Halifax-area Lions Club struggling to get new members

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Halifax-area Lions Club struggling to get new members

A Halifax-area Lions Club in the province's most populated area is down to just 12 members covering downtown Halifax and several suburbs.

The Armdale-Fairview-Rockingham Lions Club turned 60 this year and is having an issue both recruiting new members and retain existing ones. It once had 50 members and is now down to a fraction of that number. The youngest member today is 40. 

"Most of them are older, retired gentlemen, most of them don't have the physical ability to do the fundraising to support the people that need it," said Lions Club president Cheryle Engram. 

"We have one member in his 70s — he's like the Energizer Bunny, but is limited by his arthritis." 

The group has lost four members in the last few years. Two died and two stopped coming to meetings.  

'It makes me very anxious'

Engram says they have had to turn away people who have asked for their help.

"It makes me very anxious. What happens when they can't get out there and do the physical work? What happens to our club?" she said. "If we don't exist, then neither does the support we provide to the area." 

Engram worries her club could go the way of the Port Hawkesbury Lions Club. It closed in 2013 due to lack of membership. 

Her club supports people and charitable organizations in need. Like all Lions Clubs, it has no religious or political allegiance. 

Nova Scotia's 68 Lions Clubs provide thousands of pairs of eyeglasses and hundreds of hearing aids to those who need them every year. The clubs raise all of their operating costs.

'Best-kept secrets'

"The problem is, regrettably, one of the best-kept secrets in the province," says Curt Wentzell, a retired RCMP Constable and Lions Club zone chair for Nova Scotia. 
 
Wentzell say's he's seeing the need for items like eyeglasses and hearing aids increase as the population ages. He's hoping more people join the Armdale-Fairview-Rockingham chapter soon, as low enrolment will only compound the problem for the existing members.

"Burnout. You get somebody in a role for far too long, [they] become stagnant," he said. "Every little hand makes the load lighter." 

Lions Clubs in rural communities are a different story, many having more than 20 members to help much smaller populations. 

The next smallest Lions club in Nova Scotia is Pubnico, with 13 members. The largest, in Kingston, has between 60 and 70 active members. 

Engram thinks, in the city at least, there may simply be too many charitable organisations for people to choose from.

Dwindling membership

The Armdale club used to help people with their power bills, oil bills and groceries, but their dwindling membership means they've had to axe those programs. 

"We don't have the ability to help with a lot of those things," said Engram.

Engram joined the Lions four years ago with her husband, who died two years ago. She stayed on and is the "King Lion," her official title as president. She first encountered the Lions many years ago, when she was a single mother.

"Had they not helped me, there wouldn't have been gifts for my little boy, or Christmas dinner for that matter," she says. Her club meets at a restaurant every second week.

The group is planning an information session at the Halifax Shopping Centre in the hopes of recruiting members.