Glen Eira service clubs’ youth membership in decline

Service clubs in Glen Eira are making a positive impact on youths in their community, but young people are not interested in becoming members. Find out why they feel this way, as well as what the Rotary Club of Glen Eira and the Carnegie Lions Club are doing.

Some members of the Glen Eira Rotary Club

Every Tuesday night, the Glen Eira Rotary Club meets at the London Tavern in Caulfield South over a glass of wine and pub grub. A bell tinkles and the club’s Vice-President calls the meeting to order.

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The Rotary Club of Glen Eira includes 20 or so professionals who wish to serve the local and international community in any way they can. Adrian Nelson is the club’s youngest member at 40, while the club’s oldest member is 80.

Data source: Rotary International

According to June 2009 data from Rotary International, over 84% of their members in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands are above the age of 50. As of March 2012, Rotary Australia has 31,972 members. This means approximately 27,000 members are age 50 and above.

The Club’s New Generations Director, Alan Samuels, is aware of the decline in young people joining Rotary.

“A few of our members are worried about it…Hopefully it’s not a matter of waiting for people to retire before they give service,” he says rather seriously.

New Generations is a branch of the Rotary looking after youth. The Glen Eira club organises a local Youth of the Year Award, where schools nominate Year 12 students who have had outstanding contributions to society. The Youth of the Year then receives a cash prize, as well as a donation to a charity of their choice.

Besides the Youth of the Year, Rotary gives out Leadership Awards, organises Drug Awareness programmes for high school students, and provides opportunities for students to go on exchange programmes. Currently, the Glen Eira club is hosting China, a student from Japan who is on exchange to Australia for a year.

Alan believes in the importance of serving others from a young age.

“I think it’s good for a young person in today’s world…to learn to give service. If they are not being taught that now, the next generation’s going to be problematic because there won’t be people to do what we do now,” he says.

Glen Eira’s local Rotary also has an impressive web presence. Adrian is their webmaster, and he’s set up a Facebook page, a Twitter account, as well as a blog which is updated regularly. He also maintains the club’s website.

However, it seems not many know of their local Rotary Club. In a recent survey of 62 people aged 15 to 40, 69% said they had never heard of Rotary International, while 27% said they had no idea what Rotary does.

Data source: survey conducted among 61 young people aged 15-40.

“People of that age are not as community-minded, and are not keen to join community clubs, I think,” Adrian says.

The situation at the Carnegie Lions Club bears similarities to Rotary. Like other service clubs, Lions Australia provides many opportunities for youth to know more about their community, participate in various activities, and go on overseas exchange programmes as well.

Unlike the Rotary, the Carnegie Lions don’t have much of a web presence. Glenys Needham, Club President, shrugs a little and goes, “I don’t know why we haven’t, really – particularly Facebook.”

In the same survey, over 50% of respondents said they had never heard of the Lions.

Data source: Survey

In spite of this, Glenys is visibly proud when sharing on the Carnegie Lions has grown. Despite the growth of the digital age, their last three members got to know more about the local Lions through a more traditional method: by word of mouth.

Two Carnegie Lions members walk their dogs at the Lord Reserve off-leash dog park every evening, and socialise with the other dog owners every Friday night. Before long, three of them became interested in the Lions and became part of the Carnegie Lions family.

Glenys is, of course, happy about this. She explains, “It’s word of mouth; it’s people meeting people and we now jokingly say that that’s our meeting ground.”

The average age of the Carnegie Lions is about 60. But Glenys is not worried about the club’s future.

“I know there will always be good people who want to do stuff. Always,” she says with a confident smile.

While the Carnegie Lions are happy with the current system, Lions around Australia have begun changing the way meetings are run. There are now Lions Family Clubs, where communication mostly takes place online, and meetings are held only when there is a project that needs their attention.

“I think that is the future of Lions,” Glenys declares.

Data source: survey

This model also better suits Gen Y, where commitment to a service club is a huge deterrence. In the same survey, 47% respondents said they do not participate in volunteer work as they do not have enough time, and 21% of them said they did not wish to make a commitment to a club.

To reach out to younger members, both the Lions and Rotary have youth versions of their clubs. The Lions have Leos, and Rotary has Rotaract. These clubs are a way for youths to get involved in their community, meet new people, and have a great time at school or university. The Monash University Caulfield Campus houses a Rotaract Club which has over 40 members. This is good news for the Glen Eira Rotary, that young people in the area are interested in serving their community.

As the Rotary meeting comes to an end, members continue to mill around. They update each other about their lives, and have lively debate on current affairs. Perhaps young people should take this opportunity to visit their local service club – you may be surprised at what you’ll learn.


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