Last week, I spoke to a women’s group that’s been around for more than a hundred years. Because most of the members are middle aged or older, one of the things we talked about was the difficulty such groups as these face in recruiting younger women. Some think those young women are not as interested in serving their communities as previous generations. Others think these clubs are dominated by older women who refuse to change their outdated agendas
One thing is certain, women’s services to the community were never more sorely needed than they are today. The plight of neglected children is only one of many concerns women are uniquely qualified to address. Women’s clubs and organizations play such vital roles that it is difficult to imagine what society would be like without them. Day care centers, facilities devoted to eldercare, hospices, rape counseling centers are just a few of the many areas where women’s talents and skills are essential.
It’s important, therefore, for these women’s groups to attract young women to their groups. An excellent way to begin this process is to visit with young women and find out what their concerns are , then solicit their assistance in recruitment efforts. Old, established organizations are in constant need of a fresh infusion of energy. Just as the needs and issues of the community change, service clubs need to be open to new ideas and new strategies if they are to keep in touch with the times.
One way for clubs to revitalize themselves is to be on alert for voids in areas of service. Communities that once might have been in dire need of scholarship programs might now have a large portion of elderly homeowners who could use assistance in adding security devices to their property. A club organized several years ago to assist victims of domestic violence, could today start a drive to provide free musical instruments for needy school children.
Many young women today are overwhelmed with job and family responsibilities and often do not have free time for outside obligations. A smart women’s group would find a way to trade out services. For example, some of the older women could volunteer so many hours of day care service in exchange for the young mothers volunteering so many hours to work on a group project. Or older women could prepare casserole dinners for young families in exchange for young volunteers. Or organize a car pool to transport young children to their extracurricular activities, freeing up mothers for volunteer work. A bonus in the process is that both age groups can learn from each other.
Contemporary problems require contemporary solutions. Women are good at finding original answers to problems. As mothers, wives, cooks, nurses and playmates, they invented multitasking.
Some young women, for a variety of reasons, have never had an opportunity to function in a service club or organization. They would appreciate having an older woman as a role model. Other women have been frustrated in their efforts to join a group because of club politics, where those in leadership positions feel that they should make all the decisions and continue in the same traditions as they have in years past, even when those traditions are no longer practical. Groups that are serious in their efforts need to look inside at their own organization and conduct an honest appraisal to make sure all members are on the same page when it comes to purpose. They should also be open to change, if change is required. In the average community, there are many needs to be met and many challenges to face.
A few years ago, I participated in an informal survey of my community, and the majority of my neighbors felt that one of our biggest problems was the loss of the close-knit community that our parents shared. They thought that what was needed was a way to facilitate a sense of connection. One of the best ways to accomplish this, some think, is to find a project important to the majority of neighbors, whether petitioning for a traffic signal at a busy intersection where children cross or establishing a neighborhood watch program. Because, for the most part, many of the community development agencies once so popular no longer exist, many people have little or no interaction with their neighbors.
Some people serve their communities as individuals, doing such things as picking up litter off the sidewalk. But whether one lives in a village, a town or a city, maintaining a civilized community requires a lot of effort. Citizens cannot rely on government agencies to do the job alone. I’ve always considered women as guardians of civilization, and women’s clubs and organizations have led the nation in institutionalizing the amenities to make our world a kinder and gentler place.
Young women have a role to play in this process. It will be their children who will be the future leaders, and it is in their hands to shape that future.
I found the recipe for community service in an exercise in my old Gregg Shorthand book. It read ‘we learn by doing.’
You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at email@example.com