Boom and bust of service clubs If Kiwanis folds, community loses more than July Fourth fireworks.

April 16, 1996

WHEN THE Columbia Kiwanis Club lost its charter last month, the fate of Howard County's July Fourth fireworks hung in the balance. For now, the Kiwanis-arranged event is back on track. But the fact that it was ever in jeopardy should provide residents with a vivid reminder of the importance of Kiwanis and other service clubs.

The Independence Day celebration over Columbia's Lake Kittamaqundi cost $20,000 to stage last year. The Columbia Association and county government pitched in almost half of the sum. But it was the Kiwanians who recruited other community organizations to help with parking and clean-up, hired entertainment to perform and contracted with a firm to stage the pyrotechnics.

This summer's celebration now appears secure, but future summers much less so. The Kiwanis Club remains in danger of losing its charter for good if it does not recruit 10 members by the end of June. President M. J. Cole Drew says the club is actively seeking out new members; several former Kiwanians rejoined recently after learning of the club's predictament.

In recent years, a soft real-estate market and several bank closings have forced a handful of members, including the club's secretary, to move away. Indeed, job market upheaval has opened holes in many community networks, from school groups to Little League.

Busy schedules also increasingly make the Kiwanis Club's weekly luncheons difficult for perspective members with full-time jobs. The club has relaxed rules on attendance simply to try to keep members. But officials fully understand that volunteerism often goes first when schedules are packed or wallets strained.

If the 13-member club is unable to increase its membership in the next couple months, it will not regain its charter. Then, the Fourth of July display would have to be adopted by another organization. But the community stands to lose more than a fireworks show. Whether providing state troopers with teddy bears to give to young accident victims, supplying infant car seats for new mothers in need or sponsoring bicycle safety programs, the Kiwanis provide service to the community year-round. They may be known for lighting up the sky one midsummer's eve, but they are unsung heroes much of the rest of the year.

Pub Date: 4/16/96

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