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Lions clubs looking for younger members to 'serve'

January 19, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

"We Serve" is the Lions Club's motto. If you need a wheelchair or eyeglasses or food at Christmas or a scholarship to college, your local Lions Club can probably help.

But Lions depend upon active members to carry out the many charitable efforts that benefit the community - and more younger people must become Lions for the clubs to continue their worthy work into the future, members said.

With few exceptions, Lions and other service clubs throughout the Tri-State area are having a tough time recruiting new members, especially individuals younger than retirement age.

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"We need younger members," said Scott Shipe, 45, a Williamsport Lion who serves as District 22-W's membership chairman. The district includes 59 clubs in Maryland's Washington, Frederick, Carroll, Allegany and Garrett counties.

"District 22-W is an extremely strong district. We've always been a strong district. To stay strong, we just have to think out of the box and change a little bit," said Shipe, who began analyzing the membership problem when he started his three-year commitment as membership chairman last July.

Here's what he's figured out: Most people between the ages of about 30 and 45 are too busy with jobs and family obligations to join Lions Clubs and other service organizations. They commute to work. Their kids are involved with sports and music lessons and other extracurricular activities. And they often don't understand the work of the clubs well enough to be motivated to join, Shipe said.

"When they get out of work, they don't want to be sitting in a meeting. They want to be home with their families," he said.

District 22-W has lost 374 members in the past two years, Shipe said. Forty-seven percent left in good standing, mainly due to conflicting work and family commitments, he said. Shipe credited 23 percent of the membership drop to the deaths of veteran members - a percentage that's increased dramatically in the last few years, he said. Other membership loss factors include unpaid dues (12 percent), poor attendance (12 percent) and relocation (6 percent), Shipe found.

Lions clubs in the district have added a total of about 320 members within the last two years, for a net loss of about 1 percent, Shipe said. The average age of a Lion is about 68, he said. Per capita, District 22-W's membership numbers outshine Lions Clubs in Delaware, Washington, D.C., and other parts of Maryland - but the local clubs need fresh faces to continue their charitable tradition into the future, Shipe said.

"We've had a very severe problem with membership. We've just not been able to come by the type of person who's community-oriented, family-oriented or service-oriented," said Ron Busey, president of the Chewsville Lions Club.

The club's membership has dropped from more than 20 members three years ago to a mere 10 active members today - making it increasing difficult to handle the fund-raisers that generate money for charitable work in the community, Busey said. Chewsville club members in October placed nearly 600 membership solicitation flyers on doors along Robinwood Drive and the surrounding area. They got no responses, he said.

The Conomac Lions Club in Williamsport folded due to member attrition, said member Barbara Sterling, who migrated to the Williamsport Lions Club.

"They just kept dropping by the way," she said. "Then there wasn't enough umph to keep it going."

In an effort to increase District 22-W's membership by at least 10 percent, Shipe is offering incentives to Lions who recruit new members. His "Reaching New Heights" membership initiative rewards the district's top recruiters with such prizes as Baltimore Orioles baseball game tickets, a hot air balloon ride over Baltimore's Inner Harbor and a basket full of edible goodies.

"The people who recruit Lions, or Rotarians or any new service club member, those are the most important people in the club," Shipe said. "Because without new members, the club can't survive."

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