Altrusans cook up changes to increase membership

People go through the food line during the annual Altrusa International of Hermiston picnic on Saturday. The event, which serves as a club mixer and introduction to prospective members, was Aug. 30 at Hat Rock State Park.

Food, fellowship and fun were the central focus of the annual club picnic of Altrusa International of Hermiston.

In addition to the grilled burgers, Altrusans were looking to increase interest in membership. The Hermiston club hosted the Aug. 30 event at Hat Rock State park. They invited Altrusans from Pendleton and the Mid-Columbia groups, as well as past members and prospective members.

The Hermiston club, which was organized with 32 initiates on May 14, 1977, sizzled with 67 members 10 years later. In recent years, membership has dwindled to 44, said Dawn Long, 2018-19 club president.

The reason for the decline, said Pam Cooper, is varied. In addition to a few deaths, job changes, people moving and additional time commitments have taken a toll on membership. The Hermiston women — although Altrusa is open to men, only one male has joined the local club over the years — don’t want to see Altrusa go by the wayside.

“We’ve seen clubs ‘age out’ and they miss that opportunity to bring younger people in,” said Cooper, who’s in her 70s. “If you have an average age of 75, how do you get younger people interested in joining?”

However, it’s not just Altrusa that’s losing members. Cooper, who has been a member since 1983, said many service organizations are seeing less participation. Nancy Lauck, who joined in 2011, agreed, saying churches also are experiencing declining memberships.

Altrusa changing with the times

Long, who’s been a member since 2012, said they’ve been mixing things up recently in hopes of attracting new members as well as encouraging past members to re-join. One of the biggest changes, she said, was cutting back regular meetings to twice a month — the club previously met weekly for a no-host luncheon. The new format also eliminated the catered meal.

Lauck, a past president and currently the publicity manager, said when they made the change they were just one of two clubs in the district — which includes 20 groups from Oregon, Washington, Montana and British Columbia — that still met weekly.

“Some of the older members were initially upset about it,” Cooper said. “But our meetings have blossomed.”

Cooper, Lauck and Long said it’s important to change with the times. One of the things Lauck said they kept hearing from younger members was that taking a regular lunch hour is a thing of the past.

“It’s just a different dynamic than when Altrusa first started,” she said.

The inner workings of the club, Cooper said, is built around decisions and activities done by committees. So, cutting the regular meetings in half hasn’t impacted what the club does. In fact, she said it’s had a positive impact — including the addition of five new members.

There are many choices for people to join service organizations, said Cynthia Traner, who was initiated July 19. She was looking for a way to utilize her talents and make a difference. Her interest in Altrusa was piqued when she started seeing the small lending libraries popping up around the region.

“I kept seeing the “Little Red Libraries” and I thought, ‘This is so sweet,’” Traner said. “Literacy is such an important thing.”

Lauck was drawn in by a sewing project that was being conducted by Altrusa members at her church. And Long was interested in the weekend backpack program — although coordinated by Agape House, Altrusans provide hands-on assistance with the project — filling backpacks with food for kids who might otherwise go hungry over the weekend.

“Also, I was looking for something to join to get to know people,” Long said. “It’s the best way to meet people, to just jump in.”

“It’s a way to find a sisterhood and to get plugged into and give back to the community,” Traner added.

While Altrusa membership is by invitation, people who are interested are encouraged to contact a member. In addition, they hold periodic events where they invite prospective members to attend. To visit a meeting, contact Long at hermistonaltrusa@gmail.com. For more information, visit districttwelve.altrusa.org or search Facebook.


Contact Community Editor Tammy Malgesini at tmalgesini@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4539

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