Take opportunity to reanimate service clubs, community
Less than a year ago, the University of Minnesota and the Center for Small Towns barnstormed the state with “Rewriting the Rural Narrative,” filled with stastical findings from large scale studies about trends in Minnesota and rural America. Their overwhelming conclusion is that small towns are not dying, but they are changing.
One of their presentations was at the Staples Motley Area Chamber of Commerce dinner in Aldrich. There we learned that cultural trends are important to follow so communities can take advantage of young families, retirees and tourists who want to find their niche in a small town.
One of those cultural trends that has been prominent for many years is the loss of participation in community groups, clubs and social traditions that once defined small towns.
In Staples, there’s now a movement to reverse that trend. Some of the service clubs are planning to join together to host an all community event to get more people interested.
According to Rewriting the Rural Narrative, people still identify with their communities through social groups, although it is no longer the traditional service organizations that attract them. Instead, they like to gather through social media and create special interest groups, such as bicycle riding groups or card clubs.
If that’s what people want, we need to ask if it’s worth our time doubling down on the dying establishment or do we need to re-think the process so that civic life can be reanimated into something that fits the changing future. In order to get people to save our service clubs, we have to reinvent those clubs into something that they want.
The evidence suggests that people still want to participate in civic life, but they want it to be streamlined. They’re shying away from the hierarchical systems, in favor of loosely organized activities.
They want to feel like their time was well spent. They would rather get right into their preferred activity instead of sitting through long meetings about multiple topics before getting to the subject they want. Robert’s Rules of Order is an effective way to run a board meeting, but it can stifle creativity when applied to large groups.
People want to contribute at whatever level they feel like that day. They want to make connections without big commitments and they would like their participation to be valued without judgement.
For many people it’s a momentous decision to take that first step into civic life and if they find it lacking, they likely won’t come back. So instead of service clubs asking people to commit to their traditional organization for a year, smaller steps might draw more interest.
The service clubs can help form the special interest clubs model that should be the new focus for the community. It could also prove to be the best recruitment tool, a feeder system that gets people involved in public life again and those who want more would have a readymade outlet to fill their desire.
Just as much as service organizations can benefit from joining together to recruit members, they could help the community by joining together to create a unified direction for the future. Service clubs ably fill many needs of the community, but there are times when their projects appear haphazard and when put together as a whole the projects are not always unified.
Service clubs are an essential part of what makes our community great. But they will only continue to define small towns if they keep up with the latest trends and give the people what they want.