Fortunately in Pleasanton, volunteerism, including philanthropy, are still very much alive and growing.
Service organizations such as the Lions, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs are the social glue that keeps many in close contact while also contributing thousands of hours and millions of dollars to help local students, senior citizens and nonprofit organizations.
Take the Lions Club, for instance. Lions International, with 46,000 clubs and 1.35 million members, makes it the world's largest service club organization. Pleasanton Lions has 60 members, and the club has been serving the community for more than 80 years, with fundraisers to help local families, schools and nonprofits.
Members, who hold dinner meetings twice each month on the second and fourth Tuesdays at the Regalia House, are preparing for the club's 26th annual Crab Feed on Jan. 25 at the Fairgrounds, where they will serve some 4,200 pounds of crab to more than 1,200 guests. This event was awarded First Place for Most Outstanding Signature Project at the recent eighth annual Lions Club International Academy Awards ceremony.
This year's crab feed is especially noteworthy because funds generated from ticket sales will be used to establish a scholarship honoring the son of the current club president Greg Yount. Matthew Yount, a member of the Cal Poly golf team and a 2011 graduate of Foothill High School, died in a diving accident in Spain two months ago.
Although Lions is the largest service organization, Rotary International is the oldest. Founded in Chicago in 1905 by Paul Harris, the organization has 1.2 million men and women in over 200 countries and geographical areas with a total of 34,000 Rotary clubs. Pleasanton hosts three of them: the Rotary Club of Pleasanton, often called Downtown Rotary; Rotary Club of Pleasanton North and Tri-Valley Rotary.
Downtown Rotary hosted its 32nd annual free Christmas dinner for 275 seniors last month at the Pleasanton Senior Center, a popular event that included turkey dinners with all the trimmings and musical entertainment.
The club also sponsors a community-wide "Spirit Run" each Father's Day, a major fundraiser that attracted more than 1,200 runners for the 20th annual race last June. The club raised $48,000, with $25,000 adding to the $320,000 in high school scholarships the club had provided over the years. The rest of the 2013 race proceeds went to Valley Humane Society, Tri-Valley YMCA, Rotaplast, Hope Hospice and the Boston Marathon Bombing Victims Fund.
Rotary North's major fundraiser is the "Starry Night" gala. The 24th annual event held last September at Barone's Restaurant added to the $2 million collected at these festive occasions for local and global charity projects.
Beneficiaries included the School of Imagination & Happy Talkers, Relay for Life, Special Olympics of Northern California, Hope Hospice and the Pleasanton Partners in Education (PPIE) Foundation.
The Tri-Valley Evening Rotary Club is the smallest of the three in Pleasanton and is the only one of the six Rotary clubs in the Tri-Valley area that meets in the evening, meeting at 6 p.m. Thursdays at the Castlewood Country Club. Last month, the club collected hundreds of new and gently used warm coats for children in need in the Livermore School District, distributing them to the children just before Christmas.
The club also hosts sing-alongs at the Vine Theater in Livermore with proceeds from the admission fees, auctions and other activities during the events providing support for local and international humanitarian services.
Also small but very active is the Kiwanis Club of Pleasanton, whose 22 members meet at noon Fridays at Vic's All-Star Kitchen on Main Street. Kiwanis International, with more of its clubs in the Midwest and along the East Coast, boasts current membership at nearly 600,000 and annually raises more than $100 million and reports over 18 million volunteer hours to strengthen communities and serve children. A major fundraiser for the Pleasanton club is its annual downtown wine stroll, with next month's event to include a "Texas Hold 'Em" tournament. Proceeds from the event will be given to organizations that benefit children.
Pleasanton Kiwanis also supports Axis Community Health, Open Heart Kitchen, ValleyCare's pediatrics unit, Agape Villages, Taylor Family Foundation, Down Syndrome Connection, Boy Scouts of America and the Pleasanton Weekly Holiday Fund.
"By working together, members achieve what one person cannot accomplish alone," past president Dawn Wilson said. "Kiwanis members believe that when you give a child the chance to learn, experience, dream, grow, succeed and thrive, great things happen."
