Kiwanis: men at work.
You could be forgiven for mistaking these men in sweat-stained grubbies for moonlighters working by the hour. But whether they are dressed for business or for their professions, a gold-edged pin emblazoning each lapel sets them apart. It's a small pin, featuring the single letter "K," the symbol of one of the largest volunteer organizations in the world.
The word "Kiwanis" is American Indian for "to make oneself known." At a time when President Reagan is asking people to "get more directly involved in helping each other," it becomes appropriate that men wearing the prestigious "K" are making themselves known around the world wherever they find a need. Under their umbrella theme, "We Build," Kiwanis International answered the President's plea last year by raising more than $35 million in cash and donating an estimated $300 million in time.
This huge organization began in a Detroit tailor shop in 1914, when a bespectacled man named Allen S. Browne called upon tailor Joseph G. Prance with the idea of organizing a fraternal club of business and professional men. Prance was interested, and "The Supreme Lodge Benevolent Order Brothers" was formed. The name Kiwanis came later, probably when someone was trying to arrange the original on a lapel button.
Today, Kiwanis has established 8,100 clubs in 79 countries and has a membership of 309,186. Tomorrow there will be more. College, high-school and grade-school clubs included, the K-family totals 417,000. Its theme of "We Build" extends beyond membership to service projects, fund-raising projects and character. And certainly not the least of Kiwanis' building triumphs is the new national headquarters at Indianapolis, Indiana. I went there to meet Kiwanis International's new president, Mr. Aubrey E. Irby.
No one talks long with this intense, long-time Kiwanian from Tyler, Texas, without itching to roll up his own sleeves and get into the act.
Said a long-time friend and business associate, "Aubrey not only knows how to get you to say yes to a project, but he lays it out so that you sincerely want to do the best job possible."
"To me, a leader's job should be to motivate people to do something they would not ordinarily think of doing," said irby. "I believe that we all can accomplish more than we do--much more."
Kiwanis International has more than 300,000 living testimonials to the old adage, "If you have a job to do, give it to a busy man." Inspired to accomplish together what they would never attempt on their own, these business and professional men have left their trademark around the globe.
Take the much-needed playground at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Curious about why a man with tender plams would surrender his golfing time and perhaps risk a disc working on such a project, I called Exxon chemical engineer John T. Roberts of the Baton Rouge club. Roberts is a former president of Kiwanis International.
"The idea originated when a special-education teacher came to our club to ask for support," he told me. "All she wanted was a donation of $150 to add to a fund for materials to build this playground for orthopedically handicapped children. She said these kids had no place to play; that the ones with two good legs, in their exuberance, ran over the ones in wheelchairs.
"So our club began to look into the situation," he continued. "In checking, we found that a school in Texas had solved the problem by building a special park. So that is what we decided to do. We would lay out the park, design the equipment and do it ourselves. But first we went to a district judge, talked to the school board and made sure the school would continue to care for the orthopedically handicapped. It took us a full year to get through the red tape."
In a nutshell, the club members raised $4,000 themselves, and Exxon gave them another $1,500 for materials. Other companies donated fence and lumber, lent a tractor and so on. But it was Kiwanian sweat and muscle, on four weekends, that dug postholes, poured cement, set the equipment in place and "had a good time doing it," said Roberts.
"During the operation, a local TV crew came out and took pictures," he laughingly recalled. "And there I was, shovel in hand, on the evening news with my wife watching. She asked me how come I never did anything like that at home. I said, 'Because it's not as much fun at home.'"
Another idea that has become the Boston-based Kiwanis Pediatric Trauma institute, as well as the answer to many a prayer, was formulated in the minds of two Maine Kiwanians. David Lockwood, enthusiastic program manager of the institute, pointed out that in New England 700 children die and 2,500 are permanently disabled annually by traumatic injuries. In 1980 the Kiwanis Foundation of New England joined the New England Medical Center to make plans for meeting the man-sized problem.
"Facilities, special child-size equipment and exerience to treat the child are beyond the resources of many communities," Lockwood said. "But we now have the world's first regional system combining transportation, treatment and rehabilitation exclusively for pediatric trauma victims. Whenever a physician treating an injured child determines that emergency care is required," he said, "a fully equipped and staffed medical helicopter is dispatched to the referring hospital. With a five-minute launch time and a two-mile-per-minute speed, the medical crew provides safe and rapid transport."
