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The civic club model of service

Communities are sustained and come to thrive through the service of people. There are a variety of ways they can serve, and one vehicle of community service that has been key for decades is the civic club.

Farmville currently has three prominent examples of such clubs: the Farmville Jaycees, Rotary Club of Farmville and the Farmville Lions Club.

During their histories, these clubs have all made substantive contributions to the fabric of the Farmville community.

In recent years, civic clubs across the U.S. have been struggling to draw new members

A local illustration of this trend was the Farmville Area Kiwanis Club. In 2017, Farmville Kiwanis Secretary and Treasurer Patty Vance noted the club was disbanding due to a lack of membership.

As the club’s last act of service, it presented a $12,000 donation to the Town of Farmville for the purchase of new playground equipment for Grove Street Park in Farmville.

In 2021, the Jaycees, Rotarians and Lions continue in Farmville, having found success in the maintenance of their memberships, even including contingents of younger members, but membership is an ongoing focus.

The clubs, as always, are looking for opportunities to serve while also learning what they can from the unusual pandemic year that was 2020.

FARMVILLE JAYCEES

“We’ve always seen our organization as, really, the starting point in terms of individuals getting involved within the community,” Farmville Jaycees Treasurer Cameron Patterson said. “Typically at the end of your time as an active Jaycee, many of our members go on to become involved with other organizations, such as Rotary, Lions Club, etc.”

He noted the Jaycees have been around in the community since 1940.

“For us as an organization, our mission is to develop opportunities that empower young people,” he said. “So, we have always kind of focused on individuals, young active citizens ages 18 to 40, so that is who we are targeting as it relates to our membership.”

Patterson summarized some of the Farmville Jaycees’ projects that have had key impacts in the community, pointing out that the Jaycees are an organization that puts together signature opportunities, like its Live at Riverside concert series and its Farmville Christmas parade that has been around since the 1950s.

“Historically, in our early years, we were heavily involved in working to combat the polio epidemic, helping to organize immunization clinics,” he said. “And then in the ’60s, we were very instrumental as an organization in the founding of the Prince Edward (Volunteer) Rescue Squad.”

He said the Jaycees were the organization that worked to put together the slate “Welcome to Farmville” signs that greet people as they enter the town.

“In recent years, we have been focused on accessibility issues, and so we worked to make some accessibility upgrades to Grove Street Park in partnership with the Town of Farmville,” he said. “So I would say kind of at each turn over the course of our history, all of the work remains community focused, but what we do at any given time really is based on the interests of our members and the needs of the community.”

The Farmville Jaycees had 18 active members as of March 2021.

“I think our leadership team would love to see us end the year around 25,” Patterson said.

He said the club’s membership is holding steady, but it has still been tough.

“I think membership will always continue to be a priority for the organization, and I don’t see that subsiding any time soon,” he said.

He said the Farmville Jaycees club wants to continue to focus on its core philosophies, which center around bringing the community together.

“So if we continue to focus on those things, hopefully that will be attractable to individuals within our community, and hopefully they will want to be a part of that,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented civic clubs with special challenges, but also learning opportunities.

“I think what we learned coming off the pandemic is that as important as it is to be focused on the specific needs of your community, you also have to be focused on the specific needs of your individual members,” Patterson said.

When the Christmas parade had to be canceled in 2020, the Farmville Jaycees deployed the successful Hanging with Santa event in partnership with the Robert Russa Moton Museum and with support from the Virginia Children’s Book Festival.

Patterson briefly described some of the Farmville Jaycees’ upcoming projects. In March 2021, the club is launching its Farmville Leadership Live series.

“This is a series that we will do via social media on a monthly basis where we will converse with individuals in our community between the ages of 18 and 40 who are doing great things in terms of service and outreach within the community,” he said. “We want to give a platform to elevate the stories of those that are doing great work.”

He said the Jaycees are also looking hard at how they will move forward with Live at Riverside.

