by Jeffrey B. Roth, photography by Phil Grout
For some people, joining a service club is a family tradition; for others, it’s for the camaraderie. For some, the clubs offer critical business connections, for others, a meaningful way to give back to their community.
Nationwide, memberships in service clubs like Rotary, Kiwanis and Knights of Columbus have experienced a decline, but thanks in part to Carroll’s strong sense of community and to deliberate moves like shifting meeting times and membership rules, service club memberships remain relatively stable.
Older Americans, baby boomers and the Silent Generation, people born and raised during the World War II era, spend more time volunteering than other age groups, noted officers of the local Kiwanis Club, the Knights of Columbus and the Rotary Club. Their comments mirror a December 2015 report by the National Conference on Citizenship, which reveals that Generation X’ers, 35 to 44 years old, compose the highest percentage of volunteers: 29.8 percent.
Recruiting those volunteers remains a top priority for Carroll’s local service clubs.
“These days, all service clubs are struggling with membership. They just can’t get young members because so many younger professionals have many family obligations,” said Jim Lightner, club secretary for The Rotary Club of Westminster. Founded in 1904, the Westminster Rotary is the oldest service club in Carroll, one of two in Westminster, and one of four rotary clubs in the county.
“In fact, our club was a dinner club for 85 years and then we switched to a lunch club because it was better for keeping members,” added Lighter, a McDaniel College professor emeritus of mathematics.
Currently, the club has about 46 members, ranging in age from 30 to 95 years old. Younger business owners and professionals, just starting out in their careers, tend to work longer hours at their jobs, and have less time to spare volunteering, Lightner said.
One of the factors responsible for the resurgence of service club volunteers is that during the past decade or so, many service clubs, which had male-only membership policies, now are open to women “Now women are the mainstay of the club,” Lightner said. “The last four presidents have been women.”
Members join the Rotary and other service clubs for different reasons—previous ties to the organization, as a way of giving back to the community, to help others, for networking connections and camaraderie, Lightner said noting that in some cases, membership in the Rotary is “an intergenerational tradition; the sons and the grandsons of some of our regular members.”
“We actually have a third generation Rotarian, who is my age,” said Lightner, who became a member after an acquaintance said he would ‘be a good Rotarian.’ “His grandfather was a founding member of the club, his father was in the club, and now he’s a member of the club, but his son didn’t join.”
Rotary members annually raise $25,000 for various causes, Lightner said. Another $10,000-$12,000 are awarded as scholarships at Westminster High School and at the Carroll County Career & Technology Center. Over the past 25 years, the club has raised and donated $500,000. In all, the Westminster club provides funds to about 20 charities and has pledged funds for major projects, such as the YMCA building project and the Carroll Hospital Center.
The club sponsors highway clean up projects several times per year. All the Rotary Club chapters in the county jointly sponsor the Rotary Oktoberfest of Carroll County to raise funds for charitable organizations in the area.
Amy L. Giannakoulias, public relations representative for the Sykesville Rotary, said the club has about 40 members. Through open houses and word-of-mouth, the club recruits new members. The majority of active members are retired, she added.
The Kiwanis of Westminster have about 45 members, said Arthur Riley. Of that number, from 15-18 members are actively involved in fulfilling the club’s mission through various service events.
“We’re stable right now,” said Riley, who serves as an officer on the Kiwanis International board of trustees and a member of the Kiwanis Club of Westminster. “We’ve been growing for the last year or two. We’re just lucky to be in a community like this where we have a fairly stable membership.”
Riley’s father, Ray, is a past club president and governor of Division 9, the Capital District. His wife, Vickie, served as club president in 2015. As a teen, Riley was elected to the Key Club in 1963.
Kiwanis sponsors the Key Club in five area high schools, Riley said. Kiwanis and Key Club members serve the community through food drives, by supporting the community park, conducting fundraising drives for the Carroll Hospital Center, the American Heart Association and the Carroll Cancer Society, Riley said. One of the biggest projects is sponsoring the fireworks at the Carroll County Farm Museum, in July.
This is the seventh year the Kiwanis has sponsored the annual Spotlight on Youth, a program for young people who excel artistically or scholastically, Riley said. Kiwanis also supports the Aktion Club, which is the only service club for young adults with disabilities.
Grand Knight Joseph F. Langan of the Knights of Columbus Westminster Council said there are about 340 members. It is the largest Catholic family service organization in the world.
“I would say there are only about 50 to 70 really active members,” Langan said. “The program is for Catholic men over 18. Most of the active members are of retirement age—when people have time to volunteer.”
The local council is very active in many areas, said William J. Norton, financial secretary of Council 1393. From serving the church to youth and community outreach programs, the Knights of Columbus supports community-based organizations “assisting persons with physical and mental disabilities, homeless and unemployed at the local Cold Weather Shelter, sponsoring a dinner with gifts for families of the Head Start program. The council programs include financial support for families in need through the St. Vincent dePaul Society.”
Langan said the organization sponsors the annual Tootsie Roll campaign to raise money for the Arc of Carroll County. The local council is in the midst of its annual recruiting campaign.
There are about 340 total members. Trying to find new members is a constant endeavor, he added.
Past president of the Lions Club of Westminster, Robert Hayes, said the club is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Founded in 1940, the club has about 40 members, which is down by about 18 members. The Lions Club is well-known for its support of programs related to vision, such as the Maryland Eye Bank, the Maryland School for the Blind and the Lion Leader Dog Program, among others. Lions also sponsors Leo Club, which is for young people under the age of 18. It also sponsors scholarships at Winter Mills and Westminster High School.
“Our members range in age from about 40 to our oldest member who is 92,” Hayes said. “We still need new members—anyone interested in serving their community.”
Service clubs in the area are always in need of new members. Volunteering with service clubs is a rewarding experience, Hayes said.
For more information: Rotary of Westminster, www.mdrotary.org/westminster; Sykesville Rotary, www.sykesville.rotary-clubs.org; Westminster Kiwanis, www.westminstermdkiwanis.org; Westminster Council Knights of Columbus, www.kc1393.org/membership.html; and Westminster Lions Club, www.lionsclubofwestminster.org.