Chris Erickson 2015-07-15 05:06:38
Down to just four members, a club in a small North Dakota town rebounds thanks to Facebook and an old-fashioned, father-and-son chat. On the eve of last year’s Super Bowl, a large crowd gathered in the Beulah Civic Center in North Dakota for the Lions’ “Souper Bowl.” Fourteen varieties of soup vied for votes. Beulah Lions donated $1,500 to Leader Dogs thanks to the fundraiser. The fundraiser was routine. But the fact the club still exists and today thrives is the real story. Down to four members, the club in the small city of 3,400 was set to give up its charter. The turnaround began with a father-and-son talk last year. Facebook fueled the rapid rise in membership. And at the heart of the revival were young families who saw a Lions club as a vehicle to improve their community and enhance the lives of their children. Beulah comes into view as drivers crest a hill on Highway 49. The city’s size belies its economic strength. The surrounding hills and valleys are rich with grain and cattle. And power plants. Known as the “Energy Capital of North Dakota,” Beulah boasts a vibrant energy sector with coal mines and coal-fired power plants. Yet the club lost members, stagnated, lost even more members and dwindled to almost no one. The decline started with the best of intentions. Dave Czywczynski had served as a district governor in 1991 while a member of the Bowman Lions Club in North Dakota. He became a Beulah Lion when he moved into town because of a job transfer. As president, he advocated more participation in programs of Lions Clubs International. “I could feel a quiet resistance from some of the members,” he says. A family with many friends in the club quit. “It started a domino effect,” says Czywczynski. “We were a club going south, and no one was willing to work at saving the club.” That’s when Czywczynski and his wife, Lion Linda, sat down for dinner with his son, Derek, and his wife, Heather. Derek had worked as an optometrist in Omaha, Nebraska, and he was well acquainted with the service of Lions both from his job and his parents. Derek wanted to serve the community but not as a Lion. His plan was to start a service club. His parents detailed to their son and daughter-in-law the advantages of being part of an international association. The Beulah Lions Club itself was primed for further service—“fundraising assets such as our chuckwagon for food vending, a post office box and bank accounts to handle club dues,” Czywczynski told his son. Derek was sold. “It was always something that I knew I would get into,” he says. “Given my background and my interests, it would have been kind of ridiculous if I didn’t. “So I reached out to some of my friends who I thought might have a similar interest in it. It started to grow. He recruited Brant and Katie Keller, who have two young children. He works at a local power plant and she works at the elementary school. Brant also serves on the Beulah City Council. But he and Katie saw Lions as another way to give back to Beulah. The two reached out to other young professionals. “Much of our initial recruiting was done through Facebook Messenger,” Katie says. Four new members joined. That swelled to 12 by the next meeting. About three months after the first push, 20 new members had joined. In less than a year, the club counted 30 members. The average age of a new member was 33. Most had young children, and many were professionals. “We sat down and said, ‘What do we want to do?’” Derek says. “The overwhelming majority said that we should be improving our city in whatever way we can—walking paths, planting trees, anything to improve it for the future.” ‘The overwhelming majority said that we should be improving our city in whatever way we can—anything to improve it for the future.’ The club spruced up a park the elder Czywczynski’s generation had built. The Lions painted the shelter, picked weeds and planted flowers. That initial act helped the group feel an immediate ownership of the club and the community. The club also tackled a Lions’ project that had stalled: a gazebo at the Knife River Care Center Memorial Garden. The finished gazebo now provides an enjoyable gathering point in the garden. The club also places American flags throughout the town on holidays such as Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, 9/11 and Veterans Day. “I never figured that the interest would be that great, but we got something going,” Derek says. Part of the appeal was that the club wasn’t a stickler about attendance. Meetings were not mandatory. The club also emphasized the value of community service and carving out a niche for members. “If you take the time to belong to something and devote some time to it, you will find that your life becomes more rewarding,” says Derek. “The biggest thing can be making sure everyone feels appreciated. Everyone has a focus, and if there's a project where someone's expertise can come in, include them." In the end, the club succeeded because its new members took charge but also used the sage counsel of longtime members. “Having Dad there to help guide us has been instrumental,” Derek says. “He and the others have helped guide us, shown us where to go and how to do it when we needed certain resources. It has helped so much having him around and I’m thankful for that.” Digital LION On the verge of extinction, a club in Connecticut rebounds. Read the February 1991 LION story at lionmagazine.org.
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