“I think a lot of that will depend on guidelines from the governor and where we are in terms of the virus,” he said. “But we are putting some plans in place for the possibility of a modified season, and we will certainly share that when the time is right to do so.”

ROTARY CLUB OF FARMVILLE

The Rotary Club of Farmville was founded March 31, 1938. It just celebrated its 83rd birthday.

The club’s president, Jennifer Fraley, affirmed Rotary tends to tackle projects on a smaller scale than something like helping start a rescue squad, but it makes crucial contributions on a variety of different fronts.

“Rotary itself has a variety of areas of focus, and depending on the needs in our community, we kind of shift things to make sure that we’re meeting those needs in the context of our larger values,” she said.

She noted that 10 to 15 years ago, the club helped develop one of the parks near the Barbara Rose Johns Farmville-Prince Edward Community Library, and several years ago, the club donated walk-in freezers to FACES Food Pantry.

The Farmville Rotary has partnered with Madeline’s House, the Southside Center for Violence Prevention’s domestic violence program. The club provided funds for secure file cabinets for the program’s facilities.

Rotary also donated funds and the labor to construct an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-accessible boat ramp at Twin Lakes State Park, completing it this past summer.

“We worked with the Friends of Twin Lakes out there to actually demolish the dock that was there and to bring it up to some ADA specifications so that it is accessible for participants at Twin Lakes,” Fraley said.

She added that in fall 2019, the club kicked off the Rotary Runs project, something it had hoped would be an annual or at least biennial race out at Hampden-Sydney College to raise money for SAT and ACT prep books for Prince Edward County High School students.

“So we were able to purchase some of those prep books to have in their library, because at the time when we started that project, they had one of each, and you had to sit in the school counselor’s office to use (them),” she said.

The Rotary also holds a popular annual event called the Taste of Farmville, which features area restaurants, organizations and churches coming together to form a large buffet offering for people in the community.

“Unfortunately that didn’t happen in 2020 based on our current restrictions, but that’s our signature event,” Fraley said.

The pandemic, of course, changed much for the Farmville Rotary.

“Since the pandemic has occurred, we sort of pivoted,” Fraley said. “Because some of our events are very group-based, we said, ‘OK, well, let’s rethink how we can do this.’”

The club began to deploy smaller groups of only two or three members who felt comfortable getting together in a socially distanced way, and these small groups worked with, for example, Habitat for Humanity on some of their outside projects.

“We’ve had a lot of volunteers that have been working with Prince Edward County (Public) Schools for their food distribution days, that sort of thing,” Fraley said.

In terms of big-picture projects, the Rotary Club, which is part of a larger international organization, continues to focus on health care and has long battled polio.

The Rotary Club of Farmville had 39 active members as of March.

Fraley said struggles maintaining membership are a common problem, and she does not think Rotary is immune to that, but the Farmville Rotary’s membership is holding steady.

“We do have a pretty good cross section of age groups,” she said. “Because we don’t have a specific, directed demographic in terms of age, we’re open to people joining Rotary whenever they’d like. So we do enjoy getting younger members because it’s a different perspective, and we value all of those different perspectives, but we also have people that join Rotary in their 70s.”

FARMVILLE LIONS CLUB

Tim Cook, president of the Farmville Lions Club, estimated the local club has been in existence for about 97 years, and it has had an enormous impact on the community during that time.

“I’m not sure how many people know this, but the Farmville Lions Club — and this was back in the ’20s I believe — was an instrumental part of helping the hospital come to town,” Cook said, referring to what is now known as the Centra Southside Community Hospital. “It was partly through some grants and things that we were able to receive and provide to those who were building (what) I guess at the time it was called Southside Hospital.”

Cook said the Lions Club also, at the time, helped receive grants to get the Hotel Weyanoke built.

Through the years, the Farmville Lions have contributed to the community through efforts to help those with impaired hearing and sight. The club has also provided donations to key causes and put on community events.

