Scott Gibson: Service by design

Irecently read a book in which the author lamented the state of polarization in the United States.

“How many friends,” he asked rhetorically, “do you have who voted differently from you in the last election?”

I reflected for a moment, then thought:

Quite a few. And I meet with them cheerfully almost every week.

This is the magic of service clubs. They provide a venue where people from different walks of life, different backgrounds, different creeds and political persuasions gather regularly for one overriding purpose — to serve others.

I belong to the Lions Club, an organization started in 1917.

The early 1900s were fertile years for the formation of service clubs, as Rotary International got its start in 1905 and Kiwanis International in 1915. By 1921, women had initiated their own club — Soroptimist International, which has had an active branch in McMinnville for more than 70 years.

These four clubs remain busy in our local community. The work they do varies widely, but all strive to make McMinnville a better place to live.

The Rotarians recently cleaned up and improved the historic Malone Cemetery that had fallen into sad disrepair. Now it is a respectful and gracious place to visit and reflect on local history.

In 2005, they developed the Tice Woods Nature Preserve off Westside Road, a restful oasis perfect for birdwatching.

The Lions maintain a medical devices program that supplies wheelchairs, walkers, commodes and even hospital beds to people recovering from various conditions. In the last year, they have loaned out or donated $177,000 worth of medical device equipment at no charge.

They also provide thousands of dollars’ worth of eye care services annually for local people in need.

The Kiwanians have supported a host of community projects and institutions over the years, including Habitat for Humanity, the library, Boy Scouts, Henderson House, YCAP, and highway clean-up. Their Bids for Kids auction, suspended by the pandemic, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over many years for college scholarship aid and support for an array of charities.

The city’s Kiwanis Marine and Jay Pearson parks are among club legacies.

Assisting girls and women in advancing their career goals is a central focus of the Soroptimists. Their Live Your Dream awards have provided over $11,000 to local recipients this year.

The Soroptimists have also partnered with New To You in McMinnville to offer vouchers so that women can have the clothing, shoes, and other accessories for their work and interview needs. “Lives are changed!” exults Jan Montgomery, a Soroptimist for almost five decades.

These clubs provide services for our children. The Lions screen grade school kids for visual problems. Each year, the Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation screens over 150,000 Oregon children statewide and finds problems requiring referrals in about 15 percent. Lions also provide college scholarships for selected high school seniors.

The Kiwanis motto is “Serving the Children of the World.” Locally, they have led young people to become community volunteers through their Builders, Key, and Circle K Clubs at the middle school, high school, and college level. Their donations have provided college scholarships and fostered kids sports, Special Olympics, and a list of child-support charities.

Offering cross-cultural exchange opportunities is a basic function of Rotary. For decades, the noon Rotary Club has sponsored a Mac High student to study abroad while welcoming a foreign exchange student to live and study here. They are supporters of A Family Place, providing services for families with children up to age five. Rotary provides scholarships for seniors from McMinnville, Amity, Dayton, and Yamhill Carlton.

The Dream It, Be It program of Soroptimists connects teens with tools, resources, and professionals in their chosen career. As club president Charity Livingston explains, “This highly interactive workshop empowers young people to imagine the future they desire and provides them with the resources to achieve it.”

Besides local efforts, these clubs have international reach and have achieved extraordinary successes around the world. For example, Rotary International has participated in efforts to eradicate polio, a campaign very close to its ambitious goal.

Lions have helped bring the painful, crippling disease of river blindness to near eradication in the Western Hemisphere. They also are supporting the fight against trachoma, the most common cause of infectious blindness. Combined efforts of Lions and other organizations treated 65 million people at risk for trachoma in 2021.

Kiwanians supply iodine supplements to places in the world where iodine deficiency causes intellectual impairment and birth defects. They have helped bring entire countries out of this serious but preventable condition.

The focus of Soroptimist International is to educate, empower, and enable women and girls around the globe. They design programs suitable for each area’s need to enhance opportunities for women. Soroptimists are powerful advocates for equality and work for the elimination of human trafficking, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and domestic violence.

The world needs institutions that welcome everyone, expect no doctrinal belief or political stance, and only request prospective members to serve others. That’s what these clubs provide.

To recognize the good in each other, nothing equals getting together to help our neighbors. If we stand shoulder to shoulder working to make the world a better place, we can respect each other even if we hold differing opinions. Service clubs achieve this in a way that no other institutions can.

If you want our world to be less contentious, less polarized, and more focused on the common good, there are friends waiting to welcome you at Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, and Soroptimists. They need you.

Join them. You’ll be glad you did.

Guest writer Scott Gibson returned to his childhood home 30 years ago to practice medicine. A board-certified internist, he served on the McMinnville School Board from 2011 to 2017, when he and his wife, Melody, moved to the outskirts of Amity to open the Bella Collina B&B. In addition to medicine and science, he counts history, economics and writing among his interests. 


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