SIOUX CITY | The Sioux City Jaycees disbanded last year.
With fewer than 20 members, the local chapter didn’t have a choice.
Other service organizations are trying to fend off the same fate while facing a struggle to attract younger members. Group leaders say people younger than 40 aren’t interested – they’re just too busy to join. Schedules filled with children’s activities and careers keep them away.
The service groups are also up against everything the Internet has to offer, including websites that provide a platform to take action and make a difference without making any time commitments to monthly meetings or paying dues.
Former members of the Sioux City Jaycees recognize the issues all too well. April marks the one-year anniversary of activities coming to a halt. The local chapter, formed in 1923, lost its charter because membership fell below 20 for more than three months.
The United States Jaycees, also known as the Junior Chamber, is an organization for young professionals 18 to 40 years old.
Dr. Tom Molstad, of Sioux City, aged out and helped to keep the chapter functional for the last 10 years.
“It was sad to lose the Sioux City Jaycees,” he said. “A lot of people have been members over the years and have found that it enriched their lives in many ways.”
The organization served the community through projects such as the Haunted Castle, Festival of Trees and Wii Care Campaign, which provided Wii gaming systems to the elderly.
The U.S. Jaycees, along with state and local chapters, have been working to integrate new features. They’ve added electronic communication, bill pay and Facebook, Molstad said. But those steps weren’t enough to save the local chapter.
“It was a big struggle to get younger members, largely due to competition including family, work and other organizations,” Molstad said.
COMPETING WITH SOCIAL MEDIA
Despite declining numbers and aging members, other Sioux City service organizations press on, trying to find a way to remain viable in the Internet age. These days, millennials can mobilize and effect change through social media on their own time or support a cause through such websites as Care2.com, Change.org and Causes.com without leaving home.
Not everything can be done online, though.
Quota International of Sioux City hosts the Tour of Gardens every year. The group needs more members to join in order to carry on the tradition.
“We are trying to bring in some new ideas,” club President Cindy Agnes said. “We’re looking for new members, young or seasoned.”
About 55 people belong to the service organization, which has worked to help hearing-impaired children in Siouxland since 1925. Agnes said a lot of them are retirement age but that Quota is trying to appeal to a younger demographic through Facebook and other avenues.
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The club is extending its outreach through a JQ, or Junior Quota, Club for middle school students. An informational meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday. Besides playing an active role in the community, Agnes hopes the mentorship program will help Quota gain name recognition while promoting a love of service at an early age.
The Sioux City chapter is considering ways to reinvent itself to attract new members.
“We’re open to anything right now to make it simple for anyone to be a part of the organization if they’d like to,” Agnes said. “Sometimes it’s the job that doesn’t let them away for the noon meeting. Maybe they want to have a once-a-month meeting. Maybe they meet online.”
CHANGING RULES TO BOOST MEMBERSHIP
The Girls of ’68 took a different approach to gain and retain members by changing one its membership requirements. At one point, women had to live in Sioux City for 50 years in order to join. When Diane Gardner signed up, it had been reduced to 30 years. Now, it’s down to five.
“We’ve narrowed that down so we can get some more members and get younger members,” said Gardner, the club president.
The organization has a historical mission. The Bruguier Cabin in Riverside Park, 1301 Riverside Blvd., serves as the clubhouse for the Girls of ’68. Members give tours of the historic landmark, considered to be the oldest structure in Sioux City, and promote the city's history.
More than 70 elementary school students visited the cabin Friday, outnumbering the club’s total membership.
“We are looking for members all the time,” Gardner said. “Most of the members are 50 or older.”
George Harrison, with the Sioux City Scottish Rite, can relate.
“I’m actually one of the younger guys at 66,” he said.
The Sioux City Scottish Rite, a fraternal organization, grew to its height in the 1960s with about 4,500 members and then went into decline that has since gone into reverse.
“Recently, there’s been a revival in interest among younger men,” Harrison said.
Men younger than 35 are looking for a rite of passage into adulthood, he explained. The Sioux City Scottish Rite provides a path.
Even if people belong to community groups, they don’t always go to meetings or take an active role in service projects. Generational differences, longer commutes and the advent of TV have affected participation, according to research presented at the 2011 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.
Gardner, who joined civic groups after she retired, holds out hope for younger generations to step up and serve in due time. She reasoned that a lot of young women are working full time and chasing after children’s activities, which leaves little time for personal activities.
“You’re just too busy to devote the time that you want to commit to an organization,” she said. “When you join an organization, you want to dedicate time to it.”