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Sun Gazette: Eight Decades Is Just the Start for Kiwanis Club's Philanthropic Efforts Print

BY Scott McCaffrey

Created: Thursday, September 29, 2011 7:20 am

After eight decades and nearly $2 million in grants to support efforts across the community, the Kiwanis Club of Arlington is sailing across somewhat choppy seas with a firm focus on the future.

“This is a good club, and we’ve done good things – I think we can continue to do so,” said outgoing Kiwanis president Charles Vasaly, who on Sept. 21 presided over an 80th-anniversary dinner at Washington Golf & Country Club.

Since its founding with 26 charter members in 1931, the Kiwanis Club of Arlington has distributed $1.76 million in grants, mostly in support of programs that target the community’s youth.

From scout camps and Christmas parties in its early days to financially backing the Young Astronaut Program and children’s rain garden at Powhatan Springs Park more recently, the club has worked at the local level to advance the goals of Kiwanis International.

With a presence in 80 nations, the international organization’s members stage nearly 150,000 service projects per year, raising more than $100 million along the way.

Like many service clubs, the Kiwanis Club of Arlington has been faced with declining membership. And its foundation endowment, which grew to more than $1 million at the height of the economic boom of the early 2000s, declined to about $770,000 this year.

But even in a slightly reduced state, that endowment allows the club to present grants to dozens of local organizations each year, and to support international efforts such as a joint program by Kiwanis International and UNICEF to end iodine-deficiency disorder.

The club’s efforts go beyond simply handing over cash.

“We not only raise money for them, we do hard labor for them,”Vasaly said of the community groups that receive Kiwanis funding.“It brings us closer to the community. We work well together; we keep going forward.”

Fund-raising has supported a wide array of endeavors, from expansion of Arlington Hospital in the 1960s to a number of drives to build a new Salvation Army center. The club in 1976 sponsored the first automobile-emissions testing program in Arlington, and in 1996 pledged $25,000 in support of construction of the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall at Northern Virginia Community College’s Alexandria campus.

Not unlike many service organizations founded in the early part of the 20th century, the Kiwanis Club (both at the local and national levels) started out as an all-male, all-white affair. The Arlington club’s first black member was attorney (later judge) Thomas Monroe, who joined in the 1960s; its first female member was county official Debbie Powers, who was inducted in 1988 and rose to become president in 1995.

Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman Jr. was the keynote speaker at the 80th-anniversary event, while Del. Patrick Hope – a club member – presented the organization with a commemorative resolution from the House of Delegates.

Members meet weekly on Wednesdays for lunch at the Knights of Columbus Hall. For information, see the Web site at www.arlingtonkiwanis.org.