By: Chip McComb
Emerging Media Specialist
At its core, Kiwanis is about one thing: serving children. This focus isn’t the result of a crafty mission statement or a comprehensive member survey. And it’s definitely not an offspring of a decades-long marketing campaign.
Almost immediately after the first Kiwanis club was founded in Detroit in 1915, Kiwanis members began to focus passionately on meeting the needs of their community’s children. Many of the first club members joined the club in hopes of growing their businesses—but that didn’t keep them from genuinely recognizing the needs of others.
So they sprung into action. And that inspiration quickly spread:
- During World War I, the Kiwanis club of Winnipeg, Manitoba, provided Christmas gifts to children who had lost their fathers in combat. Within 10 minutes of the idea’s adoption, over US$1,300 was collected. That’s US$24,000 in 2010 currency.
- In 1918, the Kiwanis club of Detroit adopted Waldyslaw (Walter) Nalaski, a child who had been kidnapped in Chicago and abandoned on the streets of Detroit. The Kiwanians found him a foster home and provided for his every need for three years. When Walter’s mother was located, the Kiwanians worked with the Children’s Aid Society through the Illinois Children’s Home to reunite the boy and his mom.
- In January 1919, the Dallas, Texas, Kiwanis club treated more than 200 “news boys” to Thanksgiving dinner.
- In July 1919, six Kiwanians from Evansville, Indiana, served as “big brothers” to six at-risk youth.
- Also in July 1919, the Kiwanis club of Allentown, Pennsylvania, acquired a large house and the services of a housekeeper and nurses, who cared for more than 100 children during the 1918-19 influenza pandemic.
- By 1922, clubs across the U.S. were purchasing shoes for children who couldn’t attend school because they didn’t have shoes to wear. Kiwanians also created “milk funds” for the undernourished and provided for the needs of hospitalized children.
Kiwanis volunteers still passionately serve children. Programs like Key Club, Builders Club and Kiwanis Kids—along with initiatives like Young Children: Priority One, the global campaign against Iodine Deficiency Disorder, and The Eliminate Project: Kiwanis eliminating maternal/neonatal tetanus—are tangible examples of Kiwanis volunteerism in action.
Time and again, serving the world’s youngest and most underserved children has brought amazing amounts of change across the planet.