Fears for future of Lions clubs

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DANIEL.BIRCHFIELD
@oamarumail.co.nz
An Oamaru man has grave fears for the future of Lions clubs in the Waitaki District. Tom MacDonald, a member of the Waiareka Valley Lions Club and the vicegovernor of the district stretching from Rakaia to
Milton, believes his club, and the North Otago, Oamaru, Oamaru Pakeke and, in particular, the Waitaki Valley clubs, are in jeopardy due to ageing members and a lack of younger people joining them.
The Waitaki Valley Lions Club now has only a pair of members, both over retirement age and one of them now living in Oamaru. The Waiareka Valley club has about 40 members and Oamaru 23, while North Otago and Oamaru Pakeke also have reasonable numbers.
There are members who have given service of 50-plus years, but Mr MacDonald worries they will not be replaced.
‘‘Our biggest problem is that we are all getting older and young people are not joining service clubs. It’s going to be an issue later on,’’ he said.
‘‘Lions in the Waitaki Valley is down to two members. There was 50-plus 10 to 12 years ago, and it’s
only a few years ago there was 20plus.’’
Mr MacDonald, who has lived in Oamaru for 14 years, believes the issue of ageing members and a lack of interest from the younger generation is not confined to the Lions Clubs. He said other service groups such as Rotary and the Masonic Lodge were feeling the effects, too. His concerns were highlighted
when Lions recently worked on a project at Whalan Lodge, an aged care facility, in Kurow. ‘‘We tidied up the gardens and did quite a lot of work there. We were disappointed with the turnout from locals. We wanted them to come and help.’’
Waitaki’s Lions clubs have been involved in dozens of fundraising projects in the district over the years, including for the birthing pool at Oamaru Hospital several years ago.
Earlier this year, the Waiareka Valley and Waianakarua clubs raised and donated $23,000 each to North Otago Hospice and the Otago Rescue Helicopter Trust. ‘‘If there wasn’t Lions here, that wouldn’t happen, and a lot of those services would cease to exist as well. They’re not Government-funded.’’
Mr MacDonald said on the upside, the Lions’ youth arm — the Leos Club programme — was strong in Oamaru.
However, when it came to people aged 30-40, very few were joining Lions clubs.
While he did not know the exact reason behind the lack of interest, Mr MacDonald felt people were less inclined to support their local community today.
‘‘My own view is that people will go home at night, have their evening meal and sit down and watch television. That becomes their life. They know more about Coronation St than they do about what’s going on in the town. The community spirit seems to have gone.’’
He found it ‘‘really sad’’ and believed the community would be worse off if the Lions Club did not have a local presence.
‘‘This town would suffer if it wasn’t for Lions — more than people realise.’’
Mr MacDonald has attempted to recruit new members, with little success.
He hoped a version of Lions could be established for younger people that was run differently to traditional Lions clubs.