At a time when many service clubs are struggling with membership, Kiwanis International has embraced society’s changes and is well poised for the future.
Sue Petrisin, Kiwanis International President, attended the Can-Am Goodwill banquet in Chatham last week, where 120 Kiwanians from Ontario, Michigan and Ohio met. It was the first time the Chatham club hosted the event.
Petrisin told the Voice flexibility is the key to growth and long-term health of service organizations.
“Service clubs are just as relevant today as they were when Kiwanis began 100 years ago,” she said. “What we need to realize is that our clubs need to move with society. The more we adapt to what society is doing, the better we are.”
The traditional idea of people coming to a lunch meeting on a Tuesday doesn’t work for everyone due to commitments to work, family or for financial reasons, she said.
“About five years ago our organization said instead of being strict and saying you have to do this or that, we would let the clubs decide what’s important to them,” she said.
Petrisin, a Kiwanian with more than 27 years of perfect attendance, said she realizes that may not be possible for everyone.
“We have a 3-2-1 club that devotes three hours to service, two hours of social an one hour of meeting,” she said. “We have a club in Ohio who has a member from Taiwan. We have other clubs who meet online only and we have plenty of traditional clubs. They’re all doing service, they’re just doing service in their own way.”
Former president George Service said the Chatham club has actually increased its membership that currently stands at 58.
Cathy Telfer, Division 3 Lieutenant Governor, (Chatham-Kent), said allowing the free-flow of ideas has kept the club fresh throughout the years.
“It’s a very open, caring group,” she said. “We’re all here to serve and we enjoy what we do.”
Kiwanis International was founded in Detroit in 1915 and the Chatham club was founded 15 years later, in 1930.
The organization, whose motto is Serving the Children of the World, has 600,000 members in 80 nations.
Locally, the Chatham Club is known for its annual Kiwanis Music Festival with more than 700 participants each spring.
It also partners with the Chatham-Kent Library in a youth literacy project KLICR (Kiwanis and the Library Inspire Children to Read).