Gainesville civic clubs seeking to involve new generation of community leaders

By Kristina Orrego

Some of Gainesville’s local civic clubs are finding ways to involve millennials — from middle schoolers to burgeoning professionals and young parents — in service-oriented projects.

A few of the clubs paving the way include the Alachua Lions Club, the Gainesville Civitan Club and the Kiwanis Club of Gainesville.

Deborah McCoy, the immediate past governor of the Florida district of Civitan, said senior clubs in every state sponsor junior clubs, which are formed in different high schools.

She said senior clubs, which are made up of older individuals, work with high school clubs and keep them going. But every club ultimately decides what projects to take on.

“You still have your link with [the] district [and] you still have your link with international,” she said. “But every club can be what you want it to be.”

The Civitan club’s Gainesville chapter, specifically, has done a huge part to contribute to both local and regional blood banks, McCoy said.

She said students are the ideal volunteers to take on campaigns like the anti-bullying one, for example, because they witness first-hand these scenarios going on in their schools.

They are also more readily able to help their fellow students who they know might be underprivileged and in need.

Bijal Desai, a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Florida, started the Civitan club at UF after being involved at the club at his alma mater, Golden Gate High School in Naples, Florida.

McCoy said one around twenty people showed up to their first meeting, which is promising, she said.

“I’ve been involved with club development here in the past year,” she said. “And if you start off with that many people, you’ll probably end up with 50 or 60 people in your club.”

Since beginning UF’s club, he’s recruited students from UF, Santa Fe College and young members of the community who aren’t in these schools to take part.

Desai said he feels the volunteer work millenials participate in is breaking ground because it’s inclusive of different types of people.

“We like to encourage people to look at one thing and remove the stereotypes and actually understand how and why these types of people can go by and live regular lives just like the rest of us,” he said.

According to Christine Hirsch, who has been a member of the Alachua Lions Club for 12 years and was its first female president from 2007 to 2009 said different Lions clubs have been planted in universities across Florida, such as UCF, UNF and UF and FSU.

She said that while this is true there hasn’t been a high volume of high school to college-aged individuals because they’re busy getting their careers started.

Therefore, the demographic of younger people who attend their meetings twice a month are usually people in their late 20’s, such as one member, a friend of her grandson’s who is a 27-year-old paramedic attending nursing school.

“We are all aware that our future of Lionism around the world depends upon the youth,” she said.

Hirsch said one way the Lions have worked with young people is through the White Cane Walk they hold every October, which they do in conjunction with the local police explorers at the Alachua Police Department.

She said the Lions have also sponsored local recreation programs, such as basketball tournaments at Santa Fe High School and the Babe Ruth World Series to Alachua.

They’ve also sponsored the local Boy Scouts for over 80 years, pay institutional dues and providing a meeting place for them at their scout hut on Alachua Lions Club property.

George Emmanuel, the treasurer for the Kiwanis club of Gainesville is in charge of coordinating Kiwanis groups in local different middle and high schools. The chapter at UF, on the other hand, is sponsored by the University City Kiwanis in Gainesville.

Sometimes they come together on certain projects, such as a lock-ins and pancake breakfasts.  The students sell tickets and they keep half of the proceeds for their club, he said.

At the middle school level, Kiwanis takes the form of the Builder’s Club. In high school, it’s called Key Club and at the University of Florida and different universities it’s Circle K.

Emmanuel said starting students as early as middle school in these clubs teaches them citizenship and community service, while also preparing them for the transition to Key Club when they get to high school.

“So one thing this is allows is for them to work side by side with adults on a project and it builds leadership, but it also builds a different level of social skills,” he said. “It allows them to interact with adults and how to speak and work with adults.”

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