helps these clubs that Wisconsin ranks eighth nationwide with 35.6 percent of residents volunteering from 2010-12, according to the Corporation for National & Community Service. Utah is No. 1 at 43.8 percent, while Louisiana is on the bottom at 20.4 percent. Wisconsin's army of 1.62 million volunteers contributes $3.1 billion worth of service annually.

For Janesville's Noon Lions, service translates into thousands of dollars toward improving our community. Perhaps the club's most prominent project collects used eyeglasses at 30 sites to help children and adults in developing countries.

Besides hosting its well-known corn roast fundraiser, the Janesville Noon Rotary Club honors students and owns and operates Camp Rotamer, where children can experience outdoor adventures.

The Noon Kiwanis Club supports local service projects and improves and upgrades a local park, trail and pond all bearing the Kiwanis name. Likewise, in the past 20 years, the Wednesday Optimists have donated countless hours and an estimated $100,000 worth of improvements to Optimist Park.

Dedicated club members are excited about their community and want to give back to it. The more members the clubs have, the more services they can offer. Besides building new friendships, members appreciate the chances to make those contributions. If you're asked to join one, why not consider doing so?

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