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Traditional service groups like Kiwanis and Rotary are not your grandfather’s clubs anymore. Instead, they have been actively recruiting women and young professionals in the past few years. When Brooke Fitzgerald, 40, first attended a Cedar Rapids Downtown Rotary Club meeting as a guest speaker eight or nine years ago, she felt out of place. “I remember going and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, what even is this?’ You have to sit at a certain spot, and I was looked at like I don’t belong. One, I was female, and two, I was young,” she said of the experience. “Thankfully, that is changing for the better.” Her viewpoint began to change around five years ago when now-Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell invited her to attend another Downtown Rotary meeting as a guest. While her first inclination was to decline, she gave it another chance. “I told Tiffany, ‘I am only coming as a guest because you invited me. My last experience was terrible,’” she said. It helped that Junior Achievement President Christine Landa was the Downtown Rotary’s president at the time. “The engagement was more like friendships over lunch versus walking into a stale room feeling like I didn’t fit or belong there,” Ms. Fitzgerald said. ”The programs were really good – and there was no assigned seating. It was just a totally different vibe.” Not only did she join the Downtown Rotary, but she is also now its membership chair and slated to be the club’s president in 2024. A recent membership committee report found that out of Downtown Rotary’s 242 members, 20% are ages 40-49 and 6% of those are 30-39, compared to 28% in the 50-59 age group. “We have as many 50- to 59-year-olds as we do 30- to 49-year-olds,” Ms. Fitzgerald said. “Five years ago, there was maybe 1% of 30- to 39-year-olds and probably 5% of 40- to 49-year-olds.” The gender ratio of the group is currently 63% male to 37% female. “Five years ago when I joined, that number [of female members] was in the 20s [percent]. And eight years ago, it was just a handful,” she added. A seat at the table Megan Lehman, 29, who sits on the membership committee of the Cedar Rapids Kiwanis, initially joined the service club several years ago in Iowa City to strengthen her work-life balance. “It helps me get out of my comfort zone sometimes and takes me away from work in a good way,” she said. “It forces you out into doing something and gives you a bigger and better community.” With about 15 groups in the Corridor area, Kiwanis International has a mission of helping children in need. Each local group has designated projects for which they raise funds and volunteer. Founded in 1920, the Cedar Rapids Kiwanis Club has three “buckets” it supports: HACAP Operation Backpack, which addresses childhood food insecurity; Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation’s Rollin’ Recmobiles; Families Helping Families’ shoe voucher program for foster children; and Miracle League, an adaptive baseball program for youth with special needs. Claire Tupper, 25, joined Cedar Rapids Kiwanis two years ago to network with like-minded people. “I can find those people at work, and I can find those people amongst my friends, but to find people who want to do service work, it’s so easy to hop right in, and all these people are on the same page right away. There’s opportunities for you to volunteer, fundraise and make a difference, whereas, on my own, it would have been much more difficult,” she said. The Coe College health coordinator serves as a board member, secretary and chair of the marketing and outreach committee for Miracle League. “I played sports all throughout high school and college, and I like the idea of everyone being able to do it,” she said. “When I first saw Miracle League, I went out there to volunteer as a buddy where you run around the bases with one of the players, whether that’s helping them by holding their hand physically or pushing them in their wheelchair or however they need to make it around the bases. As soon as I stepped on the field, I just was like, ‘Yep, I need to be here. This is awesome. I will be back every week.’” She also serves as Cedar Rapids Kiwanis’ second vice president/chair of membership and growth committee and sits on the communications committee. “The fact that at 25, I’m able to serve on a board is just absolutely amazing. Not only is it a volunteer project, but it is also helping me professionally,” she said. “There’s a culture amongst boards. It’s very difficult to be tapped and selected to join a board. But with Kiwanis, it was just like, ‘you liked this project, you love what you’re doing, and we would love to have you, please come join us.’” Serving as role models Laurie Worden, vice president of the Cedar Rapids Kiwanis Club, said the club has intentionally brought in a significant number of new members under the age of 35 in the past year. “We’re making some really specific efforts towards attracting those folks that maybe have a little time in their schedule right now, especially younger professionals in their late 20s or early 30s,” she said. Many Kiwanis clubs also have groups for younger students, including Kiwanis K-Kids for ages 6-12, Builders Club for middle and junior high school students, Key Club for high school students and Circle K for college students. The Cedar Rapids Kiwanis Club sponsors Key clubs at Prairie and Xavier high schools, giving students a first-hand look at young professionals making a difference with programs such as Miracle League and Operation Backpack. “We really want them to see young leaders like Claire and Megan at these events,” Ms. Worden said. “Seeing them, especially women, in roles of leadership shows young people the value of bringing their ideas to a group that’s very purpose-driven. You can make really big differences in your community. That little pebble in the pond can make really big ripples. And that’s a message for our high school kids and our young members and prospects.” Different perspectives The cross-section of age groups, genders, professions and other demographics gives members a chance to view things from a different perspective. “The range of different experiences that you find in the professional groups is what adds so much value. We have people from finance, education and all sorts of sectors,” Ms. Lehman said. “That all gives us different perspectives, which gives us the opportunity to make a bigger impact. Another nice thing about our club is that there are people in that room that probably wouldn’t meet each other and connect otherwise.” Ms. Fitzgerald concurs with the value of blending professionals from different generations. “In any given week, we could have a 30-year-old, a 50-year-old and a 75-year-old having a conversation over lunch,” she said. “Given the time that we’re in with so many things going on, it’s just nice to have different perspectives because we’ve lived in different times and periods.”