Kiwanis are also concerned for the families of injured children. "Just last month we admitted a boy burned on more than 60 percent of his body," Lockwood said. "The president of the local Kiwanis club and his wife picked up the child's mother and drove her to Boston so she could be with her injured son."
That's really one of the intangibles Kiwanis offers. Getting down to figures, Lockwood said, the Kiwanis Foundation of New England and its 10,000 kiwanis have pledged to raise $245,000 annually toward the trauma institute's $800,000 budget.
And so it goes around the world. In the Bahamas, the project is immunization; in Alberta, Canada, a drug campaign. (The entire K-Family was out in force supporting Nancy Reagan's TV program "The Chemical People," dealing with drug and alcohol abuse.) Elmhurst, Illinois, Kiwanians employ a puppet to warn kids of "stranger danger." The combined Kiwanis clubs of Tempe, Arizona, gave that city a $500,000 park. The Rock Valley, Iowa, club heps children with muscular dystrophy; Kirkland, Washington, with the mentally ill. An Ohio club focuses on driver's education, one in Ontario, on volunteers and in Miami, the Little Havana Festival.
Aubrey Irby can go on for an hour or so recounting these Kiwanis ventures and adventures.
"The challenges and opportunities of this coming year are great indeed," he said, running his hand over an enviable mane of silver hair. "Under our international umbrella theme of "Seek the Widening Path," our Major Emphasis Program for 1984 will be "Enrich the World of the Handicapped.'"
President Irby explained that Kiwanis' broad commitment covers the mentally as well as the physically handicapped and all ages, from infants to people of 40 and 50.
"Take my home town of Tyler," he said. "With 80,000 population, I believe it's fairly typical. And probably out of 300 people under age 18 in various degrees of mental or physical impairment, only a small percentage are able to go to a child-development center. Kiwanis International is strongly in favor of President Reagan's philosophy that it is better for a volunteer organization to take over the work thatn to send one dollar to Washington and get ten cents back to do the job.
"Of the possible 300 handicapped people in Tyler," Irby continued, "we have gone into the homes of exactly 29 people. And the gap between 29 and 300 is pretty big."
Mainline Kiwanians are helped in their task by younger groups. James D. Troyer, president of Circle K International, directs the world's largest collegiate service organization. Its 12,000 coed members, 800 clubs strong in seven countries, put their youthful minds and muscles into numerous Kiwanis projects.
"Our particular thrust this year," said Troyer, having just arrived at world headquarters from a private college in Washington state, "is working with families. My own club just finished painting a house for a family that couldn't afford to have it done. There are so many that need this 'hands on' kind of help," he said. "They may get money from other organizations, but where else can they find someone to roll up his sleeves and pitch in?"
Troyer's 60-member club works with children at a battered women's shelter. "We take them roller skating, to plays on campus, the state fair--any number of activities," he said. "We also raised funds for a huge Junglegym for a child-care center for emotionally disturbed kids."
At the Atlanta Circle K convention where Troyer was elected, 1,000 Circle K members went down to donate blood to the Atlanta chapter of the American Red Cross. Talk about blood, sweat and tears! The Georgia governor recognized them by issuing a special citation.
Kiwanis is in high schools, too. Matt Perrine, a senior at Walker High in Jasper, Alabama, is president of Key Club International, which has 108,000 members. The Key Club theme for '84 is "Confront Confusion--Discover Direction." These young members confront confusion by becoming more aware of themselves, their families, their peers and what they want from life. Their direction is aimed at the school, at the home and at the community.
Certainly not confusing are the club's accomplishments. They range from a Teachers' Appreciation Day to buying things for the school, from cheering grandparents in nursing homes to working with mentally disturbed kids. One club bought a computer device to help a child with cerebral palsy to read. Another club has entered The Guinness Book of World Records by collecting and lining up 4.2 miles of pennies on their gym floor. The money then went to the Shriners' Hospital for Crippled Children.
Yet another group of Kiwanians comes in even smaller sizes--the Builders Club. Its members, ages 12 through 15, are nonetheless as determined as their big brothers when it comes to helping others, serving their schools and improving their communities.
Kiwanians have never been ones to pat themselves on the back. In fact, they keep a rather low profile, and O.K.'d this article only because, unlike the Marines, they are looking for many more, because there is so much to be done.
"We are putting a major effort on growth," Irby told me. "I'm persuaded--in fact, I know--" he said, "that there are thousands of communities of 3,000 population or more without a Kiwanis club. And there are as many clubs that need more workers to do more good."
So, when was the last time you rolled up your sleeves?