In It For The Kids (North Bay Biz Magazine)

From northbaybiz.com
Author: Bonnie Durrance
February, 2012 Issue



One never stands so tall as when kneeling to help a child.

 
If you read the headlines, you’ll know that today’s young adults are suffering from job loss, credit starvation, foreclosures and truncated futures—all trends that would seem to foster anything but altruism. But throughout the North Bay and across the United States and Canada, groups of young women and men between the ages of 20 and 40, are actively helping their communities by helping needy children. Together, through their work in chapters of Active 20-30 Clubs, they’re quietly, on a completely volunteer basis, attending regular meetings, organizing events and working with local and national charities to help get the right help to the right kid. And they’re finding fellowship and happiness in the process.

Anyone doubt that doing good creates happiness?

Just watch these young people in action at a ballfield, helping little ones with their batting skills, orchestrating a Santa Rosa Crab Feast fund-raiser, putting on a raucous beer tasting or, one by one, leading nearly 200 kids through JCPenney to pick out new school outfits or taking another 200 children to a Christmas party to meet Santa. Wherever you see them, these people will be all smiles, united in a common mission and enjoying a common satisfaction. 

“I love doing it,” says Aaron Currie, an attorney, father of two and current president of the Active 20-30 Club of Santa Rosa #50. “It’s a really amazing thing, when you see the look on the kids’ faces when they meet Santa and get a gift.” 

What are the 20-30 clubs and how do they work? The 20-30 clubs are local branches of a national nonprofit, the Active 20-30 US & Canada. “We’re a 501c(3) nonprofit and our charitable premise is to serve and help underprivileged and at-risk youth,” says Currie, explaining that their mission is to raise money and support for needy local children, from toddlers through teenagers, through various fund-raising activities and work projects. He says the money raised goes directly to the kids, either through events the clubs organize and host, like the KidSpree back-to-school shopping event, or through donations to other nonprofit organizations that are directly helping the children in our local community.

“For example,” says Currie, “last year we gave a $2,500 donation to a program called CHOICES that’s also supported by the North Coast Builders Exchange and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. This program brings professionals into high schools to talk about the consequences of going on without a diploma. They bring statistics, relating earning power to education, that show kids how difficult it will be to cover their basic living expenses, including average rent in the county, without graduating.”

Another nonprofit the club has recently supported is called Verity (formerly United Against Sexual Assault). This group, which provides services to over 5,000 Sonoma County youth ages 5 to 19, sends in professionals to elementary schools throughout the county to help children learn to understand and avoid possible abuse by talking about privacy and inappropriate touching. “This is something most people find uncomfortable,” says Currie, “but for kids being abused, this program lets them talk about it. And we think it’s important to fund something that’s working to prevent something as horrible as this.”

High commitment, low profile

The clubs all raise money for kids through events that are popular throughout the community, such as the Battle of the Brews, a beer tasting that’s been held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds every year for the last 16. But they’re not big about having their name up front. “I don’t think many people know what our organization is really about,” he says. “Like the Battle of the Brews, which is a beer event—most attendees have no clue the reason we’re doing it is to donate the money we raise to benefit the children of our community.” 

With the support of the Santa Rosa Police Officers and Firefighters Associations, Currie’s Active 20-30 Club has brought back the Red, White and Boom Fourth of July celebration, also held at the Fairgrounds. Proceeds from all the club’s fund-raising events go into a separate fund called the Youth Benevolent Fund. “Every penny we raise goes into that fund,” says Currie. The club’s administrative costs, as minimal as they are—they’re all volunteers and they don’t have a building—come out of members’ dues. In other words, they pay themselves to serve. Currie says the club is able to operate on a shoestring because it knows how to use its time and resources efficiently. “We’ve been doing this for such a long time, we’re a pretty well-oiled machine as far as fund-raisers go.”

