“Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to improving the world one child and one community at a time.”
Mike Alderman, the current 70-year-old President of the Tallahassee Kiwanis Club took a few moments to look back with pride at the Club he has been part of for the last 44 years. Organizations such as the Kiwanis Club are in his genealogical history: his grandfather was a Rotarian; his father in Knights of Columbus; and he says his son is a member of the Knights of Malta.
This year on June 28 at the Golden Eagle Country Club, all 30 members of the Tallahassee Kiwanis Club are likely to join Alderman and enjoy a dinner and dance celebrating the Club’s centennial year.
But “30 members” is no misprint. Things have changed since the days when nearly every man in business or sales, law, government, education, or medicine was a member of a “service organization.”
Falling numbers for clubs
Rotary, Sertoma, Civitan, Elks, Moose, Lions, and Kiwanis have all seen their numbers fall. Whether from an aging demographic with the time to devote to meetings and participation, a change in how modern society views community involvement, or simply another effect of social media and the shift in what personal relationships are —membership in all service organizations has fallen.
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Alderman and the current Kiwanians hope to reverse that here in Tallahassee. But first some Kiwanis “origin story:”
Many years ago — 108, to be exact — a small group of Detroit businessmen got together to form a club. Fraternal clubs were everywhere it seemed in 1915. This one chose a lofty name — The Supreme Lodge Benevolent Order of Brothers — that would allow its members to network, build friendships and support one another’s business interests.
A year later, the “Brothers” changed the name of the group to Kiwanis, taking on the Ojibwe Indian expression that meant, “to make oneself known,” or “we trade.” The organization encouraged members to abide by principles that in that time of mostly universal church attendance, loyal patriotism, and respect for institutions, seemed the very substance of America. They still do.
It should be noted however, that in those early years, women did not vote in national elections nor could they hold membership in the Kiwanis Club. It wasn’t until 1987 when Kiwanis International admitted the first African American members that women were invited in too.
Pivot to service
By 1919, two years into World War I, the Kiwanians had shifted the focus of their activities to service — specifically to the service of children. Their very motto today reflects that — “Serving the children of the world.” It was with that intent that in April of 1923, the Kiwanis Club of Tallahassee became the 16th chartered club in the “Florida District,” which also includes Puerto Rico, Grand Cayman and the Turks and Caicos.
Fifty-one influential Tallahasseeans joined the Tallahassee Club. Several Kiwanian physicians performed gratis tonsillectomies in what is now the Bloxham Building. And not restricting their good works to children alone, they established the first public health unit in Leon County, a mosquito control campaign, and the installation of streetlights on residential streets.
Mike Alderman beams with pride at the variety of activities his members currently are involved in. “But it’s not just doing good for fellow Tallahassee citizens and children — there is fun to it too. Doing something good for someone else makes you feel — I don’t know, good inside.”
Each winter holiday season, the members of the Club take a Leon County school-designated child and their parent to Target where “gifts” of clothes and a couple of toys are family-selected. “Being able to sponsor that kind of excitement is so great,” he says.
“We’ve made 20,000 meals by hand to distribute. Had a pork butt fundraiser. Held diaper drives — those are fun,” he laughs. The Tallahassee Club also supports and stocks a Scholarship House at FSU, and raises money by parking cars at football games. “We even have a little gumball concession that brings in money which we then give away.”
His list of sponsorships and participation is long: prayer room outfitting at TMH; playgrounds at schools and parks; furnishing a bedroom at Ronald McDonald House; child safety ID Programs; and more.
‘Don’t forget the kids’
And what if some Tuesday afternoon you find yourself wondering about “the good old days,” when people reached out to other people. When friends looked you in the eye and smiled instead of staring at a phone. When doing good for someone else was a principal that people lived by.
What if you decided to drop in to one of the Kiwanis Club of Tallahassee meetings and see if the “good old days” of a warm community were still alive and well? You would find a welcome, says Alderman.
“And don’t forget the kids and youth,” he reminds. For college students there is CKI, a Kiwanis leadership group. The Key Leader Club and Builders Club are where high schooler and middle-schoolers will find a service home. And there is even a K-Kids for elementary students who wish to contribute a helping hand.
“We can’t wait to start our second century of service to Tallahassee,” says Mike Alderman. “We would love you to join us!”
For more information on the Tallahassee Kiwanis Club and its meetings, call Mike Alderman at 850-510-9523 or find them on Facebook.
Marina Brown can be reached at email@example.com