January 27, 2014

Service clubs are built to last

We are frequently told that service clubs are a dying breed, beginning with Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, published in 2000, and continuing with the mindset of many volunteer leaders and workers today.

Putnam's book was subtitled "The Collapse and Revival of American Community." My thoughts today lie in that second verb - revival. You see, I don't believe that service clubs ever collapsed; however, I know that many individuals who made up service clubs were a number of distressing things.

First, they were exclusive. That's right, men made up the service club foundation and their spouses were invited to play along only at social occasions. When women began to be more visible in the workforce, men were slow to adapt to working alongside ladies in the pursuit of good. Truth be told, they probably just didn't want to eat lunch next to them, for whatever reason, and women weren't invited to join the local service club.

When pushed, the Supreme Court said ladies had to be allowed to join and then the service clubs shed many of those men who were set in their ways, many of whom were long-time members. Those men were selfish. They didn't want to share their network, nor the social good they provided, with all. I'll refrain from actively stating that those men disregarded basic human rights. It was just a time of change in our culture, where women and African-Americans were making small steps towards parity and those who didn't like progress demonstrated their distaste by removing themselves as a form of protest.

However, ladies and other minorities joined and that is when the revival began. The pace is insufferably slow, but it is a revival nonetheless as new clubs are built, members are added and more projects are conducted. Service clubs provide community service on a local level every day in cities and regions all around the world.

That revival is to be celebrated. And that is what the Gardena Evening Optimist Club in California plans to do. On Saturday, February 22, 2014, it will hold its 50th Anniversary party. Charter members Herb Kawahara, Burt Nakamura and Sho Hiraizum will be honored.

Now that's a revival, or perhaps just recognition, that some service clubs are built to last.
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