Although the Kiwanis Club of Harrisburg celebrates its 100th birthday this year, members don’t really think of it as being old.
Partially, that’s because the community service club is so youth-oriented.
“Our mission is to help children and families of the world and local communities,” said club President Jessica Mercy. “Our focus has always been helping children, although the ways we do it may have changed because of society’s changes over the past 100 years.”
Kiwanis volunteers are dedicated to improving the world “one child and one community at a time,” noted Erika Kelly, Harrisburg club president-elect and current treasurer.
For example, the Kiwanis Harrisburg Youth Foundation Scholarship Program provides more than $26,000 in scholarships each year to 20 graduating seniors from 10 high schools in the greater Harrisburg area, an effort spearheaded by Harrisburg attorney Richard Placey.
“We choose students based on things like their service to the community, future plans and grades,” Mercy said. “There’s really no hard-and-fast criteria for the scholarships, but we have a feeling in the back of our mind about service to the community or how a student’s future profession relates to service.”
Harrisburg Kiwanis also mentors youth through coordinated service leadership programs in conjunction with Key Club International, Key Leaders and Atkion Club. In addition, Kiwanis members complete roundtable service projects benefiting local, youth-focused organizations, such as Boys and Girls Club events.
The Kiwanis Harrisburg Youth Foundation Program, led by Harrisburg attorney Eugene Pepinsky, Jr., awards grants to youth organizations.
“It’s nice to do things for children who don’t have the same opportunities as other children,” Mercy said. “This allows them to do things other children get to do. We like to support organizations that help the community. These are all organizations in our area that seek to help children. We’re all working together to the extent that we can.”
Supported organizations include The Salvation Army Harrisburg Capital Region, Dauphin County 4-H, American Red Cross of Central PA, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region, Boy Scouts New Birth of Freedom Council and many others.
“In this area, there are a lot of children who have basic, fundamental needs like food, clothing, shelter,” Mercy said. “Sometimes, it’s something that’s just temporary, sometimes it’s not.”
The Harrisburg club is part of Kiwanis International, which charters more than 7,000 clubs with around 600,000 members worldwide. Pennsylvania is home to 174 Kiwanis clubs with more than 4,000 members.
Notably, in 2010, Kiwanis International and UNICEF joined forces through the “Eliminate Project” to eradicate maternal and neonatal tetanus, which claims the lives of 34,000 babies and many women each year. Locals clubs like Kiwanis of Harrisburg continue to raise funds for the cause.
“We will raise funds until the disease is eliminated,” Mercy stated “Sometimes, our biggest challenge is making sure that we serve all the children we can, that our funds go far enough, that our service goes far enough.”
To mark its centenary, Harrisburg Kiwanis held a huge gala in February. Kelly noted that the event raised $10,000 for the Kiwanis Youth Foundation.
The group also is working to increase its membership. Many social service groups, Kelly noted, have membership challenges today due to overbooked lifestyles and the numerous alternatives for people’s attention.
Nonetheless, she appeared optimistic about the club’s future, especially given the partnerships it has created with many area organizations and companies, which offer support. Kiwanis of Harrisburg is even on Twitter now, using technology to get the word out.
“I’m making a difference even if it’s a very small way while being part of a large organization that’s making an impact on the whole world,” Kelly said. “I like the fellowship, and it’s fun.”
Kiwanis Club of Harrisburg meets Thursdays at noon at the Harrisburg Hilton, 1 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg For more information, visit their Facebook page, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 717-364-5609.