12/30/09 — Civic-minded: Groups that provide underpinning for community face declining membership

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Civic-minded: Groups that provide underpinning for community face declining membership

There is a crisis in its early stages in Wayne County.

It is not immediately apparent, unless you are one of this endangered breed.

The pool of people willing to serve in leadership positions in local organizations -- and even to be active members in these groups -- is shrinking rapidly.

The names on the rosters of many of the key boards for charitable and community-based interests in Wayne County are almost always a small group of about 10-15 people who are always called on when there is a leadership role to be undertaken.

And, sad to say, many of them are nearing retirement age or are simply worn out from being in charge of so much for so long.

That means many of them are saying "no" and leaving spots they hope the next generation will fill.

The problem is, there is not a flock of young professionals willing to take up the reins.

In some local civic organizations, the memberships have aged so much that the very existence of those groups is being threatened. Some of them might even become extinct soon.

This might not seem like a huge problem -- after all, there are many more concerns that Wayne County needs to deal with a whole lot quicker than whether local civic groups survive and have leaders to run them.

But there are consequences for this loss that should concern Wayne County residents from all walks of life.

Some of the local organizations that are facing membership and leadership droughts are traditional groups that have been around for decades. To lose them is to lose generations of community involvement and good works that will now go undone.

And then there is the community-building factor. A strong community needs people who are active, interested and involved. If most people are waiting for someone else to do the work, the key projects that could move this county forward will remain nothing more than pie-in-the-sky plans. A county with a future needs more than good leaders. It also needs a citizenry willing to invest time in making it better.

The men and women who have formed the core of this volunteer corps have done exceptional work. They have taken leadership roles not to further their careers or because they had too much free time, but because they thought it was important to the future of their community.

They are the backbone of many organizations across the county -- from the United Way and Boys and Girls Club to the Red Cross and the Chamber of Commerce.

They have made so much happen that it is possible that their communities might have taken them a bit for granted.

And now, it is time for someone else to take over.

Young professionals are busy not only with careers, but also with raising families. Yet their contributions to these organizations are vital.

Now is the time for them to step up and learn the ropes, while these longtime volunteers are still around to teach them. They will carry the banner forward.

Getting involved does not have to mean hours of work. Getting started often only requires a small commitment -- yet, it yields large rewards.

In the end is not only payback to those who have helped create the community you now enjoy, but a fulfillment of responsibility to Wayne County's children -- to build a strong and vibrant community for them.

Published in Editorials on December 30, 2009 10:25 AM