Nelson Lion Travis Nakken says seeing the smiles on people’s faces during the club’s annual pancake breakfast makes all the hard work worth it. But the Nelson Lions Club may not be able to hold the event this year, or ever again.
That’s because dwindling membership numbers and an aging group of volunteers are putting the future of the almost 75-year-old club at risk.
Nakken, 43, has been a member of the Nelson Lions for a decade. He’s one of nine remaining members.
In the 10 years Nakken has been a member, the Lions have shrunk by more than 50 per cent. He says many local residents don’t understand the integral contribution the Lions make to the local community. He estimates the club will fold within two years if they can’t attract new members.
“I can’t seem to find anyone my age to get involved. And the most shocking thing is that we have such an active and vocal community, particularly when it comes to things like Queen’s Bay and Cottonwood Lake,” said Nakken. “But we can’t seem to get members to help with those things that happen year round. There’s a lot that goes on in the background.”
The Lions have been trying to recruit members for years with drives at the mall, ads in the newspaper, and by word of mouth. But it doesn’t seem to be helping, and they aren’t the only ones struggling.
Clubs such as the The Fraternal Order of Eagles and the Royal Canadian Legion are also plagued by similar dwindling membership numbers, according to Nakken. Long-time members are aging and slowing down (most are between the ages of 60-90) and younger members are not signing up, he said.
“If we fold, then what happens to Lions Park? What happens to all our events? Take the Nelson Parade. They lost volunteers that would organize it and eventually the parade that happened every Canada Day disappeared,” said Nakken.
The Canada Day pancake breakfast is a tradition reaching back over 50 years, and the funds raised at this and other events are given back to the community in the form of donations and bursaries.
Nakken estimates that when the club is operating at full capacity they are capable of contributing $30,000 to the community.
Other fundraisers include their Firewood Sale, Christmas Tree Pickup and Variety and Magic Show. The local Lions also maintain the Lions Park outdoor skating rink in the winter and the spray park in the summer.
The Nelson Lions Club are asking the public to attend their meetings to see if they might want to join. Meetings are held twice a month on first and third Thursdays at the Hume Hotel, beginning with dinner at 6:30 p.m., followed by discussions on how to help the less fortunate until 8 p.m.
Lions Clubs International claim to have 1.4 million members and 46,000 clubs in about 200 countries around the world.