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Serving children, community: Kingsport Kiwanis making mark on Model City, world for 90 years

March 24th, 2014 1:05 pm by Marci Gore

Serving children, community: Kingsport Kiwanis making mark on Model City, world for 90 years

Charlie Nitschke (left), Barry Bailey and Bill Grigsby (right) lent a hand at Darrell's Dream Boundless Playground at Warriors' Path State Park. Contributed photo.

It's nearly impossible to look anywhere in Kingsport and not see signs of the positive impact the Kingsport Kiwanis Club has made to the Model City.

From the Kiwanis Towers, to the Boundless Playground at Warriors' Path State Park, the Coats and Shoes Project, the sponsorship of Key Clubs in two local high schools, the reading partnership with Kennedy and Roosevelt elementary schools, the Salvation Army bell ringing and the Kingsport Carousel project, Kiwanians continue to enhance their comm u n i t y.

This year marks the Kingsport Kiwanis Club's 90th anniversary.

On Jan. 8, 1924, the Kiwanis Club of Kingsport received its charter from Kiwanis International. It held its first organizational meeting on the same day, with 58 members. The club adopted the international motto "We Build" and followed that motto until it was changed to "Serving the Children of the World" in recent years. The club's incoming president, Dave Light, also serves as the chairman of the 90th anniversary celebration. "We were founded with the sole purpose of helping the children not only in our community, but worldwide. That's kind of been the theme throughout the years," Light said. "It also provides opportunities to do things that are maybe outside your comfort zone. An example is ringing bells for the Salvation Army. That can be outside a lot of people's comfort zones because A, you are asking for money. And B, you're taking money from folks who you know, perhaps by the way they are dressed, that they sure could use what they are giving. So, it's a good lesson in being a decent human being. Through the years, we've supported so many local organizations — the Boy Scouts, the Boys and Girls Club, Rascals [Teen Center], the University Center, the Palmer Memorial Center and Habitat for Humanity."

However, one of the projects Kingsport Kiwanians are most proud to be a part of is The Eliminate Project.

With The Eliminate Project, Kiwanis International and UNICEF have joined forces to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT). This deadly disease steals the lives of nearly 60,000 babies and a significant number of women each year. The effects of the disease are excruciating — tiny newborns suffer repeated, painful convulsions and extreme sensitivity to light and touch.

To eliminate MNT from the world, more than 100 million mothers and their future babies must be immunized. This requires vaccines, syringes, safe storage, transportation, thousands of skilled staff and more. Three vaccine doses — costing roughly $1.80 — can protect a mother and her babies.

"It's hard to believe there are around 30 countries where the tetanus vaccine is just not available to young ladies," said Kiwanis Club immediate past president, Bill Sade. "Kiwanis around the world is committed to raising $110 million to provide to UNICEF and their efforts to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus and to try to do it within the next five years. Our [local] club has already collected over $20,000, and we have pledged over $30,000 to the cause."

But it's not just the children on the other side of the globe that the Kingsport Kiwanis Club wants to help.

"Through dealing with our local school principals, we provide coats to area children, who, otherwise, would probably be wearing just a T-shirt to school. We see that these children get a coat, a warm coat, and not only that, but they get one that fits and it's new," Light said.

"Not only are we providing new coats and shoes today, but we've been doing it for 60 years," said Sade. Light and Sade estimate that Kingsport Kiwanis distributed 200 new coats and 150 new shoes this past year. "We want people to have the sense we're not just a bunch of old guys who get together and hash old times," Light said. "We are about enhancements to the quality of life for individuals. And Coats and Shoes is just one of the ways we do that." Today, membership recruitment is one of Kingsport Kiwanis' biggest chal-

"There isn't a level of encouragement by employers for their employees to be involved like there used to be. That's just a fact of life," Light said. "Recruiting new members, it's a challenge, that's for sure. We want to get the word out that we are here and we're doing good things."

Jim Cornell is a member of the Kingsport Kiwanis board of directors and says the younger generation is interested in community service, but is short on time.

"It's hard for them to have the time to plan and organize things," Cornell said. "There are a lot of them working long hours and they just don't have the time. But we would love to give them opportunities to plug in to things that we are planning and organizing and give them a chance to get a taste of what we are doing."

Light says through the years, Kingsport Kiwanis has had periods of growth in membership and periods where membership remained steady.

"You can attribute that to everything from the state of the local economy to world affairs," he said. "But from its earliest beginnings, by the signing of the charter in 1924 by 63 people, Kingsport Kiwanis has shown a willingness to identify — and meet — community needs. This is an organization of longevity and successful longevity at that. You don't have that unless you have a commitment of the members. To keep a commitment of the members, you've got to have several things. You've got to have more than just a weekly meeting. You've got to have the projects. You've got to have programs."

Kingsport Kiwanis has depended on fund-raising to continue these projects and programs.

"If you were to ask people of a certain age around here about Kingsport Kiwanis, probably what they would most likely remember is the Kiwanis Kapers. This was a huge, huge community event that brought together a lot of local talent and was a popular fund-raiser for the club for many years," said Light. Kiwanis Kapers began in 1928 and continued annually until the mid-1970s.

Once the Kapers' run had ended, the club hosted the Appalachian Trade Festival, a large arts and crafts show with a huge flea market that was held at the Appalachian Fairgrounds each Memorial Day Weekend. A Kiwanis garage sale was added in the later years of the festival.

A changing market eventually led to the demise of the festival, and the club began holding the Darrell Rice Golf Tournament at Cattails at MeadowView Golf Course as its sole fund-raiser.

"This is our premier event throughout the year," Light said. "It brings together a host of folks who enjoy playing golf — everybody from some of the coaches and players at ETSU to some local business folks and other organizations."

Kingsport Kiwanis currently has just over 100 members. Membership is open to anyone 18 or older.

Light and Cornell are optimistic about Kingsport Kiwanis' future.

"I think if we were to be able to jump 90 years into the future, we probably would have much the same conversation we've had today. The faces would change, of course. But I think the stories would be much the same," Light said. Cornell agrees. "The needs of the children are always going to be there," he said. "We see them everyday in the community. That's not going to change." And, Light points out, meeting the needs of the children is a big part of what Kiwanis does — and has always done.

"We're here to change the world one child at a time," he said.

The first Kiwanis Club was chartered on Jan. 21, 1915, in Detroit, Mich. Today, the Kiwanis family has grown to number more than 16,000 clubs and more than 600,000 men, women and youth in more than 80 countries and geographic areas.

Kingsport Kiwanis Club meets at noon every Friday in the Press Room at the downtown Food City location on Clinchfield Street.

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