By Robin Wojtanik
Attend a weekly meeting at Columbia Center Rotary’s event center in Kennewick, and you’ll find a diverse group of members, ranging in both age and profession.
The recent fiscal year-end meeting for the local service organization included the announcement of 16 new dues-paying members joining in the last year, adding to the ranks of 116 total members for the largest group of Rotarians in the Tri-Cities.
It’s a stark contrast to some of the other service organizations in the Tri-Cities, which have struggled to maintain membership, or have even been forced to close due to a lack of participation or an aging member base.
Columbia Center Rotary said it’s no accident membership has grown over the years. The perennial No. 1 club in its district, the chapter has taken a proactive approach to keeping its size near the 120-member mark.
“We’ve used Facebook, we’ve used membership open houses. We invite people to come in and see what the different avenues of service are in our club, (highlighting) what we’re doing, what we’re all about,” said Roger McDowell, newly-installed president of Columbia Center Rotary. Chartered in 1984, the club has grown from an average size of about 40 members in the 1990s to its current size today.
McDowell has been a Columbia Center Rotarian for about 15 years. He joined after being invited to a meeting. He said he appreciated the group’s personal touch. It’s the same method used to find most new members today.
“We are trying to reach out to dynamic people. We invite them to see if Rotary touches them, or engages them,” McDowell said.
This group has connected people around the world with its outreach efforts. Donations and grants on behalf of Columbia Center Rotarians have been offered to groups in Mexico, Belize, Peru, Thailand and South Sudan in the last fiscal year. Projects in the last 12 months have included an inclusive playground, education for impoverished women and medicine for surgeries.
Due to its continued efforts on behalf of students in the Kennewick School District, the group was awarded the 2017 Community Leadership Award on behalf of the Southeast Washington Association of School Administrators.
Columbia Center Rotary keeps its members engaged through various committees including community service, vocational/educational service and special projects. The chapter is credited with starting the highly successful Mid-Columbia Duck Race, now in its 29th year and an event that has grown into a multi-club fundraiser.
A thriving membership base and diversity among its members is the goal of Richland Kiwanis Club’s president-elect, Shasta Meyers.
One of the youngest members of her club, Meyers, 39, was motivated to join because of the group’s commitment to service.
“I’ve been to a lot of different service clubs and I’ve been a member of a lot of different ones, but this group is way different. Their focus is 100 percent on service. It’s not about exchanging numbers, climbing the professional ladder, or networking,” Meyers said.
Kiwanis International has a focus on improving the lives of children. The group is active with the Children’s Developmental Center and credited with the establishment of the library located within the Benton-Franklin Counties Juvenile Justice Center. Besides collecting books for the library, the group provides volunteers to operate the library. “They’re just such devoted people, willing to give their time in so many different ways. Not only do they fund raise to support different programs in the Tri-Cities, they are also active volunteers as well. I was really moved by that,” Meyers said.
As she prepares to take the helm of her chapter, Meyers knows she has a challenge ahead of her to keep the ranks of Richland Kiwanis growing. She reports the average age of club members is 75 years old. Yet most show no sign of slowing. The club is still fully responsible for the pancake breakfast fundraiser held each year for hundreds who attend Cool Desert Nights. Meyers worries the loyal membership base will “age out” as the years roll on, and knows of at least two local Kiwanis Clubs which closed due to lack of enrollment. She sees the ongoing membership recruitment challenge as a mix of people focusing their interests on specific charities rather than overall service, or just a general unwillingness to serve or volunteer their time.
Soroptimist International of Three Rivers meets as a group once a month. During the time between, various committees are dedicated to both outreach and fundraising. With a focus on empowering women and girls through social and economic means, the local chapter is comprised of women only, though men are allowed to be “Soroptimisters.” The group hovers around a membership of three dozen, with most people joining based on the referral of a current member.
Soroptimist International of Three Rivers President Jana Kay Lunstad is finding that the more people exposed to their club through outreach and volunteer efforts, the more they are interested in signing up. But the goal is not simply to add to the rolls.
Lunstad is most encouraged by the group’s growing increase in fundraising, while keeping membership steady. The organization relies on two major fundraisers for the base of its annual budget, including a winemaker dinner and a holiday dinner and auction, which will instead be held in the fall this year. These events helped provide $17,000 in scholarships for women in the last fiscal year.
Lunstad’s group also has focused on social media as a way to grow its membership and increase awareness of the organization.
“Every Facebook post addresses one of our four pillars: membership, fundraising, public awareness or programs,” Lunstad said. Using these pillars, the group hopes to strengthen its position to help women and girls around the world.
Local Soroptimists brought its unique “Dream It, Be It” program to Kennewick’s Tri-Tech Skills Center. The seven-week program focuses on career mentoring of teenaged moms. “Dream It, Be It” was such a success, Lunstad said Tri-Tech may adopt the curriculum on its own.
Three Rivers Soroptimists skew younger than most local service organizations, with half of its membership under age 40.
It’s a position Meyers would like the Richland Kiwanis Club to be in one day, and she intends to focus on new recruitment once she begins serving as club president.
Fighting the assumption that service organizations are for a different generation than today’s millennials, McDowell said, “We are aware of the changing times,” and posed the thought, “For young people, ‘Where do you go to develop leadership skills?’”
To answer that challenge, Columbia Center Rotary is preparing to offer a leadership development program to its members ages 40 and under.
Collectively, chapters of Rotary International, Kiwanis International and Soroptimist International consist of about a dozen different clubs in the Tri-Cities, with Rotary International having the greatest number of individual clubs, ranging in membership size from 25 to 116. This doesn’t include other service organizations including Lions Club International and Key Clubs located at local high schools. Both are active in service projects and outreach within the Tri-Cities.
Each service club is actively seeking new members,
“We invite people to come try us on for size,” said McDowell. Through referrals, open houses and even the offer of a free lunch, the voluntary nonprofits hope potential members will consider finding a new purpose for their time and passions through hands-on involvement in projects throughout the Tri-Cities and around the world, keeping the legacy of service alive for future generations.
Each service organization offers a “club finder” option on its website to locate chapters around the community, also listing their regular meeting times and locations.