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Posted: April 6, 2014 12:30 a.m.

Are service clubs outdated?

After speaking to the Lions Club of Oxford this week about 4-H opportunities, I noticed yet again that my old classmates simply aren’t present in service clubs.

A quick internet search shows this is the case worldwide. Conferences regularly feature sessions on recruiting younger members.

The only anomaly seems to be in developing economies, such as India, where service club memberships are actually surging, according to John Gravois in the Washington Monthly.

Groups like Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis and Pilot are serving our community and tackling worldwide issues like polio and literacy.

Meetings are pretty entertaining, and members forge strong friendships over decades of work together.
So I asked my friends — why aren’t you in service clubs?

To be fair, a few of them are members, but they’re in the minority.

The number one issue brought up in my very unscientific survey was lack of time and energy.

Many of my friends in their 20s, 30s and 40s are raising families and working hard to get ahead in careers, or even balancing multiple jobs.

They’re also already volunteering elsewhere — church, scouts, dance classes, schools, Habitat for Humanity and the USO.

Even without having children, I found that the time commitment necessary to being an active member of some local organizations was near impossible.

Stephanie Palmer, a former resident of Covington who travelled to Australia on the Rotary Club’s Group Study

Exchange with me two years ago, said she is interested in joining Rotary, but has moved several times in the last few years.

“(I) feel afraid that I would not be able to keep commitments to an organization, and if I do join, I want to be able to be a contributing member,” Palmer said.

The second most mentioned hurdle was awareness of what names like Kiwanis, Rotary and Pilot even mean. Several said they’d heard of the groups, but really weren’t sure what they did or how one becomes a member.
“I wouldn’t mind being involved in something that doesn’t always involve my kid,” Newton County resident Jamie McCord said. “I just don’t know anything about the organizations you mentioned.”

When I was actively searching for information on groups I wanted to join, I visited websites and Facebook groups, but for those not searching, this information might as well be posted in outer space.

Betsy Shepherd, a UGA classmate now in Kennesaw, suggested groups should advertise in places our peers spend a lot of time—like the little league park or grocery stores.

It makes me think about the importance of telling friends why they’re seeing me volunteering in even more places, like ushering at Oliver for the Arts Association — it’s a role filled by the Pilot Club of Covington.

Other deterrents to membership mentioned included cost, the timing of meetings, not being able to bring the entire family to service activities and the lack of other young members.

Oxford resident Jessica Morris joined the Pilot Club of Covington very young, before she had children or her current career.

“I think the key to getting younger members is to make the work relevant to their daily lives so that involvement in the organization becomes important to them or their children’s lives,” Morris said.

I’ve found that my peers are not only interested in service, but we’re out doing it in amazing ways.

For the most part, we aren’t adverse to membership in groups, as we seem to be members of everything from churches to school groups.

After the research I’ve done into local service organizations, I honestly feel like one of the biggest barriers may be awareness.

Each group has varying time commitments, costs, and flexibility to include the family.

Every club I have visited has a different feel, or attitude, that might appeal to different people.

And even if the club isn’t job-oriented, the leadership and organization training offered through most clubs would bolster any résumé.

I hope to inspire 4-H’ers to consider service clubs as they become 4-H alumni, but I also hope to inspire a few old friends to join right now. Let me know if I can refer you to a member of a local group so you can learn more about the benefits to you.

Terri Kimble Fullerton is a Newton County 4-H Agent through UGA Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at tkimble@uga.edu.

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