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Groups like Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions International both perform good deeds and are social opportunities.

STAFF PHOTO: JASON CHANEY - Kiwanis club members Larry Penington, Gary Romine and Corey Lopez work on construction of a splash pad in Madras last fall. It's one of many charitable works led by service clubs throughout Oregon and the world.Kiwanis clubs to support local schoolchildren are starting up in Forest Grove and Beaverton.

Lions clubs are holding a "food fight" collection event for the Oregon Food Bank at Walmart locations in Beaverton, Tigard and Sherwood this Saturday, Feb. 2.

Rotary clubs are organizing a Peace Village summer workshop for middle-schoolers in Forest Grove.

Yes, it seems everywhere we look, service clubs are putting their muscle behind efforts to make our community a better place to live. And while it's easy to let the affairs of these groups hum along in the background of our fast-paced, digital-age world, we think they deserve a little bit of recognition.

Service clubs bring together people from all walks of life. What distinguishes them is their focus on good works. Kiwanians work to promote child literacy, provide food and supplies for students in need, and otherwise help children. Lions and Rotarians are more broadly focused, but service projects include sponsoring eye clinics both in the United States and abroad, assisting with hurricane relief in places like Texas and Puerto Rico, and planting trees to help restore native habitat.

The work that these clubs do is important.

Rotary International is perhaps best known for its efforts to end polio, a waterborne illness that was once a scourge of major American cities and is now, thanks to a worldwide awareness campaign and vaccination program, endemic in only Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan — and well on its way to total eradication. Such a monumental effort requires many, many partners, but Rotary is among those who have played a key role.

It is true that the Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary clubs still carry somewhat of a patrician, chauvinistic reputation. After all, it wasn't until 1987 that the groups — almost simultaneously — began allowing women as members. And technically, those interested in joining typically need the sponsorship of a current member, although this step is mostly a formality in many clubs.

Over the past few decades, though, as these service clubs have opened up, they have also become much more populist in nature. Women have grown in prominence over the years in the organizations, and female club presidents and district governors are now commonplace. In many clubs, formal dress codes have gone by the wayside. Members come from various backgrounds; not everyone runs a business, serves in local office or even fits within the middle class.

However, while they have become far less monolithically male and moneyed, the demographics of service club membership are skewing older. If these graying groups die out in the coming decades, who will fill the void? Who will raise the money and do the work done by Rotarians, Lions, Kiwanians and others to fight polio, hearing and vision loss, illiteracy, and more?

In truth, there's a lot that these clubs can offer younger adults, too.

While web communities are often unfairly maligned — if you're an adult and you know your way around the internet, what's wrong with befriending people with whom you share a common interest, even if you only know them online? — the advent of smartphones and social media means many people spend a great deal of their free time texting, messaging and just generally staring at screens, even when they are "talking" to friends and family. There is value in actually meeting and socializing with people, in the flesh, on a regular basis. Consider, as well, the dynamic of everyone in the group being community-minded individuals working toward positive outcomes.

Joining a service club might seem like just one more thing to put on a busy schedule, or one more set of dues to pay. But if you can manage it, you just might find it to be a worthwhile addition to your life: a healthy, emotionally supportive way to engage with the people around you and assist people in need.


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