Currie particularly loves the Challenger Little League each spring, which is a bona fide youth baseball league serving boys and girls with severe mental disabilities from throughout the North Bay. The 20-30 clubs give money to support the league each year—between $3,000 and $5,000—but also their time. “Our members go each Sunday to umpire their games,” says Currie. “It’s really fantastic. You have children who may not even be able to communicate, and they can get up there and hit a baseball. It’s a really, really neat thing.” They’ve done this for at least 15 years.

Membership for the Santa Rosa chapter is currently at 59, but fluctuates, as they all do, as members “age out” at 40, and there’s a high demand put on the members. “We’re very clear that we’re here to help children,” says Currie, stressing it’s primarily not for business networking like Rotary or other organizations. “Some people join without understanding that and end up leaving for other groups that are more focused on networking. But since my term started in June, we’ve had 12 new members come in, and we have continued interest.” He says he puts in anywhere between 10 to 15 hours per week—in addition to his day job as an attorney and his family duties—just keeping the club going. That may seem impressive, but he says it’s just one thing he can do to give back to his community. 

Where do the volunteers find so much time?

“I’m lucky,” says Currie. “My boss, Kevin Veenstra, is an ex-member of the club and very supportive. You’ll find all the members have strong support from spouses and employers. There’s a large network of alumni in the local community and a long history of our club here. We couldn’t do it without that.” 

That support is deep and broad and goes back many years. “This club has been in Santa Rosa for 82 years,” says Currie. His club is one of five in Sonoma County, including Rohnert Park (#656), a men’s group (like Currie’s), and Redwood Empire (#1029), a women’s group, and Sebastopol (#63), Healdsburg (#205) and Napa (#57), all co-ed clubs. 

Club history

In the 1920s, young men’s service organizations were formed across the world, including the Apex Clubs of Australia, the Kinsmen Clubs of Canada, the Round Tables of Great Britain and Ireland, the Active International and the 20-30 International of the United States and Canada. Young men in all these organizations formed bonds of friendship fostered through a shared mission to help the youth of their communities.

In 1945, these disparate groups became united under the newly formed World Council of Young Men’s Service Clubs. The charter of the World Council listed, among its goals, to “develop the fellowship of young men through the medium of business and professional occupations and community service activities; to encourage active and responsible citizenship by cultivating the highest ideals in business, professional and civic traditions; to promote and further international understanding, friendship and cooperation; to promote the extension of the Association throughout the world; and to coordinate and inspire member Associations in their individual activities.”

In 1959, the Active International, led by President Ken Helling, and the 20-30 International Clubs, led by President Norm Morrison, moved to unite. In 1960, in an Active 20-30 convention in Santa Cruz, the delegates agreed to the proposal and, as a result, they became Active 20-30 International.

Gioia Hershey, a national director for Active 20-30 Clubs in Region #6 (which includes San Francisco #4, Petaluma #30, Santa Rosa #50, Napa, #57, Sebastopol #63, Vallejo #79, Healdsburg #205, North Bay #656 and Redwood Empire #1029), says that in the last two years, five clubs have chartered within a 70-mile area of Santa Rosa. “There are so many kids who need assistance,” she says. “It was difficult for four clubs to meet their needs. In the last two years, Active 20-30 has rechartered clubs in Healdsburg, Petaluma, Sebastopol, San Francisco and Vallejo to try and fill that void.” She explains that these clubs had been active in the early days, but with the draft for the Vietnam War, the eligible population fell away and the clubs suffered inevitable attrition. Now, the population is restored, the need is great, the local clubs are active and young men and women are seeing the rewards of serving their communities. She says that now, in the Bay Area, there are more than 200 active members (more than 500 members statewide). “We’re all here to help the kids,” she says. “And still everyone remains a member for different reasons—they want to meet new friends or gain leadership skills—but we’re all here for the same initial mission, which is helping children.” As to the social benefits, she says it wasn’t why she joined, but she admits she did meet her husband at an Active 20-30 International convention in San Jose, Costa Rica (he was president of Santa Rosa #50 and Hershey was incoming president of Great Basin #35 in Sparks, Nev.).

What’s the attraction?

