The membership in service clubs is aging.
It seems to be a trend occurring nationwide.
A 2014 Lafeyette Journal & Courier story detailed the different service clubs in the area, noting the decline in membership since the 1950s heydays and citing costs, technology and time commitments as common causes.
“As members of the Elks, Rotary, Freemasons, Knights Templar and their ilk age and pass on, they are challenged with the uphill battle of recruiting younger members,” the story said. “Many organizations also face a decline in national membership.”
It’s something that the Atwater Rotary is familiar with. “The Rotary club is horribly short of young people,” said Roger Wood, president of the Atwater club.
Wood said young people barely have enough time for work and children’s extracurricular activities. Plus, work hours aren’t the same and make lunch meetings hard to attend.
“There’s so many things going on in a young couple’s life,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to put Rotary in it.”
I don’t think the issue is that young people don’t want to serve or give back to their community. Community service and volunteering is encouraged from a young age.
High school students today are always looking for volunteer opportunities to add to their college applications.
While attending classes at Fresno State, many of my classes required community service. I did mine at the fundraising branch of Saint Agnes Medical Center. But many of us who started volunteering for a class continued after we completed the class.
Cathy Mayer, the hospital’s manager of volunteer services, said many young people apply to volunteer for work experience, but the hospital can’t allow them to do work someone typically would get paid for. Most Saint Agnes volunteers will work in waiting rooms or as patient escorts, she said.
For the hospital, there’s a cost savings for service. The hospital has saved at least $1 million in service, Mayer said.
Q: What are Merced service clubs doing to attract young people?
A: The Merced Rotary club got creative.
About a year ago the Merced Rotary created what they call a “satellite” club, said John Price, the club’s president.
“We have some younger professionals and people in town,” Price said. “Some of them can’t make it to a lunch meeting or don’t want to get up early in morning for a breakfast meeting. So we tried to figure out how’s the best way to connect with them because they want to be involved.”
The Rotary’s satellite club is a branch of the Merced Rotary that decides when it meets and has its own leadership. Instead of meeting weekly, the 13 members meet bimonthly.
Price recognizes that young people do want to serve, just in different ways.
“It’s the whole idea of everybody’s life is different,” he said. “What I’ve discovered is that younger people still want to serve and be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to make a difference in things. That just may not work for them in the traditional structure.”
Price said the Rotary’s satellite club members proved early on that they wanted to give back to the community. Right away, the club began working on a project. The club makes donations so that community children can swim for free on Fridays at McNamara Park.
The mission and values of Soroptimist International of Merced speak to young women and help boost membership, said Pam Taylor, the club’s incoming president.
The club’s mission is to empower women and improve their lives. The club also uses social media, such as Facebook, and word of mouth to recruit new members.
Soroptimist International also offers a virtual club, LiveYourDream.org, an online community encouraging offline volunteerism. Online members work on topics such as women’s economic empowerment, ending violence against women, human trafficking and more.
Soroptimist can’t go wrong with empowering women. That never goes out of style.
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477