In 2019, the Lions Club cut the ribbon on Lions Park, which the club had installed right next to Wilck’s Lake.

“Our intent was that following Lions year, we were going to start figuring out and focusing on how we could raise money to possibly put in a splash park in the same area,” Cook said. “But then, of course, COVID hit.”

He hopes they can return to that idea when the pandemic subsides.

He noted that every Thanksgiving, the Farmville Lions donate approximately $2,000 worth of frozen turkeys to University of Virginia Dialysis patients.

The Lions are also known for putting on enjoyable community events.

“We had planned on doing a fall festival last November,” Cook said. “We wanted to have music and a chili cook-off and games for children and everything down there by Lions Park, but with everything that happened with COVID, we just couldn’t do it.”

He said the club still held a cornhole tournament, which was a great success.

“We did our Doggie Dash, where people came out with their pet, and we had prizes for the fastest combo, owner and pet, and we also asked them to dress in costume since it was the week after Halloween,” Cook said. “We had a costume prize and different things like that.”

He stated that even though the Farmville Lions Club has continued to hold its fundraisers, the results have not been what club leaders would typically expect in pre-pandemic times.

Cook expressed hopes that at the start of the new Lions fiscal year, July 1, the club will be able to go back to full-fledged fundraisers.

The Farmville Lions Club has at least 90 members on its roster, Cook estimated, though he added that many of them are not regularly at meetings.

“I would say half of our active members are active on an outside kind of standpoint,” he said. “They don’t regularly come to meetings and things.”

He stated that before COVID, the club would regularly have between 30 and 40 members show up to meetings.

“Now we’re at about 15,” he said, providing an average. “We meet in the community center at The Woodland, so we could actually have up to about 20, 22 and still be able to socially distance.”

He estimated five to seven members attend the virtual meetings provided, meaning that all together, the club still has 20 or so members meeting two times a month.

From July to September in 2020, the Farmville Lions held only virtual meetings. Cook said that after that, the club began holding in-person meetings again when gatherings were restricted to just 10 people.

“All together, I’m very proud of how our membership has been, given everything that’s going on and the fact that most of our members are older,” Cook said. “I think everyone is doing a wonderful job with coming to the meetings and participating with the fundraisers.

“Aside from the first two, three months, I honestly have not noticed that great of a difference aside from the fact that with our fundraisers and things, we also have to be restricted,” he continued. “The cornhole tournament, we could have easily had 20 or so teams, but we limited it to 10 teams. We’ve restricted things just to be safe.”

Cook said he thinks the Farmville Lions Club does a good job attracting younger members in their 30s, 40s and even 20s. He said he turned 41 in October and noted that just off the top of his head, the club’s treasurer is in his late 20s, and he is not alone in that age group among the membership.

Cook said he does not think the Lions are concerned about the long-term viability of the civic club model of community service.

“I think given the members that we have who are active and how active they are out in the community, whether it’s through their own jobs or through the volunteering and everything, I honestly think that this upcoming Lions year we probably will draw in more younger people, more working-age people,” he said. “I’m not concerned. The overall number of the membership may go down some, but I think as far as the level of activeness, I don’t think that will go down.”

He highlighted a variety of upcoming events the Farmville Lions Club is organizing.

A White Cane fundraiser April 3 in the downtown Farmville plaza where the High Bridge Trail and Main Street intersect is designed to bring awareness for those who are hard of seeing or who are blind.

Cook himself will be involved in a motorcycle poker run at the same time. He said a local motorcycle club has agreed to do a trip from Lions Park out to Appomattox, then Lynchburg, then back to Appomattox and then back in town. They will stop at a local restaurant and eat there to help support it.

The last fundraiser of the Lions year is anticipated at the end of May and will involve a partnership with the Rotary Club of Farmville.

“We are going to do a fishing tournament, most likely a kayak fishing tournament, at the Sandy River Reservoir,” Cook said.