Join the club
As in high school or college, adult life too presents people with an array of different groups to belong to. In the Sandy area, those include the Sandy Lions Club, the Sandy Kiwanis Club, the Boring-Damascus Grange, the Sandy Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 4273 and many more. You see these groups around at events like Sandy Mountain Festival and out in town for holidays, but the truth is many of these groups may not exist much longer if people don't get more involved.
Bert Key has been a member of the Sandy Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 4273 for 35 years and has served numerous terms as commander of the local organization. He's also seen the membership of the group ebb and flow.
"I think we all are in the same boat in terms of membership," Key said. "We definitely seem to be in a different period in America."
The Sandy VFW is known for aiding local children with multiple scholarship opportunities throughout the year, besides serving their ultimate goal to help their own.
"Our No. 1 reason for existing is to provide veterans with aid," Key added.
Regardless of his long history with the VFW, Key will be the first to admit he could have joined much earlier and didn't because of the then atmosphere the group had.
Dispelling past truths
Though Key would argue that people "just aren't the joiners we used to be" he acknowledges that there are also a number of misconceptions about the VFW, which could attribute to a lack of younger members in the organization.
"The old stigma of the old VFW of us being a bunch of old drunks sitting around is something we want to do away with," VFW Commander Allen Anderson noted.
In the past, membership to the post has been fairly exclusive. Native American veterans didn't even gain entry into the group until they were recognized as American citizens.
Race, gender and even a bias against certain conflicts have made the VFW an exclusive organization to belong to in the past. Now members like Key and Anderson are working hard to show through actions that any and every American citizen who's fought overseas and been honorably discharged is welcome at their post.
Key's hesitation to join when he first returned to the states from Vietnam was because of a perception about Vietnam veterans that permeated many posts of the day.
"It took me 20 years to join after I qualified," Key has told The Post in the past. "That attitude (about Vietnam veterans) was also in the VFW. There were posts around that passed resolutions to exclude Vietnam vets. It finally dawned on me that maybe I should join and have a positive impact. I want to make sure young guys here feel welcome."
Key was instrumental in getting the language in the VFW handbook changed to be gender inclusive. It formerly used male-oriented terms when referring to veterans.
"We're trying to get the females in to let them know we're here to help veterans and that's regardless of race and gender," Key added. "We started as a very exclusive club, and we're still a very exclusive club, but not in terms of gender or race."
Grange halls, including the local Boring-Damascus Grange, have been open to men and women since its inception in 1867, and people can join the organization at as young as 14.
However, that inclusivity doesn't mean the local group hasn't suffered its own share of membership struggles.
"Membership is a constant issue for all organizations, and the grange is no exception," grange member Ed Luttrell said.
For Luttrell, what seals the deal is getting people to that first meeting. Though Luttrell didn't originally decide to join the organization of his own volition, he said "what hooked me in the grange was my first meeting."
"The fact that the grange lets a 14-year-old be a full-fledged member was empowering," he explained. So empowering he wanted his own children to have the same experience. This "empowerment" is one of the reasons Luttrell thinks the grange doesn't suffer membership drop-off nearly as badly as other groups. That and "the fellowship" with people.
But, as he said before, that doesn't mean the grange is immune to membership loss.
Today, the grange has about 25 active members, whereas "at one point the Damascus grange was the largest in the state."
"They had over 200 members at that time," Luttrell added.
Members like Luttrell do their best outreach out at events, like the community's annual Boring and Dull Day.
"Tonight I've already talked to a couple of people about the grange," Luttrell told The Post. "We're always looking at new members because new members mean new ideas. We have some of the best people who want to make life better for people."
The Boring-Damascus Grange members participate in and host several events during the year, including Boring and Dull Day, their Anything Goes Sale, a strawberry waffle breakfast and many more.
Most of these events, they publicize via social media.
Putting the social in social media
The Sandy Lions, among many others, are attempting to utilize social media to connect with younger generations of prospective members.
Andrea Thorsell has only been the public relations chairwoman for the local Lions for a short time, but she said she's already looking into a lot of social media.
"We're trying to figure out how to appeal to the younger generation," Thorsell explained.
Besides the group's fledgling presence on social media, Thorsell said she thinks membership is lacking because families are just busier.
"When I was a kid my dad went to work and my mom stayed home with me, and I played softball only three months year," she noted. "Now sports are year-round and kids are demanding more time. I wish more people would understand that these are good things that don't take up a lot of time. I feel like the donations are there, but these organizations do need the involvement to keep going."
This leaves little time to volunteers to man one of the Lions' vision or hearing clinics. But. Thorsell added, she thinks those who have joined because of a genuine care for the group's "very specific goals."
"I think it's nice (the Lions) focus on two things," she explained. "If you are low-income and in need of glasses or a hearing aid, it's great to have this resource."
Sandy Kiwanis have made a modest attempt to go digital to appeal to younger volunteers and provide them with a resource to earn scholarship money and much-needed leadership experience.
Volunteering with purpose
The Sandy Kiwanis have actually considered resorting to virtual meetings or even numbering their meetings in an attempt to appeal to those "too busy" to attend as many as five meetings a month.
"These social clubs are great, but times are changing," said president elect Mike Pickett.
Secretary Roz Rushing said "optimally" the club should have 50 members.
"In the past it's been as high as 65 members, but that was some years ago," board member Nancy Hoffman said in a board meeting on Aug. 9.
"We have about 35 active members and about 13 people show to most meetings," Rushing added.
Most of those members are over 40.
"I think what really hurt us for a while is you get these young people and you have to assign them a committee or they burn out," group treasurer Terry Lenchitsky explained. "We used to have 80 members when I first started, and they were movers and shakers too. If you give (young people) something to do there's a purpose to going."
On Nov. 15, the group will host its next membership drive. Throughout the year, the Kiwanis host a Cruise-In and breakfast (July 21) and an Easter egg hunt (April 20), among several other events.