Local Lions clubs fear closing down due to lack of volunteers

By COLIN MCEVOY – The Express-Times

More than 20 years ago, the Bushkill Township Lions Club raised the money to build a pavilion for the township park that is still used today. Two months ago, the once active club was forced to disband due to a lack of volunteers.

“We just didn’t have enough members, so we decided to drop it,” said Cliff Bonney, 84, one of the club’s founding members and one of eight still active when the club finally closed. Once among the leaders of local volunteer organizations, the Bushkill group is not the only local Lions Club to have lost some of its roar in recent years. The Nazareth Lions Club, which has served the borough for 84 years, had 154 members when current President Charles Roth joined in 1954.

Now it only has about 16. Roth was so concerned about its lack of volunteers he wrote an open letter to borough residents claiming the club might have to fold if it did not get more members.

“When did volunteerism start to diminish in the United States?” Roth asked. “It’s just a lack of willingness to do things for other people. It’s a selfishness.” About 410,000 people are in Lions clubs throughout the United States, a drop of about 3,000 members from last year, according to Dane LaJoye, Lions Clubs International spokesman.

Membership hit its nationwide peak in the mid-1980s with about 560,000 volunteers, he said. Local members said they have not seen young people join in the same numbers as they did decades ago. When the Bushkill club closed, most of the eight remaining volunteers were founding members and almost all of them were retired men in their 80s, Bonney said.

“No young guys like we had years ago,” he said. LaJoye said people younger than 30 still volunteer but tend to do it episodically. They’ll coach their son or daughter’s soccer team this year, but maybe they won’t next year,” LaJoye said. “This month they’ll volunteer at their church, but maybe next year they won’t. So they’re volunteering, but they’re not joining.”

Other service clubs have seen problems with declining volunteers. The Phillipsburg Area Jaycees was unable to coordinate the Phillipsburg-Easton Halloween parade this year due in part to such problems. The event was saved only at the last minute when the Warren County Regional Chamber of Commerce took responsibility for organizing it. Chamber President Robert Goltz said volunteerism has dropped in part because businesses have stopped supporting it financially.

“They still do, but they don’t support it on their dime,” Goltz said. “In the past, the banks would say, ‘OK, you’re required to volunteer so many hours, but we’re going to pay you for those hours.’ That is gone.” Many Lions clubs have tried new methods to keep up volunteerism, including appealing to families and starting “cyber-clubs” with more online participation, LaJoye said.

John Cooke, past president and current member of the Palmer Township Lions Club, said his group has tried to brainstorm ways to bring in new members, but has found many people simply don’t have the time. The Palmer club has 18 members, down from 54 when Cooke joined in 1971. But the group still tries to keep active. Earlier this year, it helped raise the money for an electronic sign at 25th and Northampton streets.

Jennifer Stocker, president of the Easton Lions Club, said the group is still going strong despite a drop in volunteers. The group has 26 members right now, about half of when it was formed in 1971. Stocker, 34, said while many of the members are in their 70s, there are some younger volunteers in their 30s and 40s, as well.

Editors Note: Our Uniontown, Ohio Lions Club is still strong and growing. We have added several new members during the current fiscal year and we have a few other prospects that could become members in the next few months. With strong support from the community we are set to be a part of the Uniontown, Ohio landscape for years to come. If you are interested in membership, please fill out our Membership Form