By Greg Ellison
(July 9, 2020) After decades of sponsoring community enrichment campaigns, the Kiwanis Club of Greater Ocean Pines-Ocean City will mark its 40th anniversary this year, albeit in a subdued manner because of covid-19 concerns.
Public Relations/Press Chairman Dave Landis said the group, which was originally designated as the Kiwanis Club Berlin-Ocean Pines, held its initial meeting and officer elections on Feb. 20, 1980.
“We wanted to let people know what we started with 40 years ago, how we progressed and the fact that we’re keeping it up,” he said.
Echoing the mission of Kiwanis International to support area youngsters’ successful transition into adulthood, the local chapter has focused on fundraising and community projects over the years.
Landis said efforts have included clothing and food drives, activities for nursing home residents, as well as sponsoring Kiwanis Student Leadership Clubs in local schools.
“We’re trying to do everything we can in spite of covid-19,” he said. “It has put a real challenge up to us to get things done.”
Officially chartered on April 12, 1980, the Pines chapter was sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Delmar, Delaware and initiated by James Grimm, who served as initial president after prior membership in the Kiwanis Club of Baltimore.
Elected along with Grimm that year were Vice President Jerry Henderson, Secretary Glenn Fickel and Treasurer Wilbur Rehkemper.
Former Kiwanis president Ralph Chinn, who is currently on the Board of Directors and serves as Kiwanis Foundation chairman, was unfamiliar with the group prior to joining the ranks.
“I joined Kiwanis back in April 1996 and before that I had never really heard of the organization,” he said. “Once I found out what Kiwanis was all about, I was very impressed with the concept.”
In 2004, the group adopted its current designation after earlier operating as the Kiwanis Club of Ocean Pines.
“When I joined there were separate clubs running from Delmar to Ocean Pines, Pocomoke, Crisfield, Chincoteague and Accomack County in Virginia,” he said. “We were called the Delmarva region under Division 15.”
During his early days in Kiwanis, Chinn said, weekly Wednesday morning meetings were held at the old Ocean Pines Yacht Club.
“We had 137 members associated … with about 90 some active every week at the meeting,” he said
The weekly buffet breakfast affairs featured 50/50 raffles, which along with annual dues were the only funds available to cover operational costs.
“Monies that we receive as a club from the public has to go into our service budget that supports the Ocean Pines area,” he said.
Former Kiwanis President Carolyn Dryzga, who has been involved with the group for nearly a decade, was also unfamiliar prior to joining.
While taking part in the annual Ocean Pines Craft Festival, Dryzga took note of a nearby Kiwanis table and was intrigued.
“I walked over, introduced myself, and said what is Kiwanis,” she said.
Suitably impressed with the group’s mission, Dryzga decided to attend an upcoming event.
“We went to the meeting and I was hooked,” she said. “It’s such a diverse service organization and it really supports this community in multiple ways.”
In 1986, Kiwanis members launched the Stephen Decatur High School Key Club, followed by the K-Kids Clubs in Showell Elementary and Buckingham Elementary.
In recent years, the Kiwanis Club of Greater Ocean Pines-Ocean City started the Builders Clubs in Berlin Intermediate School and Stephen Decatur Middle School, as well as an AKTION Club for adults with disabilities at Worcester County Developmental Center in Newark.
“We are one of the very few organizations that is in the schools from kindergarten all the way to college,” Dryzga said. “We start teaching children in kindergarten about giving back to the community.”
Kiwanis Membership Chairwoman Lynne McAllorum, who joined in 2003, has taken the lead role in recruitment for the past two years.
“A lot of people who move to … or live in this area, especially … empty nesters, they are looking for ways to give back to the community and make a contribution,” she said.
When espousing the merits of membership to potential newcomers, McAllorum notes that varying levels of involvement are possible.
“I tell people when I’m looking for members, you can be a chief [or] you can be an Indian,” she said. “Some people like running things and some people don’t, so it’ s a question of capitalizing of peoples’ abilities.”
