By Ann Marie Shambaugh
Its name hints at the retired status of most of its members, but the Carmel Kiwanis Golden K Club is nowhere near slowing down.
Club members are constantly busy collecting shoes for children, sending trauma dolls to hospitals, collecting money for Riley hospital and – perhaps most impressive – volunteering hours upon hours in their woodworking shop, making handmade toys for kids in need.
These accomplishments are all in addition to supporting the initiatives of Kiwanis International, which includes eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus by providing immunizations to women of child-bearing age in at-risk countries.
“People retire, and they’re looking for something to do,” said Don Moehn, Golden K public relations chairman. “I cannot think of a better way to occupy our time as a retired person than to get involved with a service club.”
For the kids
There are more than 8,000 adult Kiwanis Clubs worldwide, and each one has a mission to help children in its community. That’s one thing that sets the clubs apart from other service organizations, said Sue Petrisin, president of Indianapolis-based Kiwanis International.
“It’s all about the kids … and what we can do to help the children in that community have a better situation,” she said.
How that happens is up to each club. Its members are given the flexibility to design programs that match their unique skillset and meet the specific needs of their community. For Golden K, much of their work is done in the Robert Udell Woodworking Shop tucked in the back of Janus Developmental Services in Noblesville.
It all began in 1942 the basement of Kiwanis Club member Bob Udell, a career engineer who specialized in foundry work but had a lifelong love for woodwork. As Udell encouraged other club members to learn how to carve toys for children, the shop expanded into Fishers before moving into its current home approximately six years ago.
Udell, now 101 years old, no longer works in the shop named after him, but his legacy lives on through the many other club members who spend hundreds of hours each month creating wooden boats, dinosaurs, magic wands and more. Each year, the workshop produces more than 2,000 toys, which are given to children in need in the Indianapolis area through various organizations.
The woodworking club has also served another important purpose for the Golden K club: recruitment. As many other service clubs are shrinking or disbanding – including the Kiwanis Club of Carmel Clay, which held its final meeting in 2014 – the Golden K Club has managed to keep its membership levels fairly steady.
Sustaining and growing membership is a problem facing many Kiwanis Clubs, Petrisin said.
“It is impacting us as well as other service organizations,” she said. “A lot of our older clubs don’t meet the needs of our younger members.”
Clubs may meet at times that are difficult for younger people to attend, Petrisin said, or potential recruits may be unfamiliar with the club’s routines or projects. Some clubs have opted to retain many of the longstanding Kiwanis traditions, but others are making adjustments.
“They’re making those changes to accommodate what the younger ones are looking for,” Petrisin said.
But as club members continue to age, and less and less young professionals are signing up for service organizations in general, Golden K is looking for ways to attract new members. The group, which meets at 10 a.m. each Thursday at the American Legion building on Main Street, is open to all.
Kiwanis International has several programs to reach out to youth, including the Key Club for teens and other clubs for younger kids. The Golden K members sponsor two clubs for high schoolers and a Kiwanis Aktion Club at Janus, which is designed for adults with disabilities.
“We sponsor Key Clubs in both Carmel and Westfield. These are high school versions of Kiwanis, and we are proud of them,” Moehn said. “The Carmel Key Club is the biggest one in the world, with about 500 members.”
Join the Golden K Club
When: 10 a.m. Thursdays.
Where: American Legion, 852 W. Main St., Carmel.
More: Guests are welcome at all meetings. Visit CarmelGoldenK.org, or call Don Moehn at 317-873-1956. The club will sell popcorn at the Summer Family Concert Series at the Gazebo. Concerts are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Aug. 10.