Paul and Cindy Whitehead are putting out the call for new members to join the Forest Grove 94 Lions Club. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

Paul and Cindy Whitehead are putting out the call for new members to join the Forest Grove 94 Lions Club. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

Forest Grove Lions at risk of folding

Club makes plea for more members

The Forest Grove 94 Lions Club is seeking new members to help keep it afloat.

Longtime members Cindy and Paul Whitehead said their club is at risk of folding as they only have seven members and they need at least 10 to function under the Lions Club International. An emergency meeting is set for July 27 at 5:30 p.m. at the Forest Grove Legion and they’re encouraging interested volunteers to come out and sign up.

“This is our last-ditch effort to try and get members,” Cindy, 65, said. “It’s do-or-die. July 27 will be either the first meeting of the new group or the last meeting of the old.”

The Whiteheads hope new members will join the emergency meeting and bring new ideas on events and fundraisers. The club has experienced declining membership as their volunteers continue to age. Their youngest members are no in their 60s while others are upwards of 80.

They need an influx of young people to carry out their programs, which include maintenance of Ruth Lake Community Park, which has operated by the Lions under contract to the province – for the past 15 years.

“It’s very beautiful. To me, every time I drive by it, it’s like a little dose of valium and I relax,” Paul said. “If the club folds there’s the possibility of the government stripping it again and I don’t want to see that. Lions or no Lions, I’m still going to be involved with the park but we need support.”

The club also provides firewood, as well as medical supplies like crutches and wheelchairs, to those in need. Other projects include funding an independent community school in 2004 when the Forest Grove Elementary School was temporarily closed for three years. The club has since continued to raise funds to pay for textbooks and gym equipment and have mentored students.

READ MORE: ‘We serve’: 100 Mile Lions big part of community

It also supports the Forest Grove Curling Club, raising $120,000 through donations and grants to buy the community an ice plant. The Lions ran the curling club for three years until the pandemic hit.

“My husband and I have had a great life and the Forest Grove Lions is a way to give back to your community and improve it,” Cindy said. “We do great things and are very involved in the community and always have been. Young and old, we’re open to anybody.”

Other South Cariboo Lions clubs are also struggling to retain volunteers although they aren’t hurting as much as the Forest Grove club.

The 100 Mile Lions Club is holding steady at about 30 members, although director Ron Graves acknowledges it’s tough to get people aged under 40 to join.

“They’re a fairly resilient group and they keep going on with the activities for their community. Hopefully, they will survive and attract some more members,” Graves said of the Forest Grove club. “Most local clubs are trying to attract the younger ager groups and they’re finding that’s a difficult thing to do.”

Donna White, administrator and former president of the 108 Mile Ranch Lions Club, agrees that finding new volunteers has been difficult lately. Her club currently sits at just 14 members, down from their pre-pandemic high of 24. White said this is the case across Lions Club Multiple District 19 from Kelowna to Williams Lake.

“All of the clubs are reporting significant decreases during COVID and they’re all trying to come up with ways to increase their membership,” White said.

In the 108 Mile Ranch, White said her club’s strategy has been to be active and inform people of what the club does for the community. While that’s been helpful she said they’re considering putting on a spaghetti dinner as a membership drive.

“We need new members. It’s a great organization and a really good way to meet people new to the community.”

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