Speaking Up for
Last week, I had the unique pleasure of being the guest speaker at the Tuesday night meeting of the Jewel City Kiwanis Club. I have to admit, for all my many years on the planet, my knowledge of what happens at a Kiwanis meeting was almost nil. Sure, I have been aware of the Kiwanis name – you can’t drive into town anywhere in this great land without seeing a little Kiwanis plaque on that ubiquitous “Welcome to …” sign at the town line of almost every berg in America.
As the assembled Kiwanis members quickly discovered, I’m a writer, not a public speaker. Thankfully, proper decorum ruled the evening and no food was thrown.
I had been asked to speak on any topic that I chose, so long as it wasn’t awkwardly political in nature (unfortunately, any political discussion amongst today’s highly polarized public quickly turns awkward) and – because several of the members present were regular readers of this column – I spoke to the group about the writing life.
Hopefully, I was able to give this exceptionally welcoming bunch some insight into the life of a freelance writer and specifically, how I write this column each week, where I get my subject matter (out of thin air, mostly) and other mildly interesting topics.
Whatever knowledge I was able to impart to the gathering at Clancy’s Crab Broiler last Tuesday evening was more than overshadowed by what I learned about the Jewel City Kiwanis themselves. This group of local business people is as diverse as it is friendly. They get together once a week to have a good time, certainly, but most importantly, to provide various kinds of help for others in our community.
Waiting for my turn at the lectern, I got to thinking about the many good things service clubs like the Kiwanis have done over the years. Through its numerous fundraising events (not the least of which is the almost nonstop gleaning of dollar bills, fives and even a few 20s from each others’ wallets during the meeting) the club raises money to help support local groups including the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA, YWCA, CV ROTC, CVHS Cheerleaders, the Glendale Little League and many others. I’ve been told that the Kiwanis’ customized cooking/BBQ trailer is a familiar site at Glendale’s popular Cruise Nights and other local events.
Unfortunately, as one Kiwanis member explained to me during the evening, their club – like so many others across the country – is experiencing a “graying” of its membership. As older members leave town (or the planet, for that matter), there are fewer and fewer younger people waiting to take their place. I’m afraid that’s more a reflection on our changing cultural attitudes than it is on the value of service clubs.
In his groundbreaking book, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” (Simon & Schuster), Harvard Professor Robert D. Putnam distills data drawn from almost 500,000 interviews conducted over 25 years that points to how our society has become increasingly disconnected from family, friends and neighbors. Changes in work, family structure, suburban life, television watching, internet use and other factors have contributed to this disconnection.
Among other disruptive societal trends, Putnam uncovered a 58% drop in attendance of club meetings. That’s too bad, because Putnam also cites research that indicates joining and participating in just one group can slash the odds of a person dying within the next year by 50%. Hmmm. I wonder if my horror and fantasy book club membership would count toward a longer life? Probably not.
My thanks once again to the members of the Jewel City Kiwanis for inviting me (it took a few times but I finally accepted!) to speak at their weekly meeting and for being such gracious and welcoming hosts. Oh, and thanks to Clancy’s for making an excellent bowl of clam chowder.
I’ll see you ‘round town.