For years, community service organizations have provided funds and volunteers to area causes, but these organizations are now facing a generation less interested in volunteerism.

For years, community service organizations have provided funds and volunteers to area causes, but these organizations are now facing a generation less interested in volunteerism.
This leaves local groups concerned about their futures and community leaders worrying about how the void will be filled if the service organizations would fade away.
 McPherson has six groups dedicated to service, including two Kiwanis International chapters, a Lions club, an Optimist International chapter, a Rotary chapter and a chapter of Shriners International. Many of these groups report diminishing membership, and some attribute it to the busy lives many people lead.
“We’ve talked to younger people and not had any success,” said Tom Frankenfield, program chairman for Light Capital Kiwanis. “As old people, we’re searching for something to interest young people and get them involved.”
This decline is not just a local phenomenon. Lions club membership has dropped form 585,000 in the 1980s to 300,000, and Kiwanis International's membership has declined from 227,863 to 162,782 since 2000.
There were 368,145 Rotarians in the United States in 2009. That number dropped to 337,133 in 2013.
Locally, Lions club membership has dropped form 80 members in the early 50s to 19 members. Light Capital Kiwanis, one of two McPherson chapters, has fallen to 13 members now from 40 to 45 members in the 1960s and 1970s.
Kiwanis Club of McPherson had 78 members in 2002. Now, it has between 40 and 45.
“Most of our members are older,” said Paul “Zeke” Anderson, president of the local Lions club chapter. “Young people have so much they’re doing right now.”
Volunteerism across the United States has been on the decline. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 62.6 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2012 and September 2013. The volunteer rate in 2013 was the lowest it has been since 2002, the first year the numbers were tracked.
Data suggests that younger people are less likely to do volunteer work than middle-aged and older people. By age, 35- to 44-year-olds were most likely to volunteer at a rate of 30.6 percent. Volunteer rates were lowest among 20- to 24-year-olds at 18.5 percent.
For people 45 years and older, the volunteer rate tapered off as age increased. Teens 16 to 19 years old had a volunteer rate of 26.2 percent.

Giving back
The Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary and Optimist organizations began in the early 1900s. Originally, they were a way for businessmen to meet each other and share ideas. Eventually, the purpose of these organizations evolved to include giving back to their communities.
These groups uphold this purpose today, both internationally and locally. For example, Kiwanis International has funded projects to eliminate diseases, such as neonatal and maternal tetanus. The local Light Capital Kiwanis do craft projects with kids at Roosevelt Elementary School and recognize outstanding students every month.
“It’s a good way for kids to have a mentor,” Frankenfield said. “It gives the children a feel-good notion about themselves.”
Local Optimists have donated to over 30 youth-oriented groups, including Special Olympics and the McPherson Education Foundation. The Lions Club, which focuses on vision issues, collects used eyeglasses to send to places in Africa or South America, where such things are hard to come by.
“People walk for miles to get something like that,” Anderson said. “It’s a tremendous reward for someone to be able to see.”
Rotary International has worked to eradicate polio worldwide. It also supports local organizations and programs, such as United Way and the summer lunch program, through financial contributions and volunteers.
It also provides McPherson third graders with dictionaries to aid them in school work.
Club members say the work they do brings them personal satisfaction knowing they're helping others. Anderson, who first joined Lions club in 1954, said he was impressed with the support club members gave children in 4-H and decided he wanted to do that, too.
“The benefit is a companionship with other members,” Anderson said. “It’s rewarding work we do for people with sight problems.”
Frankenfield said being part of Kiwanis International has helped him keep up-to-date about the community.
“It’s a sense of giving back, knowing you help children,” he said. “With the speakers, it keeps you abreast of current developments in the community.”
For Becky Goss, president of the McPherson County Community Foundation and member of McPherson’s Rotary Club, it’s about meeting new people and promoting her professional work.
“I’ve developed a lot of friendships, and that’s helped me promote the Foundation,” she said. “It’s always wonderful.”

Changing times
The clubs’ presence in the community used to be stronger. But with diminishing membership, local clubs have had to scale back their operations, canceling some of their services and turning others over to different groups.
Light Capital Kiwanis used to put on a fireworks show every July 4, but the club’s low membership means it doesn’t have enough people to run it. The Lions have stopped doing their book and broom sales.
Even the local Optimist Club, which has seen steady membership, has had fewer requests for volunteers. Dennis Shaw, president of the local club, said he thinks it’s because not as many people know the Optimists are available.
“If people ask, we get involved,” he said “I don’t think as many people ask.”
Shrinking membership isn’t for lack of effort on the clubs’ part. Kiwanis International uses its Key Club to get high school students involved, and the club recently expanded to China. Locally, Light Capital Kiwanis has reached out to groups like YP MAC to bolster its numbers.
These efforts have not reversed the club’s decline in membership.
“We’ve had our members talk to people and try to find interest, but it hasn’t been very successful,” Frankenfield said.
However, recruitment has been better for some groups. Goss said the club’s membership was in decline at one point. However, the group successfully recruited some new, younger members and has held its membership steady at around 45.
“We’re working to recruit some younger members, and we’ve had a few,” Goss said.
Goss said she thinks the key is for service groups to adjust to changes in society.
“Service clubs as a whole are experiencing a decline, but I don’t think they’ll go away,” she said. “I believe they’re at a redefining point.”
Jennifer Burch, executive director of the McPherson Chamber of Commerce, said the impact service organizations have on the community is difficult to measure.
“They provide a lot of hours in volunteer work as well as fundraising. It’s a huge economic impact,” she said.
Ann Kirchner, director of United Way of McPherson County, said she appreciates the focus each group brings to community causes and ability they have to bring people to a project.
“Without volunteers, many projects wouldn’t happen,” Kirchner said. “They’re always looking for programs or listening to speakers to find new ways to help.”
Though many people may not think about service groups, Burch said the work they do, from promoting recycling to helping people break the cycle of poverty, is invaluable.
“If all nonprofits came to a halt, I’d hate to think of the negative impact,” she said. “We’ve come to depend on them, and they provide a priceless service to our community.”