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Not just service. Impact.

Stan Soderstrom | Jun 13, 2019

Stan Soderstrom Kiwanis is often called a “community service organization.” That’s understandable — every year, thousands of our members do millions of hours of service in their communities. 

So you might be surprised to learn that I don’t care for that term. It’s not because I don’t appreciate service, or the people who do it. And it’s not just because “community service” can have an unfortunate connotation (though it’s undeniably a term people associate with sentences for criminal misdemeanors.)  

Ultimately, though, I don’t like the phrase because it sells volunteers short. It can even prevent them from developing a larger vision.  

After all, what do people in Kiwanis clubs — and in Rotary clubs, Lions clubs and many others — really do at their best?  

They make an impact. And that’s a bigger, more enduring thing.  

In fact, it’s why I prefer to think of Kiwanis as a “community impact organization.” If you only think in the short term, the concept of service can be reduced to a task. It’s picking up trash by the side of the road. Or it’s mowing the lawn of an elderly person in the neighborhood. Good things, of course — but also temporary.   

For me, this points to an important aspect of leadership: clarity about what people do and why it matters. Kiwanis is a community impact organization because it’s a part of communities’ ongoing improvement.  

For that reason, it can also be a key part of people’s lives — and from an early age. To sponsor a youth sports league or team, for example, is to be part of the life lessons such participation brings. To teach a child to read and love books is to help create important habits that will be useful for a lifetime.  

Kiwanis members know this. Those who support youth programs develop enduring leadership skills. Working with Key Club, for instance, they mentor high school students in ways that will resonate in the years that come after — whether it’s at a university, in military service or in the early years of career and family.  

Kiwanians influence the direction of people’s lives. Sometimes they change the trajectory of a life altogether. In the long run, they provide a lasting inspiration — the kind that moves neighborhoods, organizations and communities.  

Now that’s true impact.

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