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Service club memberships benefit us all

Brookhaven is blessed with several civic clubs that do more good for the local community than most people realize. But there is a troubling trend among service clubs everywhere, and Brookhaven is not immune.

While I couldn’t find statistics showing the rate of decline in civic clubs nationwide, it’s clear that clubs are smaller than they once were. Visit Rotary, Lions, Servitium or any of the other clubs in the area, and you’ll see the evidence. Empty chairs.

As president of the Rotary Club, I see first-hand the struggles that civic clubs have in attracting and retaining new members. Fortunately, the Rotary Club is working to reverse this trend and several new members have joined this year. Just last year, the club won an award for largest percentage increase in membership.

But we still have fewer members than at the club’s high point just a few years ago. I would guess the other civic clubs could say the same.

No one would argue that these clubs bring tremendous value to their communities. They donate to scholarships, help eradicate polio, help with food drives, help prevent blindness and countless other local, national and international efforts.

Despite knowing the benefits, club membership has become less attractive for younger professionals. Maybe they are too busy at work, too busy with children, too busy with life in general. Whatever the reason, there are fewer young people joining civic clubs these days. And that’s a problem.

And not just for the clubs themselves. It’s a problem for the entire community. Without vibrant service clubs, Brookhaven would not be what it is today. They have provided opportunities for service and leadership that don’t always come at a job or church.

So what’s the solution? How do civic clubs attract the next generation of leaders? They have tried several things: less-frequent meetings, meeting venue changes, more flexibility in attendance requirements, web-based club meetings, family-friendly meetings and a host of other efforts. Some have been successful, some have not.

But the root problem is deeper than the format of the club meeting or where the members gather. American life is busier, more about “me” than about “us,” and, in general, people are less concerned about community service. All of us tend to retreat to our little worlds of work and family instead of engaging with the community. We divide ourselves along racial, political, religious and ideological lines, and we cross those lines less frequently today.

Civic clubs are not the only groups impacted by this, but I think civic clubs are in a position to do something about it. I think most of us have an in-built desire to help our fellow man. It may have been years since we’ve felt it, but it’s in there.

For some, that desire to help others doesn’t have an outlet, so they ignore it until it quits nagging them. For some, church is that outlet. For others, they see their position at work as a way to give back. But not everyone does.

There are some of you out there who have the urge to help, to give back, to make a difference. You just don’t know where to start or what to do. Brookhaven’s civic clubs may be the place for you.

Where else can you enjoy a good meal, fellowship with other like-minded folks, and make a difference in Brookhaven, Lincoln County and around the world? While I would love to see you at Rotary (we meet at the country club at noon on Thursdays), I won’t complain if you join another service club. Just join somewhere.

Brookhaven and Lincoln County are better because of the work of its service clubs. I encourage you to do your part to further that legacy.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.