Representatives of four Haines service organizations met Wednesday and discussed pooling volunteers and partnering to keep groups and events afloat in the face of aging memberships, declining volunteerism and a tightening economy.
The meeting drew about 15 representatives of the American Legion, Legion Auxiliary, Emblem Club and Uglys of Haines, as well as Haines Borough mayor Stephanie Scott and state Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines.
Attendees agreed to meet again at 7 p.m. Aug. 29 and discussed a combined, quarterly newsletter that would keep the community abreast of each group’s efforts.
American Legion commander Bill McRoberts, who called the meeting, and Legion Auxiliary president Kathryn Coleman, each cited a shortage of volunteers that impairs their groups’ effectiveness and may threaten their existence. Each said they had only a few volunteers they could count on for group functions.
“If I don’t get help, I don’t see the Auxiliary going anywhere… If it went away, I don’t know how it would ever come back. It’s hard to get volunteers. It’s hard to have any energy for volunteering because it’s hard to make a living here,” Coleman said. McRoberts said he no longer attempts monthly group meetings, but instead meets regularly with a few other members to get things done.
If groups combined volunteers, there might be 15 to 20 people available to undertake events, McRoberts said. He outlined a loose plan under which other groups would use the Legion Hall for their events in exchange for loaning volunteers to American Legion functions, like its weekly burger feed. “We’re willing to pick up the costs (for the building) as long as we can get help,” he said.
Other ideas discussed at the meeting included coordinating efforts to avoid overloading the community with auctions and raffles, scheduling of events to prevent overlap, recruiting younger members, and enlisting the help of student organizations.
The need for new and younger members to carry groups into the future resurfaced during the meeting.
When an idea arose to resume “Taco Tuesdays,” formerly held at the Elks Lodge, at the Legion Hall, longtime Emblem Club member George Ann Smith said she was apprehensive. “I’m scared of jumping in, to tell you the truth. We’re tired too of working every function because we’ve worked every function,” Smith said.
“What happens after us?” asked Coleman, 27, one of the youngest people in the room. “We need to push for younger blood. We need 18 to 30-year-olds. All my younger members go off to college and I don’t see them again.”
McRoberts expressed optimism that coordination, particularly of events, could help each group raise more money. He said he’d put up an event calendar in the hall for groups to pencil in planned activities. “Changing the way things are done isn’t going to happen overnight, but looking into the future, we could look at doing things differently,” he said.
Emblem Club vice-president Kandus Strong endorsed McRoberts’ idea. “We’re in the same boat. The same eight people do everything. You get burnt out. I think each club here has the same problem. I think it’s a great idea to join forces.”
Emblem Club president Jamie Knudsen said to recruit, groups needed to hold fun events that would attract younger members.