For most of his life Brooklyn native Paul Ward was vaguely aware of Kiwanis. Shortly after arriving in Florida almost two decades ago with his family, he was approached by Kiwanian Bob Randolph about joining the Kiwanis Club of Hypoluxu-Lantana Sunrise. He dutifully attended a gathering but didn't sign up to become a member. So why didn’t the organization make an impression?
"I went to a Kiwanis meeting, and I just didn't get it," he recalls. "I had young kids and was just getting settled in a new place. I didn't think it was for me at the time, because I didn't know what it was."
Seventeen years would pass before Ward got a second—and far more effective—introduction to the group and what it stands for. In 2009 Bob Randolph (a former club president and a model of patient persistence) asked Ward to help out with the club's Christmas bicycle giveaway program.
"I ended up one Saturday morning with them, putting bikes together," Ward recalls. "We had a whole bunch of people there, and everybody was having a good time. Wonderful, nice people."
A week later he returned to watch as the bikes were distributed to needy children via a club member wearing a Santa Claus outfit. He'll never forget the looks on their faces.
"Those kids were so excited, so happy, so tickled to death," Ward says. "I thought, 'How can anybody not want to do this? This is good stuff.'"
So good, in fact, that he fell for Kiwanis "hook, line and sinker." He joined the club a week later, and in 2013 served as its president.
So what was the difference between his first, somewhat tepid response to Kiwanis, and his second encounter that turned him into a fervent Kiwanian practically overnight? Ward says it was all about seeing things for himself. Instead of being told about the group, he experienced the good it did firsthand. That's what sealed the deal.
Randolph, who doggedly pursued his friend for years and eventually served as his sponsor, concurs. He's big on showing what the group can do, instead of just talking about it.
"I'm an on-the-ground Kiwanian, where the rubber meets the road," he says.
For his part, Ward is continually impressed by the small army of folks who turn out for local Kiwanis projects, from the bike giveaway to the club's Thanksgiving dinner program. And he thinks that other potential members might benefit from a boots-on-the-ground introduction. Telling people about Kiwanis can be helpful, but showing what it does can be golden.
"We're just a small club in a little town," Ward says. "But I can tell you we've made a difference in the lives of the kids we've touched." — Sam Stall Has your club attracted potential members by asking them to help out at events? Tell us how it at LoveIt@kiwanis.org.