Oklahoma City club meets in a pub
Lealon Taylor, Emilee Truelove, and Mark Mann, members of the Rotary Club of Bricktown Oklahoma City, make a presentation to the winner of the club's Four-Way Test essay contest. To attract younger members, the club meets in a bar and holds evening meetings. Photo courtesy of Bricktown Rotary Club
Working for a politician in Oklahoma, USA, Mark Mann had been to plenty of civic group meetings. So when a friend asked him to consider joining a Rotary club in their town, he was anything but enthusiastic.
"I said, you have to have lost your mind," Mann recalls. But the friend returned a few weeks later insisting that the Rotary Club of Bricktown Oklahoma City was different. "We don't sing, they have great speakers, and they have great community service projects," the friend said.
"I tried it out for a couple of weeks and decided it was a good fit for me," says Mann, who is now serving as the club's president. "I've been there ever since."
The Bricktown Oklahoma City club marked its seventh anniversary on 11 September, with more than 60 members and an average age of 35. Mann and past club president Lealon Taylor point to several key ingredients that have helped the club attract and retain young members.
For starters, the club meets in a pub. First-time guests are treated to two free beverages, compliments of the club.
"It's important to choose a location that's fun and well known," Taylor says. "We meet in the Bricktown Brewery, which is a local landmark. It's easy to invite your friends to come down to the brewery and have a couple of drinks on the club and learn more."
The club founders also decided on a meeting time of 5:30 p.m. After 15 minutes of social time, Mann says, the club meeting is kept under 45 minutes. Some members go out to dinner together afterward.
"People in their 20s and 30s are not going to get up early to go to a breakfast meeting, in my opinion," Taylor says. "And lunch every week is always difficult if you’re a young professional. So our attendance does well because we're right after work, we're right downtown, and it's a fun place to be."
Getting their hands dirty
But being fun isn't good enough, he notes. It's equally important to give members something to do.
"Younger people really want to get their hands dirty," Taylor says. "We can't write checks for everything. So we have a goal of doing at least one community service project a month and encouraging everyone to be a part of that as much as they can. We also have an extensive international project."
The club partners with the Rotary clubs of Carlsbad, California, and Tecate, Baja California, Mexico, to operate a clinic for children with cleft palates in Tecate as its signature international project.
The club's activities are family-friendly. "I brought my 20-month-old out to an Alzheimer's walk a few years ago," Mann says. "Many of our members bring their children and spouses with them to service projects, or even meetings."
Both Mann and Taylor have heard the criticism that quantity does not always equal quality. But they insist that the club is effective at weeding out people who are not committed. Mann notes that 100 percent of the club's membership participated in at least one community service project last year.
Mann sees a long future for Rotary.
"There's always going to be human suffering, natural disasters," he says. "There's always going to be a need for Rotary globally to band together at a moment's notice and solve a problem quickly and efficiently, which is what Rotary does."
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