A slow-moving crisis in Queens

A crisis is looming in Queens, one that’s facing communities throughout the province and across the country. Service clubs, fraternal orders and other benevolent organizations are in trouble. Deep trouble. And it only seems to be getting worse.

In this week’s issue of LighthouseNow (Progress Bulletin), I wrote about the Lions Club of Liverpool putting its building up for sale. Hall rentals have cratered. Expenses have mushroomed. Most threatening of all, the club’s membership is shrinking and aging.

In more than 50 years of service to the community, the Liverpool Lions have supported a wide array of local causes and institutions. Their financial contributions include major donations to Queens General Hospital and Queens Place Emera Centre. Countless bursaries have been awarded to high school graduates in both Caledonia and Liverpool. And generations of air cadets, brownies, cubs and other young people have benefited greatly from the Lions’ generosity.

With fewer than 20 members, nearly all of them seniors, the Lions Club is beginning to falter. It needs new “new blood” to have a fighting chance at a viable future. As one member told me: “If nothing changes, the club will eventually fold.”

Other organizations are facing similar fates. Council recently approved a request from Mersey Branch, Royal Canadian Legion, that would see Region of Queens have right of acceptance or refusal on the Legion’s building and lands, if and when it ceases operations. “We will continue to keep the branch going as long as we can,” a Legion representative told council.

The Kiwanis and Kinsmen clubs appear to be in the same boat. These organizations have provided an enormous amount of funding to worthwhile causes. They’ve had an immeasurably positive impact on our community. It is truly frightening to think where we’d be without them.

So what can we do? What should we do?

First off, if clubs truly want “fresh blood,” they need to welcome newcomers — and their ideas — with open arms and minds. If older members are not ready to pass the torch and are not prepared for change, they shouldn’t bother trying to recruit. Younger members — and I speak from experience here — are sick to death of hearing, “This is what we’ve always done, so this is what we will always do.”

Secondly, clubs need to consider amalgamation to streamline their operations and do the most good with the available volunteer force. Reinvention, consolidation and laser-like focus on overall effectiveness should be the goal. Among the Lions, Kinsmen and Kiwanis, two clubs should consider giving up their charters and uniting under a common banner.

Finally and most importantly, we need a new vehicle to bring younger folks together in the spirit of service. But it has to be modern and nimble. It has to be free of tired rituals, goofy uniforms and outdated incantations. Members need to be able to contribute according to their own abilities, schedules and priorities.

If our service clubs do not innovate and/or amalgamate, they will ultimately disappear. It’s a sad but simple reality. Yet the tremendous work these groups do must continue in some fashion. Maybe it won’t be Kiwanis burgers or Kinsmen fries or Lions bingo. Maybe it will be something entirely different.

Whatever it is, we need something to fill the void left by the seemingly inevitable demise of traditional service organizations.