11/13/06 — Clubs say members are harder to recruit

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Clubs say members are harder to recruit

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on November 13, 2006 1:45 PM

Wayne County might lose some of its most valuable community service groups because they can't get members, especially younger ones.

With limited interest from younger residents, several well-known and long-time clubs are "aging out." Older members simply cannot carry out community service projects without help, they say, which threatens the future of the organization.

Goldsboro Woman's Club, which was founded in 1899, is one of those groups.

The club's members have brought about a lot of positive changes to the community including traveling libraries, the annual Empty Stocking Fund party and a full-time health and welfare department.

But now the average age of club members is 70, said Linda de Araujo, president.

"That's putting it on the young side," she said. "And due to ill health, we've lost 10 members in the past year. Recently, we've had five women visit our meetings, but only two were willing to join."

One woman who was in her early 60s told Mrs. de Araujo that she didn't want to be in with an older crowd.

"But that's our problem -- a lot of our members are in their 80s and we can't get younger members," Mrs. de Araujo said.

She said the Woman's Club is looking for younger members -- women in their 50s and 60s. The club used to get members from the Junior Woman's Club, but that doesn't happen anymore and even the junior club has problems generating membership interest.

Mrs. de Araujo said the Woman's Club is finding it hard to do a lot of projects.

"A lot of our members can make it to the meeting each month, but that's about all they can do," she said. "If our youngest member is 64, what do you think is going to happen to the club in 10 or 15 years?" she said.

Mrs. de Araujo is also a member of one of Goldsboro's garden clubs and said it is also have trouble getting younger members.

"My club recently picked up two new members, and they are in their 70s," she said.

Her ladies guild at St. Mary's Church has the same problem. "We have young women in the church who are not members of the guild," she said. "The 50- and 60-year-old women's families are grown and gone, so that couldn't be a reason for them not getting involved."

Some potential members have told Mrs. de Araujo that now that their children are grown, they want to do things for themselves.

"They don't want to do anything that involves community service work," she said. "What if we all felt that way? Everybody would just fold up everything and stay home and do their own thing."

Mrs. de Araujo said she feels that getting out and helping others keeps people active and healthier.

"Everybody is trying to find himself, but you find yourself by getting involved in the community. It's a wonderful thing for people to be involved."

Another icon in the community -- the Wayne County Extension and Community Association -- is also having problems getting younger members.

"The ECA would love to increase its membership," said Sandra Head, extension agent. "It has been a topic we have frequently addressed."

She said that although the organization welcomes all adults, clubs typically have a greater number of members who have retired from the workplace or whose children are grown.

"Individuals who are still working and raising children are often overwhelmed in today's world as it is," Mrs. Head said. "Thus, ECA targets individuals who have recently found themselves with a little more time to share."

She said that it has become more difficult to recruit new members with today's ever-increasing fast-paced lifestyles.

"ECA has recently taken the time to assess how it can strengthen itself through its current members and reach out to the perhaps different needs of the upcoming Baby Boomer retirees," said Mrs. Head. "For example, members feel that they need to stress not only the many projects and volunteer hours conducted, but also share how friendships have developed within clubs, across the county and even throughout the state because of participation in ECA."

Women's groups are not the only clubs facing membership problems.

The Golden K Kiwanis Club is an older group with an average age of 80, said Jim Diffee, president. There are presently 67 members, most of whom are either retired or work only part-time.

"Usually we get about four or five new members a year," he said. "But we're having problems getting new members now."

The club meets once a month and does many community service projects, such as providing teaching assistance at Northeast School, ringing the bell for the Salvation Army and delivering meals to the Kitty Askins Center.

Diffee attributes the lack of new members to the multitude of activities that people can be involved in today. "It seems like people are busier and busier," he said. "Everybody is busy. There's so much for people to do nowadays."

Clubs are not the only groups hurting for members, especially younger ones. United Way of Wayne County's board is mostly older, Executive Director Steve Parr said. "But we're working on that," he said.

Keeping interest in the organization's mission is also important, he added. To recruit younger volunteers, United Way is setting up a Web page specifically for teens.

"We have to get the youths involved and get them to do it now," Parr said. "If not, they won't do it in the future."

And capturing youth interest is a problem for many nonprofits and civic clubs, he added.

"They are spending more time with their families and at their jobs," he said. "And it's becoming a challenge to recruit that age group (teens, 20s and 30s)."

Schedules can also play havoc with filling volunteer hours. Boys and Girls Club of Wayne County Director Mary Ann Dudley said the club's problem is the hours that it needs volunteers. The club serves children from 3 to 7 p.m. and it's hard to get volunteers on a regular basis during those hours, she said.

"We need volunteers who can do a longtime commitment, even if only for short periods at a time," said Mrs. Dudley. "With a youth service agency like us, having volunteers is having extra eyes, ears and hands to help. It doesn't always take extra knowledge and know-how, just time."

The Arts Council's interim director Pat Setzer said that getting volunteers is cyclical. "It depends on what time of year you need them and what's going on," she said. "It's easier to get people to come once or twice and do short projects."

She said she has found that it's also easier to pull volunteers in for special events, such as the Arts Council's Sunday in the Garden.

Yet with so many older groups and clubs having problems getting younger members, that doesn't seem to be an issue with some of the school volunteer groups.

Eastern Wayne High School's Key Club, a junior version of the adult Kiwanis Club, is in its 10th year and has anywhere from 60 to 70 members, said Vince Beasley, club director.

Members meet every Thursday at 7 a.m. and commit to giving 50 hours each year doing community service projects.

"The club is run by the students," Beasley said. "It gives them lots of leadership opportunities for the students on various committees. These kids have a great attitude and they want to get involved in things."

The Key Club at Charles B. Aycock High School is only in its first year and has about 85 members.

Adviser Lee Person said it's the largest service organization in the school.

He said he was surprised at the number of students who showed up at the first meeting at 7:15 one morning. He said that volunteering is the "in" thing among today's young adults.

"We did not get these kids. They came to us with their desire to start this organization," Person said.

He said he feels they will continue volunteering in the future. "Most have been raised by parents who serve on committees at school, coach the little kids in community sports and give of themselves for the betterment of the whole," he said.