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Service to others, fading away

Eric Phillips of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, says it’s difficult to attract new members to local service clubs;  - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Eric Phillips of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, says it’s difficult to attract new members to local service clubs;
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

Had trouble breathing? Maybe you had to go to the Ridge Meadows Hospital intensive care ward and were hooked up to the Optiflow Kit to stabilize your breathing.

Then thank the Kiwanis Club of Golden Ears. The service club donated to $6,422 this year to provide a second of those machines for the hospital.

Maybe you had to use the exercise tolerance treadmill in the cardiology department.

Thanks to the Knights of Columbus No. 5566 group, which chipped in $15,000, the cardiology department has one.

The dollars for new hospital equipment though could dry up if the groups that donate to them disappear.

With the older generation passing on and the younger one not following, a manpower shortage in service clubs, whose reason to exist is to serve, is reducing money available, and threatening the clubs’ futures.

“The fundraising opportunities haven’t been that great over the past couple of years because we don’t have a lot of people to do it,” said Eric Phillips, with the Maple Ridge Fraternal Order of Eagles for the past nine years.

“We’re not getting the people we used to.”

In the past, the Eagles would raise about $30,000 yearly, allowing generous donations to the Christmas Hamper Society, scouts and girl guides, the Ridge Meadows Hospice Society, or for bursaries, so high school grads could get some help with university tuition.

Last year, the Eagles raised $10,000. While the club has a membership of 55, only a dozen or so show up for the twice monthly meetings at the Eagles Hall on Fern Crescent.

The building itself is at testament to the good the Eagles do. The group took over the mortgage on the building and leased it back to scouts and cubs at affordable rates.

While the loss of funds from the Haney Bingo Plex, has also hurt, many of the Eagle members are in their 80s and can’t get to meetings and events. “They’re getting quite elderly. I’m one of the young ones there and I’m 66.”

Simple demographics hurts the club. An aging population means fewer younger people in the 30s and 40s following behind.

“That’s the same thing that all the groups are suffering from now is age, and a greater reluctance from the younger set to get involved.

“Within that group, there’s more reluctance to pitch in and give their time.”

Many just want to help with their kids’ minor sports activities and leave it at that. Commuting long distances to work is another excuse.

Phillips says the Maple Ridge Branch No. 88 of the Royal Canadian Legion is going through the same thing.

As vets die off, no one is following along.

“My personal opinion is, young people don’t want to do anything anymore. They don’t seem to want to come out and get involved,” Phillips said.

“It’s good to be involved in your community.”

The Lions and the Kiwanis clubs are in the same predicament, while Fraser Health is looking for 30 volunteers to help seniors in Baillie House Residential Care at Ridge Meadows Hospital.

Membership in the Maple Ridge Lions Club, in its 69th year, has dropped from 100 to 40, said president Femmie Gibson.

She says today’s lifestyle makes it tough to find time to help. Parents are too involved with their kids – driving them here and there, and supervising activities – to do much else. Cellphones and computers drain away more time that could be given to the community.

Gibson said the Lions focus on helping individuals, sick kids who need help, or disabled kids who need hearing aids, therapy or visits to children’s camps.

Lions also send money to relief agencies around the world.

As well, Lions pay $10,000 (although it gets sponsorship assistance) for the fireworks show that takes place every year at Ghost Ridge Haunted House at Albion fairgrounds.

But the Lions fundraising concession booth set up at Ghost Ridge during its five days requires six or seven volunteers.

You used to be able to count on 10 newcomers a year. Now Gibson would be happy with one.

“We’re part of a huge organization that provides relief … for all over the world.”

Gibson says anybody, if they can, should volunteer. Belonging to the Lions club requires attending two meetings a month, providing the member has the time.

In return for giving time and efforts, the payback is worth it.

“I think it’s important to note how rewarding it is.

“Sometimes [after helping someone] it just brings tears to your eyes.”

The Kiwanis Club of Golden Ears, with only 10 or 11 members left, and three or four of those older than 80, is facing the largest challenge.

“It’s sad that service clubs that run different programs for adults and children are being curtailed for lack of membership,” said Kiwanis member Harvey Moore, 92, who attends twice-a-month meetings.

“We’re fighting really hard to stay above ground.

“Who knows, it could feasibly disappear in a year or two if the older members are unable to carry on.”

Moore says all groups are facing the same story.

“We’re all suffering.

“It’s just that younger people are living a different lifestyle from what we used to live.

“The older generation, were out to help each other and help those who needed help, and the younger ones are just too busy to give their time to work in that regard.”

The Kiwanis raise money and donate it to parent groups at local elementary and secondary schools, and to the Ridge Meadows Hospital, and to food programs at the Salvation Army. They also sponsor bursaries to help kids coming out of high school with the first few years of post-secondary studies.

For Moore, who’s been a Kiwanis member for 50 years, there’s no intent in stepping back.

“If the older members drop out, a lot of these service clubs would just evaporate.

“We’ll keep going as long as we have air in our lungs, and if the good Lord looks after us, we’ll do what we can.”

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