The Ashcroft and District Lions Club gained 12 new members in early 2017, and now has 23 active members; but club secretary Vivian Edwards says that before the influx of new members, some thought was given to shutting down the club.
If the Ashcroft and District Lions had closed, they would have joined the growing number of Lions Clubs that can no longer keep going due to declining and aging membership. In 2015 the Clinton Lions Club closed after 51 years, and last week came news that the Highway 24-Interlakes Lions Club near 100 Mile House will be shutting down after 42 years.
“We got some new, younger members,” says Edwards. “That’s good, because they bring more energy and new ideas. It’s great.”
Clubs such as the Highway 24-Interlakes one have not been so fortunate. “The biggest thing is we can’t get people to join,” says Harvey Allen, who has been with the club for 18 years. “The last three or more years now we’ve never had one person come to us. We’ve tried many ways to get people, but people just don’t want to do that these days.”
The club only has eight members left, with one living in Switzerland and several members in their eighties. “It’s hard work for them,” says Allen. The Clinton Lions Club had to close due to declining membership, illness, aging, and lack of younger recruits.
Nationally, volunteer rates have not changed much, dropping from 45 per cent (for the population aged 15 and over) in 2004 to 44 per cent in 2013, according to Statistics Canada. However, that may be hiding some underlying changes, according to UNBC Professor Neil Hanlon.
“I don’t necessarily know that we have evidence that we’re seeing fewer volunteers. I think that the issue is that most of the volunteer workforce are older, the older population is changing, and the current group of potential volunteers, if you will, might have slightly different values and preferences,” Hanlon says.
“It’s not just British Columbia. I think there’s a certain vulnerability everywhere, especially in smaller centres, where typically much of the work and leadership falls to a very small number of people, many of whom are aging.”
On average, those 65 to 74 spent 231 hours volunteering, almost double the hours of those aged 35 to 44 (122 hours), according to Statistics Canada. Those 55 and over contributed 39 per cent of the hours volunteered in 2013. Furthermore, the sharpest decline in volunteering was in the 35 to 44 age group, dropping from 54 per cent to 48 per cent between 2010 and 2013.
“A lot of Lions clubs are struggling,” says Edwards. “They have older members, and they’re not attracting new people. I understand young people not wanting to be part of this: they have children, jobs, hockey. We’re looking for the young retireds. But people want to just retire and relax. They say ‘I’ve done my volunteering.'”
She notes that the Ashcroft and District Lions Club—along with other local organizations—took a hit in 2017 because of the wildfires. Two major fundraising events for the club—the Ashcroft and District Fall Fair and the annual golf tournament—had to be cancelled, and the club doesn’t know what is happening with another major event, the annual Mother’s Day Fly-In at the Campbell Hill Airport near Cache Creek. The Lions pancake breakfast at that event is an institution, and the club’s first event of the year, but its future is in doubt because of fire damage at the airport on July 7, 2017.
Edwards says that the club will be discussing the Fall Fair soon. It had pledged to keep the fair going in 2017, but the wildfire got in the way of that. “If we’re going to do it this year, we need to get going right away.” She adds that the golf tournament will be going ahead at Semlin Valley Golf Club in 2018, “Unless something else terrible happens.”
She adds that the club is available to provide catering—mostly hamburgers and hot dogs—for any local event or community organization. “There’s no fee for use of the service,” she says. The club uses these events to raise funds for a variety of causes, both close to home and farther afield.
Recently, the Ashcroft and District Lions Club held a fundraiser for local first responders, and were able to contribute several thousand dollars each to the Ashcroft, Cache Creek, and Loon Lake Volunteer Fire Departments as part of a larger donation from Alberta and B.C. Lions clubs that saw $12,000 go to each department. The club funds two annual bursaries—one for academics, one for trades—for graduating students at Desert Sands Community School; has supplied AEDs for locations such as the Cache Creek Community Hall and the Ashcroft HUB; donates funds to the local food bank and the Christmas Hamper committee; and made a donation to help secure new playground equipment for the Ashcroft pool park.
Each year they make donations to the Canuck Place for Children, the B.C. Children’s Hospital, the Terry Fox Foundation, and Royal Inland Hospital, to name a few. The club also hosts the annual Skip’s Run every June, in honour of long-time Ashcroft and District Lions Club members Skip Stuart, and for many years has partnered with the Rotary Club of Ashcroft-Cache Creek to maintain and improve the historic Ashcroft Chinese cemetery.
Edwards says that the time commitment to be a club member is whatever you want it to be. “We only have one meeting a month, and committee meetings if you’re on a committee. You can give as much time as you want. If you just want to help with Skip’s Run, you can just do that.”
Anyone wanting to find out more about the Ashcroft and District Lions Club, or become a part of it, can contact president Darlene Daily at (250) 457-6563.
With files from Max Winkelman, 100 Mile Free Press.