COLUMBUS — Hollie Olk listed the number of activities held by the Columbus Noon Kiwanis group.

They have stuffed backpacks for needy children, distributed food to the poor, given dictionaries to local third-graders, sponsored babysitting clinics and worked post-prom events, just to name a few.

Some efforts have gone by the wayside, though, as membership in the group has started to slide.

When Olk joined in 1993, there were more than 50 people in Noon Kiwanis. Today, there are only about 20.

The drop in membership limits what the club can do.

“We hope to have more members, but we need to be realistic. We need more members to stay afloat,” said Olk, the club's president.

They have paired with other groups, including the Next Generation Kiwanis and a church-based service organization, to complete the annual peanut sales, a fundraiser that generates about $6,000 each year. That money is used to benefit youths in the community.

“We realized a couple years ago that we would be in trouble. We weren’t going to have enough people to make all the routes,” Olk said, adding that the age of many of the current members prevents them from being as active as they once were.

The decline in membership isn’t limited to Noon Kiwanis. Many other longstanding civic groups are facing the same problem.

“We’re not doing that great,” said Columbus Optimist Club president Bob Stachura.

He has been involved in the youth-focused organization for about four decades and has seen membership numbers fall to about 30.

Stachura said busy lifestyles are partially to blame for the decline.

“I think the younger generation is way more involved with so much stuff. Their children are in so many sports nowadays and other things,” he said.

He also feels businesses don’t encourage their employees to be as active in service clubs.

Optimist host events in the community like annual Easter egg hunts and the punt, pass and kick skills competition; offers scholarships to high school students; and recognizes students for their academic achievements and volunteerism during Youth Appreciation Week. The group raises money primarily during the holiday season by selling nuts, candy and red bows tied to business doors, and providing a Santa Claus for events in the area.

The group meets every Friday at Hy-Vee, where they host guest speakers. Those speakers are shared with Noon Kiwanis, which holds meetings at the same time and location.

Another group, Columbus Noon Rotary, features 38 members and has been trying to boost that number through an annual social.

The latest social added five new Rotarians, according to Vanessa Oceguera, a member of the organization’s board of directors.

She said the organization hasn’t had to partner with other groups, aside from Columbus Morning Rotary, to complete projects.

“We haven’t gotten to that point yet. The one that we have the most trouble with is the roadside cleanup. A lot of our Rotarians are getting older. Getting out in a ditch and picking up trash is difficult,” Oceguera said about the twice-a-year litter pickup along U.S. Highway 30 between Wal-Mart and Behlen Mfg. Co.

The club, which meets at noon Tuesdays at Hy-Vee, has a goal of eradicating polio. One event the group holds annually to raise money for this cause is the Loup d’ Loup End Polio Bike Ride.

Even though membership is down, local service groups are still hard at work and their accomplishments are being recognized.

The Noon Rotary Club recently received the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation Rotary Water Safety Advocacy Award for purchasing more than 400 water safety books. The books were delivered to first-grade students in Columbus.

Other groups, like Columbus Sertoma, have fared better in the membership department, although there's still a dip.

President Merle Johannes joined the club 20 years ago when there were more than 100 members. That figure has since been cut in half.

“I think (membership) is pretty good right now. There aren’t too many concerns yet, but some members are getting up in age,” he said.

Sertoma, which meets at noon Wednesdays at Ramada-Columbus, is still able to take on annual activities like displaying American flags on holidays throughout the year and an annual pancake feed fundraiser.

There are also about 50 members of Next Generation Kiwanis, a group targeting young professionals that started in 2013.

Club president Amanda Polacek said the different model Next Generation uses might be what draws and sustains membership. They use a 3-2-1 format each month with one hour for meetings — from 6-7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at Ramada-Columbus — two hours for socialization and three hours for community service.

The group, which is focused on making a difference in the community, has organized events like BaconFest and supports a backpack program that provides food for school children over the weekend. Members also helped establish the Key Club, a service organization for high school students.

Olk, with Columbus Noon Kiwanis, said a continuation of the downward membership trend could spell the end for some civic organizations and the community projects they handle.

“If we don’t gain any new members, absolutely. You only survive with new members,” she said. “Becoming a member of a civic club, no matter which it is, is life enriching. You feel so good about what you can do and it only takes a few hours by giving back to the community.”

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