Service clubs have enriched our communities

This month, the New London Rotary Club will dedicate a new pavilion at Ocean Beach Park. The event is the culmination of a more than half million-dollar project that will mark the most recent in a long history of community contributions the club has made to the city through the years. These range from the playground at Toby May Field to the “Welcome to New London” sign spelled out in nautical flags on the city police station to sponsoring a summer enrichment program for middle schoolers.

New London Rotary is not alone in its service efforts. The Pawcatuck Lions team with the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center to offer once-a-month breakfasts for the needy. Niantic Rotary provided a handicapped accessible recreational field in East Lyme. Norwich Rotary funds goats for impoverished families in Haiti. Kiwanis clubs grant scholarships to students throughout the region. Lions clubs donate tens of thousands of dollars to research aimed at ending preventable blindness.

These are just a few examples on a lengthy list of service club projects that improve communities locally, nationally and internationally. Just as notable as the projects themselves is the fact that many of these organizations accomplish this work with a relatively small number of people. New London Rotary, for example, has about 75 members.

Many service clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions have their roots in the early years of the 20th century, a time when there was a growing progressive movement aimed at improving lives in an increasingly complex, industrialized and diversified country. The clubs provided camaraderie and social interaction for their members.

Along with breakfast or luncheon meetings punctuated by songs, rituals and merriment came serious missions. The groups worked to establish kindergartens, eradicate polio, provide clean water, serve nutritious meals and support boys’ and girls’ clubs.

They adopted mottos emphasizing their missions to community service. “Service above self,” “We serve” and “Service brings its own reward” remain the guiding principles.

A century after these groups were founded, membership globally remains healthy. Rotary International has some 1.2 million members worldwide. Lions Clubs International has 1.4 million members in 46,000 clubs globally.

Despite these impressive numbers, however, these organizations, like many groups that rely on volunteers, regularly struggle to lure new members and actively seek ways to remain viable by bolstering dwindling and aging ranks. It’s unfortunate that Americans’ increasingly busy lifestyles, long work commutes, and social media outlets make service organization membership an impossibility for too many and an unattractive option for others.

Yet we don’t have to search long to find the many ways these groups enrich our communities and the lives of those who do join. Those seeking a good way to get to know their community and make a valuable contribution to it should consider exploring membership in a service organization. Providing even a small amount of time to such an organization could yield a big reward.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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