During "Kiwanis One Day," club members join in property upkeep in Pleasanton, weeding at Ridge View Commons, Alviso Adobe Community Park and other parks in the area. The club also holds flea markets to raise money for Kids Against Hunger and, each year at Thanksgiving time, solicits in front of Safeway supermarkets for regional food banks.
Fundraisers and community service projects like these dominate the agendas of Pleasanton clubs. For most, a condition of membership is to "give back" to the community, including work days where members help Pleasanton seniors and shut-ins identified by the Pleasanton Senior Support Organization. These projects range from grounds-keeping to cleaning gutters to washing down kitchen cupboards. Local Scouting organizations and high school clubs supported by Rotary and Lions chip in.
Providing aid and guidance to military veterans are also club priorities, including preparing meals and providing entertainment for the periodic East Bay Stand Downs at the county fairgrounds. Rotarians work with the Pleasanton Military Families organization in preparing pack-outs for troops in Afghanistan.
The service clubs also provide scholarships, support for schools and student organizations, including sponsoring Interact clubs at Amador Valley and Foothill high schools and recognizing students each month for exemplary credentials. Downtown Rotary donated a $1,800 commercial dishwasher last year to the Village High School culinary program.
Both Downtown Rotary and Rotary North clubs work in partnership with the Wheelchair Foundation, raising funds to enable the delivery of wheelchairs to immobile and needy individuals in Mexico, Central America and South America. To date, Downtown Rotary has delivered over 4,000 wheelchairs and members have directly participated on more than 10 distribution trips, including to Puebla, Mexico last year and to Los Angeles, Chile in 2012.
The Pleasanton North Rotary club also worked with the Wheelchair Foundation as well as with El Oasis, an orphanage in north central Mexico, and the General Hospital of Jalalabad, Afghanistan. From 2003 to 2012, it sponsored 21 trips to 12 Latin American countries and Armenia where club members distributed 5,880 wheelchairs. In 2010, Pleasanton North's past-president Dr. Susan DuPree secured a $56,000 grant from Rotary International and the cooperation of numerous Rotary Club chapters, charitable associations and the U.S. Air Force to install modern cardiac care and neonatal intensive care equipment at the Public Hospital of Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
Last April, members of the Lions Club traveled to Pleasanton's Sister City of Tulancingo, Mexico to donate 1,000 pairs of eyeglasses and an auto-refractor eye examination machine. The club later hosted a breakfast for delegates from Tulancingo when they visited Pleasanton.
"This past year we were able to help many local families, our schools and organizations near and dear to our hearts," said Lions Club president Pam Grimes." These included 4-H, Alameda County Blue Star Moms, Pleasanton Military Families, Mothers With a Purpose, Oakland's Childrens Hospital, school music programs at Amador, Foothill and Harvests Park Middle School, Open Heart Kitchen, Shepherd's Gate, Make a Wish Foundation, Tri-Valley Animal Rescue, Cub Scouts, Tri-Valley Basket Brigade, Lions in Sight, City of Hope, Ear of the Lion and Bras for a Cause."
Bob Brown, president of Downtown Rotary, said the club also provides financial support through its members to Rotary International, including its worldwide polio eradication efforts.
"Our members also support Rotaplast International by providing financial contributions and by directly participating on surgical missions," Brown added. "Rotaplast provides surgical treatments for children with cleft lip and palate anomalies."
The most recent mission was in Cebu City, Philippines. Club members and local Realtor Tom Fox was part of a Rotaplast group where cleft lip and palate surgeries were given to 53 children.
Pleasanton North Rotary focused on youth programs in 2013.
"We restarted the Rotary Youth Exchange program in the Tri-Valley by sponsoring Shona McCarthy, a Foothill student, on a year-long educational exchange to Marbella Spain," said Lawrence Smalheiser, club president. "We also hosted Mio Ueki, a student from Kobe Japan, who attended Foothill. New students have begun the selection and training process for the exchange program and will be departing on their exchanges in August 2014."