Help me understand civic associations/organizations in the US
April 19, 2015 7:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in joining a civic association (like Lions Club or Rotary or Kiwanis or Junior League), but I don't know anything about these organizations, whether I would actually enjoy belonging, or whether they would want me to join. Can you tell me about the characters of the various clubs, any personal experiences working with them, upsides, downsides, membership selection processes?

I'm a professional woman in my late 30s, married with a preteen daughter. I am currently serving on my town's parks and recreation commission, and I really like attending meetings and helping with projects there. I joke that I joined the commission because I don't get to attend enough meetings at work, but there's quite a bit of truth to that. I enjoy working with people to discuss and solve problems, make plans, and execute projects. This is what I do professionally, but the projects and problems for parks and rec are simpler, fun, and in some ways more satisfying (I work in health care redesign, which I love, but there are a lot of unknowns and not a lot of clear end points). I also like serving my community and think it is important to find ways to give back.

I want to work on service projects to better my community and others, meet people in my area, develop/grow as a person, and have some fun in a reasonably functional, non-religious organization. I'm trying to figure out if I can get these things in one of the many civic associations out there, but I don't know anything about them. Which of these groups should I be looking at? Are there others that I'm not even aware of?
posted by jeoc to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Find meeting times, show up, and see which ones you feel attracted to. But do attend several different ones, all are valuable and positive, but different. Investigate all of them in your area, make it a thing you do, research, study for a bit, and then explore what tugs at your heart. Where can you really be valuable, what mission really excites you? They all have good missions, all are positive, just find the one that speaks to you personally. There in you will find the greatest personal reward, and be of the most value.

Hope this helps.
posted by Numbers123 at 7:54 AM on April 19, 2015

Have you asked your colleagues at Parks and Rec for leads to groups that might already support the projects done there? An introduction might help you be able to decide sooner, but you'll also need to consider conflicts of interest, particularly if you ever become a trustee of one of these groups, or a different one, if you have to do a register of interests be sure to include formal memberships or board roles.

An alternative might be to find an academic research group in your area or within 100 miles and attend a seminar. Even an afternoon postgraduate research meeting, where students and teachers rehearse for upcoming seminars and share ideas is a good way to learn about worthwhile pathways for yourself.
posted by parmanparman at 8:13 AM on April 19, 2015

I'm a Junior Leaguer and I love it ... in most of the country, Leagues are now open application (i.e., you can just join), but particularly in the South (and New York area), they may still require you to be sponsored. Also, you should check out the average age of members ... you used to "age out" of the League when you were 35, which is not the case any more and plenty of Leagues have active members in their 40s and 50s (mine does!), but in some places Leagues skew younger. Generally you have to complete five years of active service in your League to qualify for permanent, "sustaining" membership (where you just send your dues every year and don't have to do any work); you're not required to do so, you can quit whenever you want, but definitely most people are thinking about the 5-year mark and expecting to stay in that long, which gives the organization and fair amount of continuity.

Junior Leagues are great places to meet driven, educated women who care a lot about their communities, and they are unique in their focus on women's talents, women's issues, and women's communities among national service organizations. I've also found them unique in their ability to accommodate women with younger children ... Rotary isn't so smart about scheduling around school events or making sure there's child care available. You would also like their focus as a project incubator -- while most Leagues manage a few ongoing projects over many years (typically for fundraising -- thrift shops, holiday galas), the general focus of the organization is to identify a need, create a program or project to fulfill it, make it self-sustaining, and hand it off to another community organization, such as the park district or the local museum or a children's organization or whatever.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:03 AM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Rotary! I'm a bit biased: I essentially grew up in Rotary since both my parents are Rotarians, and I've been to something like 14 international conventions. The cool thing about Rotary is the interconnectedness of it: a club in one country might partner with a club in another country to complete a project. Local projects get you involved with your community, but you can also join an international community to work on worldwide projects (like Polio Plus; Rotary's program that has been working to aid polio eradication efforts since the 1980s).

Because of my parents' involvement in Rotary, I have friends all over the world, but I also know many more folks in my hometown than I otherwise would.

I'm not a Rotarian yet (I'm entering medical school in the fall), but I plan to be once I embark on my career.

If you care to memail me your location, if I (or my folks) know a Rotarian there, I'd be happy to put you in touch.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:28 PM on April 19, 2015

Rotary is really big in my (small) town in Vermont, so much so that there was a second Rotary group started because they wanted to have two different times for meetings. They do a lot of good works in town, maintain a park, do exchange programs for high schoolers, do a lot of small grants to organizations and seem to have the membership of most of the businessmen (and businesswomen) in town. I have nothing but good feelings about the work that they do. Depending on where you are, Rotary may be a civic organization or it may seem to slant somewhat religious. The organization in general is not religious but some of the different chapters may be.
posted by jessamyn at 7:38 PM on April 19, 2015

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