Service clubs: Good connections, good causes

Local chapters of international service organizations offer opportunities to both long-time members of the Grand Valley and newcomers to the area. Whether the motivation is a desire for business contacts, community service or friendship, membership can produce fruit in all three areas over time.

“The main purpose should be to give back to the community,” said Vern Gray, an account executive at KKCO-TV and president of the Kiwanis Club of Grand Junction.

“I felt compelled to give back,” said Chris Unfug, president of the Rotary Club of Grand Junction.

“Be selfless and find ways to do good things,” said Ky Oday, president of the Grand Junction Lions Club.
Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions and other service clubs offer avenues to help a variety of local groups while also pursuing a primary mission. “Rotary offered a way to do a variety of things,” Unfug said.

The scope of organizations Rotary assists enables Unfug to focus on more than one need in the Grand Valley. On an international scale, Rotary works to combat polio, a mission that’s been in place since 1984. But Rotarians contribute to many local organizations in the Grand Valley.

The downtown Kiwanis Club focuses on the needs of young children. Its defining statement reads: “Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers working to change the world one child and one community at a time.”

In addition, Kiwanis members work on such projects as building Habitat for Humanity homes and assisting the Aktion Club, an organization of adults with disabilities.

Gray said members also expand their circles of friends.

As for the business aspect, Gray said he seldom tries to sell advertising to club members. Such sales can occur through building long-term relationships, however.

Business networking was the primary mission of Rotary at its inception. Service and friendships were sidebar benefits that developed from the business goal.

“The reason to stay is having lunch with people you don’t know and share in the goal of serving the community,” Unfug said.
Added Oday: “We can develop business and personal relationships with people.”

Most local service clubs acknowledge that membership has remained relatively flat since the early 1990s, even though the population of Mesa County has grown more than 50 percent in the past 20 years. The downtown Rotary Club counts 135 members, down about five members in the past year. There are no simple answers for why service club membership is flat.

“The economy has been a factor,” Unfug said. Members pay monthly dues as well buy their lunches at Two Rivers Convention Center.
One way to increase membership is to woo the younger generation. Rotary does this through its Rotaract Club, which accepts members under age 35. Such members learn to network to enhance their businesses and circle of friends while also learning the importance of service to others. The members become prime candidates to join a traditional Rotary Club.

Kiwanis partly fulfills its mission to serve young children by establishing children’s clubs that include elementary, middle, high school and college students.  Locally, Key Clubs operate at Central and Fruita Monument high schools. A middle school Builder’s Club is active at Fruita Middle School. And while no local elementary club exists, K-Kids organizations are established at elementary schools across the country. A Circle K college club once existed at Mesa State College, and there are occasional efforts to resurrect the club on campus.

The potential to include members ages 5 to 25 in such ancillary Kiwanis groups can plant seeds that entice young people to join a traditional Kiwanis Club later in life.

The Lions have not added clubs geared strictly for young adults.

“If you’re a Lion, you’re a Lion,” said Oday, who added the organization tries to encourage all age groups to join a traditional Lions organization. Ten of the 13 board members for the club are under 40, Oday added.

As part of the effort to lure younger members, major service clubs have both international and local websites that offer information about the clubs’ mission, lists of contributions the clubs make to the community and application forms for potential members. And, yes, they offer Facebook pages and other forms of online social networking.

“We’re trying to infuse more of the social media,” Unfug said, adding he uses Facebook and LinkedIn —a business-oriented social medium — during his daily work routine. He said “it’s definitely catching on” with the older, traditional Rotarians as well. More than half of the downtown members use social media online.

The Kiwanis and Lions clubs also have added Facebook pages. Both Kiwanis and Rotary use e-mail to send out weekly newsletters, although Rotary offers a hard copy version for members who still prefer that option.

For people who prefer smaller clubs and more personal interaction, there are smaller versions of the main downtown clubs, including the Redlands Rotary Club, the Golden K Kiwanis Club and Orchard Mesa Lions Club.

“We tend to be less formal than the other Rotary clubs,” said Mac Cunningham, president of the Redlands Rotary Club. “We get to know each other on a personal basis.”

Redlands Rotary is the second largest contributor to the Mesa County Partners organization, Cunningham said.

The Golden K Club features mostly retired business people and meets for a light breakfast every Wednesday at the Redlands Community Center. Members often play golf following the morning meeting when the weather warms.

Fund-raisers constitute an important step in securing the funds service organizations distribute. Kiwanis raises funds by staging Pancake Day in June and Oktoberfest in October each year. The Rotary Club sells tickets to an annual Masquerade Ball during the Halloween season. The Lions Club is busy selling tickets for its annual Lions Club Carnival set for Feb. 19 at Two Rivers Convention Center in downtown Grand Junction.