Rotary, Civitan members aim to boost interest

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

A pair of international service organizations separately held regional meetings in Vicksburg over the weekend, bringing a combined 400 members from Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida to the city for training and planning.

Rotary International held its annual multi-district presidents-elect training at the Vicksburg Convention Center for the third straight year, drawing 250 members from 120 clubs. Meanwhile, Civitan International brought its annual regional meeting to the Battlefield Inn, with 160 members attending.

Both organizations’ international presidents were in Vicksburg for the events, and both spoke of the importance of retaining existing volunteer members and reaching out to new, younger members.

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“When we build our club, we are building our communities,” said Ray Klinginsmith of Missouri, Rotary International 2010-11 president-elect. “The success of your club will depend on the amount of time you dedicate to the job…you need to dream about what it will take to make your club better.”

Rotary International has 1.2 million active members in 33,000 clubs worldwide. The Vicksburg club was established in 1970 and has 110 members who meet each Thursday at noon at Roca. Current Vicksburg Rotary President Hunter Fordice will hand over the reigns to Lynn Foley in July, and Blake Teller will step in as vice president.

“There’s a lot of opportunities out there for service at the local level, as well as nationally and internationally,” said Teller, who will become the local president in 2011.

Local Rotary fundraisers in recent years have provided coats and bicycles for children, dictionaries for all third-graders in Warren County, potable water for developing nations and regular contributions to The Salvation Army. A new program promoting literacy will work in conjunction with Good Shepherd Community Center, said Teller.

Civitan International has 40,000 members active in 900 clubs worldwide. Vicksburg Civitan is led by president Doug Huskey, and has about 20 members who meet at Shoney’s each first and third Wednesday at noon.

“The economy has hurt us, and we’ve lost some members through the years,” said Huskey of the local Civitan, which has been active for more than 40 years. “When I joined in 1990, we had about 40 members.”

Civitan International 2009-10 President Mark Eisinger came to Vicksburg from his home in Las Vegas to attend the regional meeting. While Rotary International membership is holding steady locally and internationally, Eisinger said Civitan International membership has slid in recent years.

“Last year was the first major decline we’ve had in membership,” he said. “We’re an aging organization, but we’re doing a lot of things to try to reach out to younger members.”

Along with using social networking tools such Twitter and Facebook to reach young volunteers, Eisinger said Civitan International is establishing new types of clubs. For example, a new Civitan golf club will focus on recruiting golf enthusiasts to get involved with at-risk and disabled youths. There is also a new club focused specifically on women’s issues, as well as a new online club.

“We’re looking at special interest groups to try to branch out in any way we can,” Eisinger said. “It’s going to take some time to get back to where our membership is growing, but I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

Among other initiatives, Civitan International focuses on raising funds to help physically disabled children and adults. Much of the organization’s fundraisers benefit the Civitan International Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, established in 1989. The organization aims to donate $1 million to the research center each year.

In addition to doing research, the center provides clinical care for patients with neurodevelopmental disabilities such as attention deficit disorder, autism and cerebral palsy.

A silent auction at the regional meeting this weekend in Vicksburg was expected to raise as much as $8,000 for the center.

“They help supply our infrastructure a great deal, and they allow us to do the little extra things that we would otherwise not have the funds to do,” said research center associate director Dr. Alan Percy, who also came to Vicksburg to speak at the meeting.

Huskey said, to his knowledge, the regional Civitan meeting has never been held in Vicksburg.

“It’s a great boost the Vicksburg economy, and we’d love to host it again,” he said.

Larry Gawronski, Rotary member and executive director of Venuworks — which is contracted to manage the city-owned convention center and auditorium — said the annual Rotary International presidents-elect training seminar injects approximately $750,000 in the Vicksburg economy. Bob Graves, governor-elect of Rotary District 6820 — which encompasses 44 clubs in central Mississippi, including Vicksburg — said the training seminar will be back in Vicksburg again next year.

“We have representative from both our districts in New Orleans and Memphis, so Vicksburg is great central location — and the facilities are excellent,” Graves said.

Contact Steve Sanoski at