The clubs themselves are aware of this and are looking to make changes to attract and retain young members.
Hall County is home to a wide selection of civic clubs, many of which date back to the early 1900s. Active area clubs include the Gainesville Jaycees, Elks Lodge, Fraternal Order of Eagles, Gainesville Rotary Club, Gainesville Kiwanis Club, Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County, plus others of a lesser profile.
Chris Townley of the Fraternal Order of Eagles said he believes civic engagement had become “stagnant over the years.” He said a recent trend is giving back to the community in a way that is fun and engaging for club members.
“We’re looking at doing some things to appeal to younger folks with our activities,” Townley said. “Everything we do is to raise funds, but there’s been some discussion of maybe having a bowling tourney or golf outing that would raise funds for a charity.”
Townley said the FOE nationally supports diabetes research. Locally, it includes work for local fire departments, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County and Challenged Child and Friends.
Gainesville Kiwanis Club President Jay Jacobs said his club has approximately 166 members. He said current members typically recruit new members who want to participate in community service, including supporting literacy and Key Clubs at local high schools.
One club that does draw younger members is the Gainesville Jaycees. Trey McPhaul, vice president of membership, said his club includes social and civic engagement activities that attract young people, including a kickball team and regular rafting outings.
McPhaul said the Jaycees is one of the younger civic engagement groups in the area. It has approximately 85 members, whose average age is approximately 30.
McPhaul said he joined Jaycees because he knew he could give back to the community while meeting young people like himself in the area.
“It’s a great way to meet like-minded, younger individuals who are in the same life stage as myself, being married and starting to have kids and families,” McPhaul said. “It’s a nice step into a group of friends that you can do life with.”
Callie Flack, president of the Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County, echoed those sentiments.
“We really try to focus on not only doing service work in the community, but doing it together as an organization,” Flack said. “So you have the opportunity to make new friends and network while doing projects that impact the community.”
Women must be at least 22 years old and residents of Hall County or a neighboring county to join Junior League, Flack said. The league benefits many of the same organizations as the Eagles, as well as the Gateway House and the Edmondson Telford Center for Children.
She said she believes younger members are attracted to the social and business connections they can make while giving back to the community.
“We’ve tried to work hard over the past couple of years to promote those two aspects to increase and retain membership,” she said.
Lee Hemmer, president of the Gainesville Rotary Club, said the average age of his more than 200 members is approximately 50. Though Rotarians span a wide age range, Hemmer said he believes members of all ages participate in his club.
“I am a younger member and I am the president,” Hemmer, 41, said. “The younger members are involved, as are the older members. We’re all involved and in it together.”
Hemmer said Rotary supports a number of local organizations while participating in active civic engagement events, including wheelchair ramp building.
Townley said the Fraternal Order of Eagles typically has greater involvement from members in their 40s to 60s, but the club is working on new ways to recruit younger members.
“We’re a little short on younger members, and that’s part of the reason we’re trying to do a membership drive,” Townley said, “to try to get some younger folks involved.”
Larry Ginsberg of the Elks Lodge said his club is also preparing for a membership drive.
“Right now we are dying,” Ginsberg said. “We have 35 members. We had 140-something when we sold the lodge building to the Junior League (in May). When we let the pool go, a lot of the families that joined for their kids didn’t really stay with the Elks.”
Elks Lodge members must be at least age 21, a citizen and must believe in God, Ginsberg said. Above all else, it is a charitable organization that tries to serve the community with engaging activities, including soccer shoots and Boy Scout and Girl Scout canoe outings.
“Right now we are looking to purchase a permanent site,” Ginsberg said. “Once we get settled in, we will do a membership drive.”
Jacobs said Kiwanis members vary in age from their early 30s to early 90s. He said while young people can help carry a civic club into the future, people of any age should take interest in civic engagement.
“Our focus is serving children and youth in our community and the world,” Jacobs said. “It doesn’t matter what age you are, because you can do that at any age.”