Kiwanis desperate for members

Service at work: New Scotland Kiwanis members, shown here during a fall clean-up project at the senior citizen center in town, often do community service.

NEW SCOTLAND — The Kiwanis Club of New Scotland turns 64 this March, with many of its members older by 10 or 20 years. This lack of young members has made it difficult for the club to maintain many of its popular programs, including three annual chicken barbecues and a youth soccer program.

“We’ve always been a hands-on club,” said the immediate past president, Dick Ramsey. “We don’t just collect money and pass a check on to someone.”

With 16 of its 27 current members over the age of 60 — and two over 90 — the Kiwanis Club of New Scotland is in need of new, younger members to sustain its community programs.

The decrease in Kiwanis membership is not limited to New Scotland; according to Kiwanis International membership statistics, 638 New Yorkers dropped out of their Kiwanis clubs from September 2012 to September 2013. Not one district in the United States showed an increase in membership during this time. However, countries such as Japan, Italy, and the Netherlands saw their respective memberships increase throughout the same time period.

“We don’t want to threaten that the sports programs go away, but the obvious one is soccer” because there is a local traveling club that can absorb current Kiwanis soccer members, which number around 250, Ramsey said. However, this club — which Kiwanis helped start years ago — has only half of its games in New Scotland, at Voorheesville Elementary School, forcing kids and their parents to travel to other locations for the remainder of the matches.

Busy schedules for parents would make this extra travel a hassle, and it may be these same busy schedules that prevent or deter them from joining the Kiwanis club.

Paul Knudson, associate professor of sociology at The College of Saint Rose, gave some insight on how changing family dynamics could be affecting peoples’ involvement in community organizations.

“Married women who have children between the ages of 6 and 17 are most likely to be in the labor force, compared to all women,” he said. With both parents in many families working, it makes sense for them to want to spend as much as possible of their diminishing free time with family rather than with civic organizations.

“On average, Americans are working about a month longer than in the 1970s, if you add up all the hours,” Knudson said. Additionally, employment is more unstable today, with layoffs looming behind every paycheck.

Family dynamics interfere with parents being full-time Kiwanis members, but many of them help substantially in the youth sports programs while their children are enrolled.

“A lot of times, it’s the parents carrying the load,” instead of Kiwanis members, Ramsey said. “It’s a heavy job to do; no one would deny that.”

While the parents’ help is needed, and appreciated, during the sports programs, New Scotland Kiwanis is still lacking members to help with its other programs.

One of their three annual chicken barbecues is being handed over to the First United Methodist Church of Voorheesville because the Kiwanis can’t staff or fund it.

The Kiwanis club also runs a food pantry to help families in need year round, and this past Christmas it was able to deliver a two-week supply of food to 30 local families.

These programs, as well as the Bells of Life fund-raiser for the Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center, and Christmas tree sales, may fall victim to the flagging Kiwanis membership if more and younger members don’t join.

Ramsey had lived in New Scotland 10 years before joining the Kiwanis club in 1982; he was asked to join by a Kiwanis member hosting the youth sports programs his children were in. He took quickly to the not-for-profit: “Within six months, I was treasurer,” he said.

Since then, he has spent two terms as president; three other Kiwanis members have served multiple presidential terms, which is a low number compared to other Kiwanis clubs in the area where officers serve several terms, he said.

Another Kiwanis member who started strong with the group is Jenna Shillinglaw; she joined the club about five years ago and acted as president from 2010 to 2011. A 39-year-old mother and business owner, Shillinglaw appreciates that Kiwanis is “really flexible in the time you can give.”

She was a member of Key Club, sponsored by the Kiwanis, in high school, and then Shillinglaw ended up joining Kiwanis after being invited to attend a meeting in New Scotland. There she decided to join because of the camaraderie and eagerness to be a part of the community displayed by the members.

Lack of community knowledge about Kiwanis was cited as a problem by both Shillinglaw and Ramsey. “Not a lot of people know what we do,” said Ramsey.

Many people associate the Kiwanis just with the youth baseball and soccer programs, but, even after Ramsey reached out to parents of participating children, none of them joined the club. Promotional literature was given out at Kiwanis events, but few people came to a meeting.

Shillinglaw is one of the youngest members in the Kiwanis Club of New Scotland, but she hopes to see more like her among the membership ranks soon.

“Just one person can make a big impact on our club,” she said.

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The Kiwanis Club of New Scotland meets every other Thursday at 6:30 p.m. for dinner at the Presbyterian Church on Route 85. Dinner costs $10, and annual club dues are $80.

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