Do service clubs have a future?
Brandon Sun, January 21, 2019 – David McConkeyWestman’s oldest service club, the Kiwanis Club of Brandon, celebrates its centennial next month. As a Kiwanian myself, I take special interest. And a landmark anniversary presents a chance to reflect on service clubs: their past, their future, and their role in the life of a community.
In today’s modern digital age, service clubs might seem a bit out of place. Instead of making friends on Facebook, meet other people – like, uh – in person? Instead of staring into our phones, get together for a lunch meeting and listen to a guest speaker? Instead of withdrawing into our own echo chambers, interact with others with diverse backgrounds and beliefs?
Kiwanis International began in the U.S. in 1915. The name “Kiwanis” is derived from an Indigenous phrase meaning “we trade.” That was a perfect catchphrase for the businessmen who started the first clubs to network while bettering their communities. In 1920, Kiwanis adopted the motto: “We Build.” A new motto was chosen in 2005: “Serving the Children of the World.”
In 1987, Kiwanis worldwide stopped being “men only.” Now, globally, women make up more than one-quarter of the membership. At the 2008 annual meeting of Kiwanis International, all clubs were encouraged to celebrate and foster a culture of respect and inclusiveness.
Our Brandon club was among the earliest Kiwanis clubs to be established; we received our charter on Feb. 7, 1919. Since our founding, our club has helped others get going, including the Assiniboine Kiwanis Club of Brandon. Each local club sets their own goals and activities within the broader international framework.
What’s it like to be in a service club? You probably know a friend, colleague or neighbour who belongs to one; so don’t hesitate to ask. (Don’t assume service clubs are anything like the Stonecutters, as portrayed on a classic episode of “The Simpsons”!) You can find out about our club at our website.
Over the past century, the Kiwanis Club of Brandon has made its mark in the community. You may have noticed our name at the Massey Manor playground at 7th and Pacific, at Westman Kiwanis Court at 4th and Rosser, or at the Keystone grounds swimming pool (which dates from 1926). We will celebrate our club’s centennial with a gala dinner next month. We will also unveil a pavilion at Rideau Park this spring – spearheaded by us with the involvement of several community partners.
Like other service clubs, Kiwanis has supported many community initiatives over the years. Projects we fund help increase the capacity of other organizations to do their good work. Running through all service clubs and their programs are the themes of partnership, leadership and citizenship.
Service clubs need money to do charitable work. In the 1920s, our club organized and sold tickets to evenings featuring local entertainment and travelling minstrel shows. For many years, Kiwanians sold baskets of apples and cans of peanuts door to door.
Today, we have two major fundraising events. We partner with the Brandon police to auction off unclaimed lost and stolen bicycles. In our Kiwanis Kar Derby, businesses sponsor kids soapbox races down the Rideau Street hill. Our bike auction and Kar Derby not only raise money for worthwhile projects, they also enhance the life of the community.
In preparing for our Kiwanis club centennial, we made an annoying discovery: our historical records were nowhere to be found! Apparently Kiwanians were too busy to properly keep track as they went along. It’s too bad because maintaining a historical record is a good idea. As a side note, if you are a member of any community organization, please consider saving documentation of your efforts for posterity. For ideas, check out the S.J. McKee Archives at Brandon University. The mandate of the archives includes preserving the history of Brandon and of southwestern Manitoba.
A big part of service clubs is the camaraderie among members. For years, our Kiwanis club met for lunch at the Prince Edward Hotel. Now, we have lunch meetings every Tuesday at noon at BU’s Louis Riel Room (beside the main dining hall). Visitors are always welcome.
There might be a new place today for real-life fellowship and real-life philanthropy. Old-time service clubs could have a real future!
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