Glenna Kinney had been interested in joining a service club for some time, but it wasn't until she learned about Civitan International and the group's campaign to charter a Carroll County chapter, based in Westminster, that she found the club for her.
"I was very interested in the volunteering for a group, specializing in helping the disabled," Kinney said. "There are needs out there, and I think a lot of people out there don't realize that there are people that want to help them. I thought Civitan would be a good vehicle for that."
Civitan International clubs focus on helping people with physical and mental disabilities, as well as the many nonprofits that help those people, according to Patricia Koepsel, executive director of the Civitan Chesapeake District Foundation. Founded in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1917, there are many Civitan clubs throughout the South, though Koepsel said the organization is pushing to expand further north into Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
"Out of about 30 clubs in our district, I would say at least 15 [are in Maryland]," she said. "I'm a master club builder and so I go around the district forming clubs."
It's a lot of travel for Koepsel, who is from McLean, Virginia, and travels throughout Virginia; Maryland; Washington, D.C.; Pennsylvania; Delaware; and New Jersey. On Tuesday, she had come to Bullocks Country Family Restaurant in Westminster for the weekly meetings that Civitan is holding there in hopes of attracting enough interest to charter a new club.
"We are meeting every Tuesday at 11:45 here at Bullocks until we charter," Koepsel said. "We need 20 people to charter and we have 11, so we need nine more citizens who have a passion for helping anyone less fortunate than they are."
That sounds good to Shawn Franklin, who, along with Kinney, had come to the lunchtime meeting on Tuesday and said she has long been involved with social ministry in her church in southern Carroll County — efforts such as collecting for and donating to food banks or working with Habitat for Humanity — and was interested in doing more.
"I think this might be my third meeting. I am definitely just seeking information, very interested in the concept," she said. "When you read the brochure, you read about projects and a lot of hands on opportunities in the community. I've always been about that, so I was just very interested to see what they have to offer."
Those opportunities include the ability to work with nonprofits serving people with disabilities in order to get them grants from Civitan, according to Crystal Payne, who had come to the meeting with husband, Larry, from the Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, Civitan club to help get the Westminster club off the ground.
"You do not have to be a member to get a grant, but you have to go through a Civitan club to get the opportunity," Payne said. "We write the grants, we send them through our committee and we write the check, if they meet the requirements."
The Chesapeake District Civitan Foundation has a $60 million endowment at its disposal for writing such grants, Koepsel said.
Civitan International is also the only service club with its own academic research center, according to Payne: the Civitan International Research Center, which is housed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and conducts research on subjects ranging from disabilities — such as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, and Down syndrome — to the healing of spinal cord injuries. The origins of the research center, and the Civitan focus on helping people with disabilities, both come thanks to a Baltimore connection.
"We used to be strictly a community service club all over the world, but there was a man in Baltimore, Maryland, that had a special-needs son born who had Down syndrome," Payne said.
In 1942, Tom and Mary McNulty had a baby boy named Tommy who was born with Down syndrome. Rather than institutionalize him and forget about him, as a doctor recommended, the McNulty's worked with the Baltimore Civitan club to set up a foundation and education opportunities for Tommy and other children with Down syndrome, Payne said. It was an effort that attracted the attention — and changed the course of — the entire Civitan organization.
"The international Civitan decided to adopt the people with special needs, and at that same time they decided to open a research center and made that a flagship project," Payne said.
People with disabilities can join a Civitan chapter, Payne said, and pay half the normal dues, which are normally $100 per year, or $25 per quarter. She said the hope is to get 30 members before officially chartering the new service club in Westminster, thereby earning some additional funding from Civitan International to get the chapter going. Meeting attendance will be flexible.
"A lot of times people say, 'Well, I don't want to be attending a lot of meetings,' " she said. "We are not required to come to every meeting; you can pick and choose when you can."
People who are interested in joining can come to the weekly lunch at Bullocks, according to Payne; however, those who cannot make it out can still contact her to learn more one-on-one.
"If people can't come to a meeting and they want to learn more, any one of us would be willing to sit down at an appointment-like time and go through, explain everything," Payne said.
Carroll County Breaking News
If you go:
What: Civitan club weekly meeting
When: Every Tuesday, 11:45 a.m.-1 p.m.
Where: Bullocks Country Family Restaurant, 2020 Sykesville Road, Westminster
Cost: Lunch is free for those at their first meeting.
For more information, contact Crystal Payne at 717-860-3583 or email@example.com, Patricia Koepsel at 703-356-0156 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or go online to www.chesapeakedistrict.org or www.civitan.org.