February 18, 2013

In service, age is not the relevant factor

I love this answer. Optimist Clubs and other service organizations fear that they are "graying." In other words, as baby boomers continue to age, the average age of a service club member continues to rise. In some circles it becomes a great topic of discussion as members lament what they might do to stop this progression. In some remote fear, I believe they think that the lights will turn out when the last one dies.

As an answer to this question, one woman recently deadpanned, "The best way to bring down the average age in a club is to induct more women because, as everybody knows, women never get older than 39."

The answer made me laugh, but more important, the answer is true. Women don't worry about their age when it is time to serve others. They find a way to complete their task and usually  make everyone feel better by doing it. Men, well, not so much. Men are more used to being in leadership positions and it isn't so easy for them to step aside and let others take the reins, provide creativity and assume responsibility.

However, if our service clubs are to survive, and I believe they will, we must acknowledge that it is not our service clubs that are growing older; it is our society. Call it the Graying of America. This graph by the US Census Bureau shows Americans aging at a staggering rate.

According to The Fiscal Times, as of 2010, 24% of the US population is over 50 years of age, while 17 million Americans are between the ages of 75 and 85. By 2050, it claims that there will be more 30 million individuals over 75 years old.

We live longer and healthier lives today than our ancestors, those who started our service clubs with great purpose to serve. I can't imagine that our founders of Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions and Optimist Clubs envisioned a time that an individual would be too old to participate and I can't either.

It's time we stop worrying about the age of our members and put more effort into the programs that make our individual clubs relevant to the communities they serve. Relevance, combined with the "find a way" mindset of the 39-year-old woman, will help our clubs grow in members and and service. I venture to say, it might just help them to decrease in average age as well.
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