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Kiwanis in search of new volunteers to help out

(Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette) Kiwanis member Lynn Watts addresses a Wednesday lunch group in front of two banners covered in patches acknowledging different milestones, achievements and activities of the club.

HOUGHTON — The Kiwanis Club of the Copper Country is pressing on with their charity work in the community, despite struggling to find new members.

“We really, really, really want to keep this going,” Jim Slater said at their regular lunch meeting last week.

Slater leads the local chapter of the international service club. He said that four clubs closed last year and he wants to keep the local chapter. According to him, their fundraisers have been successful, but finding able-bodied people to help with some of their activities has been increasingly difficult.

“We gotta have the people out there,” he said. “I’m not sure everyone in the community knows what we do.”

One activity the local Kiwanis helped out with was Nailbenders, a local group that donated their time to build accessible ramps for people with wheelchairs. Slater estimates that they have helped build and install over 200 ramps.

“That was the activity that drew me to Kiwanis,” Slater said.

This year, the club had to turn down all the applicants because they had nowhere to store and build the ramps before installation, and too few able-bodied volunteers. Slater’s wife, Marcia, said it has been difficult to say no to applicants, who are often people either unable to go home from the hospital or unable to leave their house for anything.

One of the Kiwanis’ other community benefits is the Reading Is Fundamental program, in its 40th year this year. They use their funds to purchase around 1,300 books for third graders in the Copper Country, including L’Anse and Baraga. For seven years, they’ve fully funded the program after federal funding was discontinued.

“Our club decided it was an important program,” Slater said. “Now we pay the full $3,000–plus.”

Slater said he hears people sometimes say that kids do not read anymore, but when he gives out the books, he sees excitement.

“The kids are just absolutely cranked,” he said.

While the club has been able to continue funding RIF, finding help to distribute the books has been increasingly difficult.

The club is involved in other projects, too. Members help the Salvation Army ringing bells during the holiday season in addition to their own fundraising activities, mainly Peanut Day and the annual chicken BBQ. It organizes and sponsors Family Fair, a chance for parents to connect with a variety of family vendors and resources in the area, and also hosts kids activities. It also sponsors local service clubs for kids and young adults; Builders Club for middle and junior high students, Key Club for high school students, and Circle K for college students.

“The kids do some fantastic things,” Slater said.

Ryan Okalski is one of the local chapter’s younger members. He works in the insurance industry and has a young family with two kids.

“I wanted something to do to give back to the community,” he said.

It was important for him to give more than just money back, he wanted to give his time. He’s found the Kiwanis meet that need and also offer great chances to meet other people in the community during their weekly lunches.

The Kiwanis Club of the Copper Country meets informally for lunch every week at noon on Wednesday on the third floor of The Bluffs senior living center in Houghton. Okalski said members aren’t expected to show up every week. Other than the weekly meetings, they need more members to help out with the chicken BBQ and Family Fair, just a few days a year.

“That’s all the service we really need,” Okalski said.

If you have an interest in helping the community through Kiwanis, more information can be found at kiwaniscoppercountry.org, or by attending their weekly meeting.

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