In 2011, 100 Mile Lion Ron Graves, left, and 100 Mile Mayor Mitch Campsall, right, presented 35-year pins to Highway 24/Interlakes Lions Club charter members Don Charlton, centre left, and Al Bishop. Charlton remained a member until the club shut down. Diana Forster photo.

Lions Clubs dying out with aging population

“I think all organizations, all community service groups are at risk because of that same thing; the lack of young membership”

One of the downsides of having the oldest population in Northern B.C. is becoming more evident.

The Highway 24 – Interlakes Lions Club, near 100 Mile House, is shutting down because they can’t find enough new members, according to Harvey Allen, who’s been with the club for 18 years, and served as the secretary, the treasurer, the president for six years and zone chair.

“The biggest thing is we can’t get people to join. The last probably three or more years now we’ve never had one person come to us. We’ve tried many ways to get people but just people don’t want to do that these days.”

They’ve got members in their eighties and it’s hard work for them, says Allen.

They’ve put on a dinner to try and get out new members, and let people know at breakfasts and lunches they’ve organized but it hasn’t worked.

The club itself has a long history. On April 10, 1976, 33 men got together, sponsored by the 100 Mile House Lions Club, and formed the club.

They have about eight members remaining, with one member living all the way in Switzerland. He makes a nice donation and sometimes visits in the summer, according to Allen, but can’t attend the regular meetings.

Among the causes they support are children with diabetes, providing families who can’t afford much with camps, they provide a lunch or breakfast at the Bridge Lake fair, the Bridge Lake and Interlakes rodeos, they support the White Cane Club, Dog Guides program, the BC Yukon Legion, Citizens on Patrol, families in need (often people who lose their house to fire), the Interlakes area fire departments, a Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School scholarship and the 100 Mile Hospital, he says.

“The remaining members [are] very sad about it of course because it was not only a thing that we did for the community but it was also a social thing for us,” he says. “The other side, of course, is the community is really going to miss us. Things like the Mother’s Day pancake breakfast and all the other things we put on were well received here in the community.”

The Highway 24 – Interlakes Lions Club are hardly the only ones with that problem. In recent years, Lions Clubs have shut down not only provincially in Osoyoos and Kelowna and nationally like in Sackville, N.B. but even as close by as Clinton which shut down after 51 years, says Jim Thompson who was with that club since 1974.

“It did an awful lot of work in conjunction with the Village of Clinton, such as signage, park equipment, shelters, picnic shelters, benches, bursaries to the school and so forth.”

There’s been basically none of that since the club shut down, says Thompson.

“It’s very difficult to convince young people to join these service clubs.”

They have no interest in taking in meetings because they just have too many things on the go now, he says.

That’s a sentiment echoed by Allen.

“The thing is these days it seems, that people don’t volunteer for things. It’s not just the Lions Club losing out; there are lots of other organizations that have a real tough time getting people to help out. An example [is] boy scouts [and] sea cadets.”

Thompson says nearly the same thing.

“I think all organizations, all community service groups are at risk because of that same thing; the lack of young membership.”

Just this week, organizers announced the Cariboo Challenge Jack Gawthorn Dog Race was cancelled for the second year in a row. While primarily due to a lack of mushers, they also said their volunteers were down from what had been about 20 to only seven or eight.

Nationally volunteer rates haven’t 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,” he says. “There’s changing political values, changing ways in which you can volunteer. So younger seniors now, if they’re so inclined, they don’t necessarily have to commit locally. There’s all kinds of different ways through travel, volunteer tourism [and] online campaigns.

“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 that of those aged 35 to 44 at 122 hours, according to Statistics Canada. Those 55 and over contributing 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 from 2010 to 2013.

Allen says he really doesn’t know what it would take to turn things around.

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says the Highway 24 – Interlakes Lions Club shutting down is a sad situation.

“They of course have been a very vital part of that community,” she says. “They did so much good for that community. So, I guess it’s part of an era and hopefully one day someone will come along and pick up the missing pieces, but they sincerely will be missed.”

It’s amazing a lot of them carry on as long as they have, given the demographics, says Barnett.

“These organizations raised funds, they supported youth programs, they supported community programs and of course there will be a lot of these programs [that] will probably not be available to the communities and communities always suffer when things like this happens.”

While governments can help out with grants when they’re available that’s about the only place where governments can be, she says, adding that it’s not the funding that’s the problem but that younger people have not stepped to the plate.

“When you look at the population of the South Cariboo they say 66 per cent are seniors.”

For people new to the area, Barnett says volunteering is both a great way to feel good and to be part of the community.

As for the Highway 24 – Interlakes Lions Club, “they made the best french fries anywhere.”

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