Civitan club looks to thrive once again

ROBIN BURNS, Nicole Powell, April Kreisher and Traci Graham (left to right) enjoy a day at Cedar Point, made possible with funding from the Findlay Civitan club. The club's mission is to help people with special needs. Membership has dwindled over the years and the club is conducting a membership recruitment drive for its 50th anniversary. (Photo provided)

ROBIN BURNS, Nicole Powell, April Kreisher and Traci Graham (left to right) enjoy a day at Cedar Point, made possible with funding from the Findlay Civitan club. The club’s mission is to help people with special needs. Membership has dwindled over the years and the club is conducting a membership recruitment drive for its 50th anniversary. (Photo provided)

By SARA ARTHURS
Staff Writer
As Findlay’s Civitan club approaches its 50th anniversary, membership has decreased to just 19 people and the club is looking to recruit new members in its mission to help people with special needs.
The Findlay Area chapter of Civitan International raises funds for a variety of causes, but mostly for children and adults with special needs. They’ve donated to Blanchard Valley Center and Special Kids Therapy, among other organizations.
Club treasurer Ken Cohen said with the exception of dues paid to Civitan International, all the money the club raises stays in Hancock County.
Money is always donated to an organization rather than an individual. Some groups, such as Blanchard Valley Center and Special Kids Therapy, are regular recipients of Civitan funds but there may be different needs served at different times. At Blanchard Valley Center, for example, Civitan has paid for Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations regularly but has also paid for one-time costs such as a defibrillator, installation of carpeting and help in building a greenhouse, Cohen said.
A particular highlight is an awards program held at Blanchard Valley Center’s board meetings. Each month an employee at Blanchard Valley Industries and a resident at Blanchard Valley Residential is chosen for an award.
“Some of these people have never had an award in their life,” Cohen said.
The recipients receive an award related to their own particular preferences, such as a $25 gift certificate to McDonald’s or a collection of art supplies.
“There aren’t many dry eyes in the house” when the awards are presented, Cohen said.
Nicole Rosengarten, supervisor at Blanchard Valley Residential, said Civitan has definitely made a difference to residents. One example is that Civitan sponsors the residents’ annual trip to Cedar Point, when many of the residents couldn’t otherwise afford the tickets, she said.
“They purchased a Wii for us one year for Christmas,” she said.
Doris Brand, president of the Findlay club, said she enjoys feeling like she is helping those with developmental disabilities. In addition to Blanchard Valley Center and Special Kids Therapy, Civitan has helped in the past with Gliding Stars, she said.
“I like working with Blanchard Valley Center. … We have a Christmas party with the kids every year and I really enjoy that,” Brand said.
When Civitan members came to one of the residences Christmas caroling in December, a couple of the men who lived in the home went off to their rooms and didn’t want to interact with them, Brand said. But as they started singing, the men came back out and one man, although he could not speak, joined in and “sang his heart out.”
The Findlay club was formed in 1964 and chartered in 1965.
Each member pays $80 in annual dues. That funding goes to the national or regional Civitan organization, Civitan International’s research organization in Birmingham, Ala., and to local administrative needs, while the club raises funds separately for other projects, Cohen said.
One fundraiser is a “two for one” golf card sale. Nine area golf courses allow players with these cards to get one free round of golf with one paid round. Other fundraisers have included art auctions and summer car shows.
Cohen said some years are more successful than others in raising funds but in the last seven years the Findlay club has given more than $100,000 in grants to organizations including Blanchard Valley Center, Gliding Stars, Special Kids Therapy and Special Olympics.
Smaller amounts of money are given each year to other organizations such as City Mission, the Senior Center and Open Arms Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services.
Cohen said that while Civitan focuses on “special needs,” that does not just mean developmental disabilities but also other medical issues such as muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis.
The community may assume that people with these conditions are well taken care of by the government but “it just isn’t so,” Cohen said.
The special needs population is growing and people are diagnosed with and treated for many conditions earlier in life than in the past, meaning the need for services is increasing, Cohen said.
At Special Kids Therapy, Civitan has helped with several activities including summer camp and scholarships, said Cohen, who is also a Special Kids Therapy board member.
Cohen said much of the current Civitan membership is seniors, some of whom are facing health issues which makes it hard to stay as active. Other members have retired and left the area.
There are some younger members, however.
“We’d like to have the club grow,” Brand said.
Cohen said at 35 to 40 members the club would be “vibrant.” He said one factor in declining membership may be that people don’t know about Civitan and may not know that it is inexpensive to join and requires a minimal time commitment. Civitan provides volunteers for a few community events but members can pick the events in which they wish to participate, Cohen said.
Meetings are held at noon on the first Wednesday of each month, September through June, and in the evenings on the third Wednesdays.
Civitan International requires 15 members in a club and the Findlay club is coming close to that. A larger membership would make it possible to do more service projects but also “just have more fun together,” Brand said.
Brand said Civitan clubs exist in over 30 countries. It’s growing internationally more than in the United States, Cohen said. But he said there is increased interest in some areas, including a new club in Maumee. Civitan International started in 1917 and has about 55,000 members in 1,800 clubs, Brand said. The international organization, like the Findlay club, focuses much of its effort on helping the special needs community.
Civitan International also has a research center in Birmingham, Ala.
“They study anything that has to do with the brain,” Brand said.
This includes prevention of developmental disabilities but also illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, she said.
Locally, other Civitan activities include honoring a “Citizen of the Year” annually, someone “who goes above and beyond in order to be the best citizen possible,” according to a Civitan brochure; and honoring local clergy. Findlay’s downtown Civitan Park was originally funded by the club many years ago. Once a year, Brand said, club members go and clean the park. The club also donated money for the bridge over the Blanchard River near the park.
Civitan will hold two meetings in April designed to attract new members. The first is noon on April 2 and the second at 6 p.m. on April 16. Both are in the Rosewood Room, Deming Residence Hall, at the University of Findlay.
Anyone interested in joining the club can come to one of these meetings or contact Cohen at 419-425-2075.
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs

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