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After rough 2020, service clubs hopeful for better 2021

News Photo By Steve Schulwitz Rotary Club of Alpena President Wendy Servia, left, and President-elect JoAnne Gallagher visit Rotary Island Park in the Thunder Bay River in Alpena last week. The club plans renovations to the island this year and a celebration in 2022 to honor the club’s 100th anniversary.

ALPENA — After fighting through a challenging year of canceled fundraising events and community projects in 2020, area service groups hope to rebound this year.

Only time — and COVID-19 — will determine if that will happen.

Already, several 2021 events are scrapped, and others changed to virtual methods as the pandemic and related restrictions continue.

So bouncing back could be an uphill climb, but club members said they’re ready to embark upon that climb.

Few nonprofits that depend on fundraising escaped fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although most were able to navigate around the virus to accomplish some good deeds, all hope momentum begins to swing in a positive direction soon.

Some clubs plan to continue utilizing technology, such as the videoconferencing software Zoom, beyond the pandemic, because it has helped connect members more easily.

Alpena Optimist Club President Becky Thomson said the club’s annual Spring Break Family Fun Day held at Alpena High School to kick off vacation is unlikely to take place this year. She said the club is unsure if gathering restrictions will be lifted in time for the event, and, typically, planning for it is well underway by now.

In 2019, Thomson said, about 1,000 people attended the event.

Thomson said the Optimists’ focus now is on the Fourth of July, to see if the club can hold one of its largest fundraisers, the Little Duckie Race in the Thunder Bay River.

“Right now, we’re not planning on having a Family Fun Day, because we are assuming we won’t be able to have that many people inside of the school,” Thomson said. “We don’t know about the Fourth of July, yet, so we are kind of in a holding pattern, which makes things kind of difficult.”

Thomson said the club’s annual kids fishing day at Culligan Plaza during the Michigan Brown Trout Festival is also up in the air. She hopes the pandemic will have eased enough to hold the event later in the summer.

Many local organizations relied heavily on virtual software to meet and plan while gathering restrictions were in place during the pandemic.

Alpena Lions Club President Bernie Lamp III said videostreaming platforms have helped the club tremendously, because they allow members who aren’t in Alpena to participate remotely.

“We have members who are snowbirds and, with Zoom, they were regulars,” Lamp said. “Before, they just wouldn’t be able to attend. We also have some older members who might have a hard time getting along, or be worried about going out in person, so this makes it easier for them, too.”

The Rotary Club of Alpena has used Zoom conferences, as well. President Wendy Servia said that has helped members stay engaged and the club may use the software moving forward.

She said the internet has been a savior, because, in addition to helping members remain engaged, it will allow for the club’s largest fundraiser to be held, albeit in a new format.

Servia said the annual Brew on the Bay Craft Beer and Wine Festival usually sells out and about 600 people attend.

The Rotary auction during the festival raises thousands of dollars for area projects. Proceeds from the festival helped fund the splash park at Starlite Beach.

Servia said she expects the event to happen this spring, but it will be a bit different.

“We’re looking to see if we can do the auction online,” She said. “That wouldn’t be entirely bad, because it would allow people from all over to bid on items. “

Rotary is ready to complete a project this year that was delayed last year because of the coronavirus. Servia said improvements to the breakwall at the Alpena harbor will include new benches and a telescope so people can look out over Thunder Bay.

The club also intends to improve Rotary Island Park in the Thunder Bay River, but Servia didn’t elaborate on what those plans entail.

She did say the work on the park is part of a plan that will lead to a large celebration in 2022, when the club will celebrate its 100th anniversary.

The Kiwanis Club hopes to build on existing partnerships and develop new ones to help achieve fundraising success or to collaborate on projects.

President Beth Pelkey said operating during the pandemic has helped shake things up a bit, and now, the club would like to work with other entities like it already works with the Alpena Booster Club for the Avenue of Flags project along the Thunder Bay River during the year.

She said coming up with new events and partners may be healthy for the club and community.

“We are trying to get people excited for something different,” Pelkey said. “We are used to doing the same old things every year, so mixing it up a bit could be very exciting.”

Pelkey said teaming up with the Alpena Boys and Girls Club to help that club with its upcoming move to the old Catholic Central High School seems like a worthwhile project to explore.

Alpena Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Brad Somers said the Kiwanis, Optimist, Lions, and Rotary clubs have all supported his club in one way or another over the years.

“The Kiwanis helps us with a transportation grant that helps us provide youth rides from school to the club, summer transportation, and helped with COVID-19 meal distributions in 2020,” Somers said. “Rotary has helped us in the past with a computer lab grant to provide computer literacy and safety to club members. They have also helped with programming needs and snack donations.”

The Lions Club the Boys and Girls Club purchased personal protective equipment and provided at-home activity kits to youth while the club was closed because of the pandemic, Somers said, and provided a grant to purchase tablets for members. The Optimist Club offered the Boys and Girls Club members a chance to volunteer at the Optimists’ annual spring break events.

“Service clubs help our community survive,” Somers said. “They serve the community by helping those that in turn help others. They pave the way for organizations to create initiatives and allow us to focus on the people that need help. Service clubs are imperative in our community, and create so many opportunities for the betterment of everyone. “

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