“Our motto is, ‘One never stands so tall as when kneeling to help a child,’” says Hershey, and the major attraction all boils down to a desire to help kids. “Unfortunately, according to Social Advocates for Youth [SAY], there are almost 800 homeless kids in Sonoma County,” she says, an estimate based on the number that drop in to SAY for meals. As the number of kids and families in need has increased, so has the demand on local nonprofits, whose funding has already been cut at a time when more and more people are seeking their help. These organizations are now leaning more on service groups like the Active 20-30 Club for both financial and staffing support. “Clubs in region #6 have given away more than $1.25 million over the last 10 years,” says Hershey. 

The Redwood Empire Club #1029 was formed in February 1990 by a group of local women. Michelle Crosbie, CPA and mother of two, is the current president. “I joined the club about seven years ago after graduating from college,” she says. “I was looking for a way to meet young people and get back into the community.” She learned about the club by seeing an ad for its annual Crab Feed fund-raiser and was motivated to join. “It’s our biggest fund-raiser of the year since it started about eight years ago. We’ve been holding it at St. Eugene’s Cathedral [in Santa Rosa]. We sell about 450 tickets. We have both a silent and a live auction to sponsor our Children’s Shopping Spree so people can give in increments from $150 on up.” 

Last year, the Redwood Empire club partnered with Santa Rosa #50 and Healdsburg #205 to sponsor a shopping spree for 195 kids, taking them back-to-school shopping at Coddingtown Mall. Each child was given a $150 gift certificate and accompanied by an adult volunteer who helped them try on and select clothes. JCPenney, Payless Shoe Stores and Old Navy opened early for the kids. The beauty college gave free haircuts. This year, a dentist also came to check kids out.

The kids are selected from other nonprofits in the community such as Catholic CharitiesCommittee of the Shelterless (COTS), Millennium Housing Project, Salvation ArmyBoys and Girls Club of Santa Rosa and the Community Council on Child Care. “We raise money every year and work with local nonprofit organizations in our community to help us identify and serve the underprivileged children in Sonoma County,” says Crosbie. 

Crosbie says she’s definitely seen an increase in need during these last few years. In response, “We just try to do what we can for the organizations that need help,” she says. Sometimes they give directly, when there’s a critical need: “Several years ago, we bought a stove for one of the shelters.”

 
What does Crosbie get out of it personally?

“I would say the friendships,” she says. “I’ve met some amazing women who have become dear, dear friends. I just like the camaraderie of it all. And I like seeing the expressions on those kids’ faces—some of whom may not have had new shoes in three years.” Plus, the mission of the clubs is one she embraces with a very personal motivation. “I was that underprivileged child,” she says, explaining that in the late ’80s in North Dakota, her parents hit a rough patch. Her father had lost his job, and the family leaned on the support of the community until they found stability again. That memory sticks with her so that now, when so many people are going through hard times, she says it feels good to help. 

Hershey seconds the thought. “I’ve met some of my best friends through Active 20-30,” she says. “We all joined to help kids and meet people who had similar interests. Whether you’re a stay at home parent or an attorney working 70 or 80 hours per week, there’s a place for you in Active 20-30 if you want to help underserved children.” 

Julianna Landrum, president of Active 20-30 Club of Napa #57 says she enjoys of her co-ed Napa club, because she feels the men and women balance each other’s efforts. “Our main focus is to try to impact the children in our community—to try and make life better for the kids,” she says. “And so, I think the balance between the men and women works out well. We have quite a few married couples. So it’s nice for them to have something they can work on together. You get the best of both sexes involved. The women tend to be more planners, and the men are very much like, ‘Let’s go out and get it done.’ So it’s a good complement to each other.”

How can others join?

“Our members are usually referred by current members,” says Crosbie. “The Crab Feed is like a recruiting event itself!” Prospective members have to attend three general meetings, a hands-on event (such as the kids’ shopping spree), an informational meeting and, finally, you attend a board meeting to see if you’re a good fit. There’s a commitment. There are several events and meetings twice a month. You want somebody to be committed and be there for the right reasons.” 

To find out more, go to the Active 20-30 US and Canada website at www.active20-30.com.