Dwindling civic groups look for ways to stay relevant

Middletown Young Professionals in November hosted the Middletown First Friday event called Ale in Autumn. The group holds informal, low-pressure get-togethers during larger community events. CONTRIBUTED
Middletown Young Professionals in November hosted the Middletown First Friday event called Ale in Autumn. The group holds informal, low-pressure get-togethers during larger community events. CONTRIBUTED

Henrietta Nye of the Middletown Kiwanis’ membership committee laments the loss and diminishment nationwide and locally of community service organizations, and would love to reverse that trend.

Nye, whose organization at noon today will host former Ohio First Lady Hope Taft at Central Connections (3907 Central Ave.), recently sent an email to Kiwanis members and others expressing a desire to energize such organizations.

Nye’s email message began: “I believe you care very deeply about our town and its future. I do too, and so do our friends at Kiwanis. We are seeing a drastic decrease in community service organizations. We think that is a very bad thing for Middletown.”

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Her organization over coming months will hold several get-acquainted sessions to let people know about the club and its members, as well as what they do.

The group meets at noon every Thursday except Thanksgiving, ending promptly at 1 p.m.

In an interview with the Journal-News, Nye said, “I think it’s very visible over the past 10-15 years, there were probably 20 or 25 service organizations in the area, and today there are probably four or five, so obviously there is a huge decrease in involvement in service organizations, which I think reduces the opportunities and services given to the community.”

They offer social opportunities and volunteer help that raises scholarships and projects that upgrade their communities, she said.

Here’s one theory she has about diminishing groups: “People are getting old, and they have less energy to take on the responsibilities of so many of these activities.”

Also, younger generations don’t seem to be as interested, she said, although the group called Middletown Young Professionals Inc. seems to be doing well, she observed.

“From what I understand, younger generations are not as anxious to join organizations,” she said. “I believe they are still very interested in service. It’s just done differently, and we need to change our service organizations — maybe we organize a project and invite 20 millennials to come help, if they want to do it for one day and they don’t want to dedicate their entire lives to one organization.”

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During the Kiwanis’ weekly programs through the years, she has learned a lot about Middletown and its surroundings, but such programs aren’t for everyone, she said. To adjust to the trends, one Kiwanis Club in Cincinnati meets at a Ronald McDonald House every week to serve dinner, she said. Other clubs are switching to virtual gatherings.

Dustin Hurley, a Middletown native and lawyer who specializes in small-business law, is a founder of Middletown Young Professionals, which has been around about four years. Hurley said his group has a handful of active members, but hasn’t discovered a magic approach to attracting millennials.

"We have an organization called the Middletown Young Professionals, and we have a hard time connecting with young professionals," he said.

He believes the biggest challenge is younger adults being so busy starting careers and raising young children that they have little extra time for “a volunteering hobby on the side, or even a social-networking hobby on the side.”

One thing his group does is make it simple and easy for even introverted members to join in, by having events during larger events, such as Middletown’s First Friday gatherings.

“Instead of planning our own event for First Friday, and conflicting or competing with that, we’ll just sort of put it out on social media that some of the young professional members will be there and we’re all going to meet up at such-and-such location, and just say ‘hi,’ and everybody goes their own way,” he said.

The young professionals two years ago put on a Color Run 5K and hopes to organize one again this year, he said.

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Middletown Young Professionals focuses on three pillars: improving Middletown and making it a place young people want to live; social/professional networking; and professional development, such as resume building workshops, and job-interview assistance, with special help given to students at Miami University's Middletown campus. For more information, email MiddletownYoungProfessionals@gmail.com or visit their Facebook page

Middletown Kiwanis Club will host a "Fun Night" at West Central Wine, 1120 Central Ave., from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21. The event is open to the public.