What’s old is new again for the Modesto Kiwanis Club. The service organization, begun in Modesto in 1923, helped start a new club, Greater Modesto Kiwanis, in the mid-1950s. But the two clubs experienced diminishing membership in more recent years, as many service groups have, so they merged into one. They’ve kept the Modesto Kiwanis name.
The combined group has about 60 active members and growing. In just the month since the clubs united, a couple of people have joined. That was the whole idea: that a stronger club could grow stronger, while two smaller clubs would continue to dwindle.
John Field, who was with the Greater Modesto club, likened the situation to a first impression when entering a restaurant. If you see only a few people at dinnertime, you wonder what’s wrong. If it’s crowded, you figure it’s a place worth patronizing.
The clubs had a tough cycle to break. Declining attendance meant fewer members bringing fewer guests who might join. It meant fewer members to serve on committees and help with volunteer projects, so fewer people would benefit. The Modesto and Greater Modesto clubs combined service projects, so now there are six a year, with a greater pool of volunteers.
There are Kiwanis clubs in 80 nations. Members stage nearly 150,000 service projects and raise nearly $100 million every year for communities, families and projects.
And just as members of the two clubs who didn’t even know each other before have become fast friends, Field said, he believes that energized camaraderie will be attractive to guests at meetings and events.
That’s not to say the future is all sunny and clear for the Modesto Kiwanis Club. Despite its strong engagement of high school youth through its Key Clubs in five Modesto high schools, it still faces increasing disinterest by young people in joining what they view as clubs made up of old people.
Part of it is younger generations’ reluctance to make a long-term commitment, Field said. “It’s not that they don’t want to help their community,” he said, but they more often than not like to do so through one-day events such as Ride for Mom and Relay for Life.
There are 5K races that support just about any charity you can think of, club director Pat Glattke added.
“I think the corporate culture doesn’t support service clubs like it used to,” she said. Big companies once urged, even required, employees to get out in the community, network and represent the businesses in a good light.
Field agreed, and added, “I joined Kiwanis in 1974. I’m a dentist and it was a good way to make contacts in the community.” But today’s young people don’t see that value. They have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other online ways to make contacts.
In 30 countries, members of 5,000 Key Clubs perform more than 12 million service hours each year, such as cleaning up parks, collecting clothing and organizing food drives.
Key Clubs stay strong for several reasons: High school students are looking for involvement to put on their college applications; the Kiwanis clubs offer thousands of dollars in scholarships; and public high schools typically require community-service hours for graduation.
The challenge for Kiwanis is to build a strong bridge to continue involvement from high school through college and into the adult world. The organization does have a college-level group, Circle K International, but it’s not nearly as widespread as Key Clubs, Glattke said.
UC Merced has a Circle K club, but California State University, Stanislaus, does not, said Modesto Kiwanis member Ken Williams, who also is the newly installed lieutenant governor for District 46 of Kiwanis International. “We tried to get one started at MJC, but it didn’t take off,” said Williams, who added that one of his goals as lieutenant governor is to address the drop-off between Key Club and Circle K and between Circle K and adulthood.
The youngest, and biggest, Kiwanis club in the city, North Modesto Kiwanis, apparently doesn’t share the membership challenge. Founded in 1966, the club began with just 25 members and has grown to just more than 100. “Eighty percent of their members still are employed, and 80 percent of ours are retired,” Modesto Kiwanis Secretary Terry McGrath said.
Kiwanis International, founded in 1915 in Detroit, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Glattke said she believes that group’s morning meetings work to its advantage. Businesspeople can meet early in the day, then get on with an uninterrupted workday, she said. Modesto Kiwanis meets for lunch every Tuesday.
The two – previously three – clubs sometimes join forces, as they did in 2013 for a Kids Against Hunger drive. The clubs, their eight high school Key Clubs and the Modesto Sunshine Rotary packaged and sent off 20,000 food packages for starving children in Haiti.
In 2011, the Modesto Kiwanis assumed sponsorship of the Fourth of July parade from the Modesto Jaycees. It also works with Haven Women’s Center and sponsors a Sea Scout troop and Boy Scout troop. North Modesto Kiwanis has a higher profile with sponsorship of the American Graffiti Car Show and Festival and the Modesto City Schools Special Education Track Meet.
“Our biggest project is the Key Clubs,” Glattke said. “That’s where we put most of our time and money.”
With Kiwanis International, she said, its big effort this decade is The Eliminate Project with UNICEF. The aim is to eradicate maternal and neonatal tetanus. The life-threatening disease has been controlled in the U.S. through vaccinations, Glattke said, but in many underdeveloped parts of the world, it kills nearly 49,000 babies each year.
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327
To learn more
For more on Modesto Kiwanis, call Terry McGrath at 209-604-2417 or go to www.modesto-kiwanis.org. For more on North Modesto Kiwanis, go to www.northmodestokiwanis.org. And for more on The Eliminate Project, go to http://sites.kiwanis.org/Kiwanis/en/theELIMINATEproject/home.aspx.