Rotary in Powell River was started in 1955 by a number of community-minded male business owners. It was a local chapter of a well-known organization called Rotary International, which has been around since 1905 as a humanitarian and service organization.
RI’s motto is: “Service above Self.”
Rotary is very large organization of 1.2 million members in more than 190 countries.
In the early years, Powell River Rotarians contributed to the community by initiating the annual Sea Fair Parade and Fair, Willingdon Beach Campground and laundry facilities and helping with various needs. Members were men who were regarded as head of households and head of their workplaces. These demographics were normal and worked well for many years and even decades. In 1988 women were invited to join clubs and quickly became the fastest growing segment of Rotary.
The theme of change and keeping up with the times is the answer to Rotary locally.
“We have had membership numbers over 50 in one club in the 1990s,” explained Ross Cooper, membership director for The Rotary Club of Powell River, which meets Wednesday evenings at Julie’s Airport Café. “10 years ago, we chartered a second group, The Rotary Club of Powell River Sunrise, as people told us that evenings did not work for them but they still wanted to be part of Rotary. Some of those people were former members of the evening club.”
A second club adds to what can be done in Powell River and between the two clubs, they have been able to maintain a membership total of 50 Rotarians in this community. For a decade there have been many more projects undertaken by the two clubs.
More changes were implemented from RI. The minimum membership requirement of supervisory positions changed with the economic reality that a small retail owner or consultant has just as much to offer Powell River in a service club as a CEO.
An adjustment to the long-standing practice of maintaining perfect attendance to the weekly meetings was softened as it better reflected today’s world of blended families, equal roles and advance in technology. E-Clubs are a direct result in changing technology.
“Rotary International continues to monitor and seek feedback to accommodate membership recruitment and retention,” said Cooper, “and adjusting as required since they acknowledge to not do this will be a further deterioration in numbers. But the risk is always there. All service clubs are aware of the challenge of keeping membership up due to the changing values of how people view the role they play for the community and for themselves.”
Whether it is changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, technology, women’s roles, many service clubs see a reduction of new members. Several in Powell River have ceased to exist.
“As membership director, I struggle with commitment issues when approaching potential members,” added Cooper. “Generally, the younger generation do not want to belong to a club that meets every week. This might be seen as something their parents did but this is not their way to contribute to a non-profit or service group.
“Younger people are very civic-minded and want to contribute but do not want to go to a meeting or belong to something. So, the structure of the past is in conflict with the structure of the future. Adaptation is the only way for the torch to be passed.”
To combat that, Cooper came up with an idea he refers to as “Friends of Rotary.”
These are some 30 civic-minded people who want to be invited to projects and work parties. They want to contribute to their community but do not want to be a full-fledged member.
“Adaptation is the key and it is working,” said Cooper.
Powell River currently has a strong Interact Club for high school students but when they graduate the current Rotary clubs may not be ideal for them.
“So, we are trying to create a club for 18- to 30-years-olds called Rotaract so they can move right into this organization and keep up their school activities of giving,” added Cooper. “Adaptation and change are necessary qualities in any organization but are particularly important for service clubs.”
As to why people should join Rotary, Cooper’s wish is to show value in participating and contributing to their community and those in need around the world through a very impactful organization. The message to the youngest working members of society is to reflect on the contributions that service club members have provided to them and their well-being in Powell River.
“Whether it is a park, playground equipment, trails, benches, pavilions, viewpoints,” he explained, “ask yourself when the last service members are too old to build or raise money for those community improvements, then who will do it?”