Civic Clubs build community and personal health

Joining a civic club and spending some time as a volunteer may be just what the doctor ordered.

Studies show that it’s good for your health to volunteer for your community and to join a civic organization, such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Optimist, and Lions clubs. Volunteering obviously helps the community. Volunteers put on events, provide scholarships, and more. What may be less obvious is that volunteering and joining civic clubs also boosts physical and emotional health.

The Mayo Clinic Health System says volunteering reduces stress levels and the risk of depression. Volunteers often learn valuable life and job skills while staying physically and mentally active. The Mayo Clinic cites a Longitudinal Study of Aging that concludes volunteers even live longer. Volunteers who have chronic or serious illnesses often experience less pain. 

The Bay City Lions Club hosted Paw Palooza in May to raise money for the Humane Society and Leader Dogs for the -- a part of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion that is tasked with providing science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans -- agrees. When you participate in any activity for the common good, such as voting, your health improves. It improves even more if you join a formal club. Healthy People points out that clubs offer emotional support and create a sense of community.

None of that surprises the people involved in Bay City-based clubs.

Marybeth Laisure, a member of both the Rotary Club of Bay City and the Bay City Kiwanis Club, said Bay City is fortunate to be home to a number of such organizations. 

“You develop friendships. Some of them are lifelong friendships,” Laisure said. “Some people have been members of Kiwanis for over 25 years. The same with Rotary. They have that history. They really believe in the organization.”

The president of the Bay City Noon Optimist Club, Rich Van Tol, said he’s involved for three main reasons. 

First, he learns about the community. Most clubs feature weekly presenters talking about community issues. “There’s so much good work happening in our community,” Van Tol said. “Being aware of it helps you to be an ambassador for the community.”

He also enjoys the social connections. And finally, he appreciates the opportunity to raise money to help other community organizations. 

Jeff Hunt, treasurer of the Bay City Lions Club, points out that the local clubs are affiliated with much larger organizations, making a tremendous impact around the globe. The International Association of Lions Clubs is the largest service organization in the world with nearly 1.5 million members.

Most people may be more familiar with all that civic clubs do in communities. Civic club members volunteer at local festivals, while the overall organizations sponsor events, youth sports teams, and more.

More than 1 million Rotary members have donated their time and personal resources to end polio. "Our Bay City club built and donated the pavilion in Bigelow Park to Bay City, to help get the Riverwalk project started," Hunt said. "We also donated the playground equipment just north of the pavilion and this year refurbished 2 Lion fountains for the City of Bay City. Our Bay City club adopted Bigelow Park and continues to help maintain the pavilion."

This summer, the Optimists are showcasing the community when the Michigan District Optimist Convention is held here Aug. 23-25. The Bay City Kiwanis Club plans to hold a District Convention here in the next couple years.

"Between the Optimist, Kiwanis, Rotary and other service clubs, I think we bring a lot of economic impact into the region in the form of conventions. We put Bay City on the map, as we're all leaders in our respective national service organizations," Van Tol said.

Van Tol, Laisure, and Hunt encouraged people to find a club that matches their passion. 

“For me, it has to be a passion that I like and believe in,” Laisure said.

Each club focuses on a specific issue. Rotary, for example, seeks to eradicate polio. The Kiwanis Club and Optimist Club each focus on children’s issues. Lions Club International is best known for helping the blind and providing hearing aids and glasses for those who can't afford them, but the club also focuses on diabetes, hunger, the environment, and childhood cancer.

Van Tol encourages everyone to consider involvement. As a full-time employee and father to four children, Van Tol said he understands how it can feel like there’s not an extra minute in the day. But being involved is important enough to carve out at least some time for volunteering. “The import thing is just being involved. There’s always an extra hour here and there.”

“When you belong to a civic organization, you want to be part of a group that’s doing the best they can for the community in which you live,” Laisure said. 


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