A challenge to younger readers

Published 9:08 am Saturday, July 7, 2012

About a year ago, I joined the Capron Ruritan Club. It was something I should have done much sooner, but I always managed to find a good excuse not to do so. I had too much else to do, too many other commitments, that sort of thing. But when a friend of mine issued one of those I’ll-do-it-if-you-do-it type of challenges, I took him up on it. It was the right decision for many reasons, and one I’m glad I made.

The Ruritan Club, like a lot of other well-established civic clubs, has been a pillar of the community for about as long as anyone can remember. And like many other service organizations, the membership roll in Capron is both aging and dwindling. In fact, the night of our first meeting, I joked with my friend that we had probably brought the average age of the club down to 83. When I looked around the room, I saw a group of gentlemen that had been Ruritans for about as long as there had been such a thing, but not many my age and certainly none much younger.

For the record, I’m on the verge of turning 41. As most anyone within striking distance of 40 will tell you there is some serious denial going on with regards to how old we think we are compared to how old we actually are. But I’ve got enough of a grip on the situation to know that, if I’m the youngest guy in the room, it’s not a young crowd.

So it got me thinking about how most of the organizations I belong to look a lot like that first Ruritan meeting I attended back in the fall; mostly older, and made up of the same people who are involved in just about everything that’s related to community service.

The younger generation just isn’t getting involved in the community, and that’s kind of sad.

Until recently, joining the Ruritan Club, or Rotary, or the Lions, or the Women’s Club, wasn’t something that was viewed as an inconvenience or an imposition — it was seen as an obligation and an honor to join civic organizations whose mission it is to give back to the community. It was more than just a way to spend the third Thursday night of the month with your buddies, it was just one of those things that you did because it was the right thing to do.

These clubs have been the lifeblood of communities large and small for generations.

They raise money for scholarships and charitable organizations. They fund ball teams and scout troops. They host holiday parades and volunteer time in the schools. And they are, unfortunately, losing members to father time and the busy schedules of the generations that have yet to get involved.

I understand the conflicts that often cause people who’d like to be more involved but just can’t seem to find the time. As the father of two young children and the husband of a wife with full time obligations of her own, it is often a challenge to make time for some of the necessities. Between ball practice, dance lessons, scout meetings and going to work every day in between, it seems like today we’re as busy as anyone could possibly be.

I don’t play much golf anymore and, as my wife recently pointed out to me, our flower borders aren’t in quite the same shape as they used to be. And there’s a lot of time when the things that can feel more like a burden than a joy, like going to a monthly Ruritan meeting, aren’t that high on my list of things I want to do that day. Nor do I make every meeting. But something else I’ve started to see when I get to those meetings, beyond old guys in Bermuda shorts and black socks, is a room full of gentlemen who for years have made it a priority to be involved in their communities, making them the wonderful places they are that we get to raise our children in today.

Several months ago, a friend challenged me to get involved, and I’m glad that I did. Today, I issue the same challenge to some of our younger readers who have yet to do so. Go ahead, and get involved. You’ll be glad you did as well.

TONY CLARK is the associate publisher at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at tony.clark@tidewaternews.com.