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Lack of volunteers hurting clubs

  • DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS The Tamaqua Beautification Association has disbanded after a 25-year run devoted to improving the appearance of the community. Shown are volunteers Linda Heigele and Kay Ann Rottet during a work session several years ago.
    DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS The Tamaqua Beautification Association has disbanded after a 25-year run devoted to improving the appearance of the community. Shown are volunteers Linda Heigele and Kay Ann Rottet during a work session several years ago.
Published January 27. 2014 05:00PM

One of the area's most ambitious and focused volunteer groups is gone.

Members of the Tamaqua Beautification Association have disbanded after 25 years, in large part due to dwindling numbers, said a spokeswoman.

"We had our final meeting in November. There were six of us," said Karen Davison of Hometown.

The few remaining members donated treasury funds to other groups serving the Tamaqua area.

From its start in 1989, the TBA made a highly visible impact on the community, relying solely on volunteers who generously donated their time and resources.

Members focused on rallying the community for visual betterment. The results of their efforts are seen every day throughout Tamaqua.

For instance, the group sponsored a program of decorative tree plantings at highly visible locations, such as along the railroad tracks. They encouraged landscaping projects, home improvements and restorations. They placed fancy, gold-carved signs at four main entrances to the community and could be seen planting flowers in front of the historic QA Building

They presented awards to citizens who accomplished extraordinary feats by creating pockets of beauty.

In 1999, the group's Tamaqua in Bloom Bicentennial Contest encouraged residents and businesses to plant red, white and blue gardens in preparation for the town's 200th anniversary. The top gardeners received awards.

Some projects were ongoing, such as cleanups performed twice a year in cooperation with Schuylkill Keep It Pretty. In addition, TBA sponsored the town's annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on the first Sunday in December.

In 2002, the TBA almost folded due to lack of support but was able to regroup and continue the mission.

Volunteers, however, continued to be scarce and recruitment difficult. For some reason, the younger generation just doesn't seem to take an interest, said TBA members.

Davison said people tend to have other priorities.

"There's something going on in everyone's lives," she said.

Others may fold

Similarly, several other local groups are facing dwindling numbers and are in dire straits.

For example, the North and Middle Ward Playground Association, organized decades ago, was down to four active volunteers as of August.

The Tamaqua Lions Club, in existence for 76 years, also reports a deficit of active members and could be in danger of folding if the trend isn't reversed. Each year, Tamaqua Lions spearhead many prominent community projects, including the annual Tamaqua Halloween Parade. Will the popular parade be able to continue if the Lions Club disappears?

Member Fran Stahl said she'd like to see renewed interest in the organization.

"The Tamaqua Lions are still in jeopardy; the Leos no longer meet. Only 6-10 or thereabouts attend the meetings," Stahl said.

The Tamaqua Street Machine Association, too, is reportedly on the verge of extinction. Organized 28 years ago, members expected to meet Sunday, Jan. 26, at La Dolce Casa Restaurant, 16 W. Broad St., to determine if the group can survive.

The TSMA hosts car shows and cruises, including juried events during the Tamaqua Summerfest and Tamaqua Heritage Festival.

During peak years, the annual TSMA Autumn Auto Show at Heisler's Dairy Bar, Lewistown Valley, drew a record 800 to 1,200 entries, recognized as one of the largest shows of its kind in eastern Pa.

Those interested in keeping the group alive are urged to attend the meeting.

Yet another group, the 114-year-old Tamaqua Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Lodge 592, has called a gathering of members on Feb. 6 to discuss their future.

"The lodge was visited on Thursday, January 16 by an advisory board consisting of Rod Ralston, Bill Dickerson and Gerry Kufrovich to see where the lodge stood relevant to the problems noted in the Grand Lodge finding and will revisit for the lodge meeting on February 6," states a notice posted on the club's Facebook site.

"All members are asked and encouraged to attend the meeting to discuss the problems of the lodge and ways to keep the lodge open."

The Tamaqua Elks was chartered in July, 1900.

Spokesman Scott Winterburn said lack of volunteers "is part of the problem but there are other reasons as well."

Winterburn thinks a roundtable discussion among all endangered Tamaqua clubs and groups might result in answers.

New activity

While some groups are on the verge of closing, a few new volunteer initiatives have emerged, such as the Tamaqua Community Arts Center, 125 Pine St.

The center opened in 2012 and has built a strong corps of volunteers under coordinator Leona Rega.

"On and off we have about 20-25 different people who volunteer at different times in a variety of roles," said Rega. "Some are here throughout the week, but most of them come only for specific events or help from home. A few do cleaning for big events.

Rega uses a targeted approach.

"The key for us is flexibility and making personal phone calls to infrequent volunteers to let them know our needs."

Another group, Tamaqua Volunteers, was launched four years ago by community organizer Andy Leibenguth. The club has about 20 members, six of whom are ready to help anytime, said Leibenguth.

He attributes his success to use of online resources to get the word out.

"There are numerous reasons why people are giving less of their time to others versus a few decades ago," Leibenguth said.

"Computers, cell phones and many other portable electronic gadgets, while making our lives a little easier, provide us an entertaining and much cheaper alternative than giving your time. Would you volunteer outside in the cold at a Salvation Army red kettle, or would you opt to play with your computer, electronic game console or hand-held device in the comfort of your home?" he asked.

But Leibenguth said technology, which, in some ways, has drawn the younger generation away from volunteering, can also be used to rally the same individuals. It's a technique he's been using for the past few years.

"Community-giving organizations must accept that people do things differently now," Leibenguth said.

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