Along with a variety of volunteer opportunities, newly minted members tend to appreciate social elements tied to working alongside like-minded individuals, McAllorum said.
“Most of what we’re doing is local in nature and it’s helping right here around you,” she said. “Even though we’re an international organization the focus for each club is giving back to your local community.”
Despite current social distancing restrictions from covid-19, the group sponsored a weekly food drive to support Diakonia, with face mask-clad members on hand to collect donations outside the Ocean Pines Community Center the past four Wednesdays.
Landis said the outpouring of support has been impressive.
“We’ve been getting a couple carful’s every week,” he said.
Landis said the food drive would likely be paused for now, but could be resumed soon, depending on future developments.
“We may … try to do it again sometime later this summer,” he said.
Other Kiwanis pursuits this year, such as a “Pancake Breakfast” originally slated for July are also on hold at the moment.
“We’re still waiting to hear if the Assateague Room would be available, what the capacity could be and could you have a buffet line,” he said.
Landis said the breakfast fundraising effort is tentatively set for September if social-distancing mandates are lifted.
“We usually have another one in November,” he said.
The club’s financial hurdles have mounted after more than a dozen hot dog fundraising efforts have been sidelined this year.
“We always do a lot with a hotdog sales at a lot of the community events,” he said. “The biggest one we usually have is the [Ocean Pines] craft show that they cancelled.”
Creative measures are being adopted to compensate for that revenue loss, including a lottery raffle in September.
“We had to do that because we’re stuck right now and we can’t do a lot of our food fundraisers,” McAllorum said.
Tied to the Maryland’s daily straight pick-3, the new Kiwanis yearlong lottery campaign will include 1,000 tickets numbered from 000-999 for $20 a pop.
“It’s $20 a piece and you have 365 chances to win because that number’s good all year from the pick 3 daily number at night,” Landis said. “That number’s dead when somebody buys it … so you no longer have it available.”
While winning numbers pay a $20 minimum, there are also 17 holiday prize pots of higher amounts.
“If you hit that special day, you get even more money,” Landis said. “The biggest prize would be on Christmas of $250.
Noting the odds of winning are significantly higher than typical drawings, Landis said the goal is raising $10,000 to fund Kiwanis campaigns.
“We really need this one and we came up with it because we need to get something done,” he said. “There’s no way we’re going to be able to pay out scholarships, and things that we usually fund with schools, if we don’t have any income.”
Landis said members formed the Kiwanis Foundation in 1999 to establish a permanent endowment to support charitable undertakings, including scholarships for top performing area high school graduates.
After thinking outside the box to sponsor foster service projects following the covid-19 onset, Kiwanis members are hoping to maintain fundraising levels through the end of its fiscal year on September 30.
“We’re going to meet all our obligations this year to pay out but in October when our New Year starts, our incoming president, Steve Cohen, is going to be challenged with the amount of money that’s left to keep things running right,” Landis said. “We’ll figure it out and, hopefully, this annual lottery raffle might be the savior for us.”
Regardless of having to shift plans for a 40th anniversary celebration, Landis said the larger mission remains focused on attracting younger members to carry the Kiwanis legacy forward.
“There’s not that many of us and we are always in need of new blood,” he said.
Landis said involvement in service clubs like Kiwanis has steadily declined, noting that while the group previously garnered more than 130 members, those totals have trended downward to roughly 50 presently.
Chinn concurred that service clubs overall are struggling to attract fresh faces and perspectives.
“It’s just not easy [and] people are not interested as much as back in 1996 when I joined,” he said. “We have some youngsters that stay for a year and then they’re gone.”
Landis encourages civic-minded community members interested in continuing the Kiwanis Club’s mission of “serving the children” to consider joining the ranks.
“You could join us and be the future of the club,” he said. “Kids need Kiwanis and Kiwanis needs you.”
Further information is available online at kiwanisofopoc.org or by visiting the Kiwanis Club of Ocean Pines-Ocean City Facebook page.
To inquire about membership email Landis at email@example.com or call 410-641-7330.