Non-profit civic organizations have come along way since their inception, Lynda Bachelor, coordinator of Hands ON Kansas State, a volunteer action center on the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan.
“Before a non-profit IRS status started, these civic groups were elite groups, or mostly women of leisure,” Bachelor said of the dozens of civic organizations that exist today. “That’s basically how a lot of the civic-minded people started. These women said, if the government can’t do it, we will.”
Many of the organizations like the Rotary International, the Lions Club and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) exist today in Gardner. Their missions serve a variety of local, national and international philanthropic missions. For example, the Rotary Club’s international focus is to eradicate polio while others, like the VFW largely focuses on veterans’ causes.
Kristina Harrison, a Gardner City Council member, is active in a variety of community-minded projects.
Harrison is a member of the American Legion Post 19 and helped organize Gardner’s Meals on Wheels route through her job at CenturyLink. She also donates time to community events like Festival on the Trails and causes like SafeHome and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
“I am not an actual Big Sister, however, I am able to help with various fundraising events that occur once or twice a year,” she said. “It is less of a time commitment, but still offers a positive impact to the organization.”
Bachelor said nationwide some of the groups have members that are aging and have been unable to attract younger members.
Sheri Barber, vice president and membership chair for the American Legion Auxiliary in Gardner, recently attended a Legion Auxiliary district conference where she learned that the national organization will cease to exist by 2021 if current membership trends continue.
“We’re OK,” she said. “As a local organization, our membership is fine and we are gaining new members,” she said. “We’ve got a lot more potential than we’re tapping into, though.”
At a recent meeting, she challenged each of the club’s members to recruit one new member this year.
She and Harrison agree that members of civic groups get something out of their involvement.
“I like meeting new people,” Harrison said. “And like the Festival (on the Trails) and SafeHome, they’re things I believe in. And I believe that organizations like that can only continue to function if there are people to help keep them going.”
“To be honest, I feel good giving back,” Barber said. “I get to stay active with my peers.”
Barber said she first started getting involved in community organizations when her children were young. She started in groups like Novel Navigators, Booster Club and Project Graduation.
“Now that my kids are older, I’ve moved on to more adult-type organizations,” she explained. “I just feel it’s my duty to give back to the community that I live in in some way.”
She estimates she spends approximately five hours each week in her role with the Legion Auxiliary. The time commitment may be a reason more young people aren’t involved in
civic organizations, Harrison said.
“People are busier today with work and kids and a lot of people travel with their jobs,” Harrison said. “I also think we’re in society – people think giving money is just as good as giving time. I don’t believe that’s always the case, personally.”
Some groups are bucking the trend locally and nationally, according to Bachelor who studies civic organizations in her role at K-State.
For example, she cited the Pilot Club in Manhattan, who recently changed the focus of their philanthropy to better serve the local community.
Traditionally, the organization focuses on brain disorders.
“But they surveyed their membership and their survey said that many of their members had family members or close friends with autism,” Bachelor said.
They changed the focus of their local philanthropy efforts to austim and it benefited their membership directly, Bachelor said.
“They figured out what their membership was and who was willing to be involved,” she said.
The Gardner News is doing a weekly series on civic organizations in southwest Johnson County. To have your organization featured, contact Danedri Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (913)856-7615.