December 2019 | Volume XXXVII. Issue 6 »

Service Organizations: An Opportunity to Connect with Communities

December 2, 2019
Betsy Adamowski, Wheaton Public Library; Karolyn Nance, Bartlett Public Library; and Debra Stombres, Poplar Creek Public Library

The United States and the international community are both peppered with volunteer opportunities, all designed to make the world a better place. For the local library director, some of these organizations offer valuable opportunities to connect with local community leaders, provide service to library patrons outside the library walls, and give the library a visible presence in community activities. The directors of the libraries featured here are members of three such organizations: Kiwanis, Rotary, and Lions Club, all of which are international organizations; these are their insights about the value of joining such organizations and how such service has made them better library directors.


Debra Stombres, executive director of the Poplar Creek Library District, is currently a member of her local Kiwanis International organization. Her library is also a member of two local Chambers of Commerce and has representatives on a couple of local village commissions. Of the various organizations in her library district, Kiwanis International is the one that actually gives a financial donation back to the library each year.

The Kiwanis mission statement reads, “Kiwanis empowers communities to improve the world by making lasting differences in the lives of children.” The organization’ vision statement: “Kiwanis will be a positive influence in communities worldwide— so that one day, all children will wake up in communities that believe in them, nurture them and provide the support they need to thrive.”

Kiwanis is a service organization with 550,000 members in 80 countries, focusing on serving children by improving their communities. Annually members report 150,000 service projects and raise almost one hundred million dollars. Founded by Detroit businessmen in 1915, Kiwanis chose children as its service directive in 1919. The organization’s web page outlining its history notes “The name ‘Kiwanis’ was coined from an American Indian expression, ‘Nunc Kee-wanis’ meaning, ‘We trade.’” In 2005 Kiwanis changed its motto to “Serving the children of the world,” while business networking is still part of the benefit of participating.

The Kiwanis structure begins at the local club level with individual clubs having their own president, vice president, and other officers, as well as committee chairs. Individual clubs belong to one of 49 districts worldwide and delegates elect officers and trustees for the Kiwanis International Board at the international convention. There are local service projects and there are international projects. The Kiwanis Children’s Fund has partnered with UNICEF to fight maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT). This project entitled, “The Eliminate Project” recently added Chad as the 26th country to eliminate MNT since this project began in 2011. All clubs support this international project.

What does it mean to join a local club? Debra Stombres joined her local Kiwanis club in Streamwood, Illinois shortly after becoming the executive director of the Poplar Creek Public Library. She and a co-worker are club members, attend monthly meetings and volunteer for local fund raising events. While balancing time away from the library as well as personal time, Debra finds that her involvement in her local Kiwanis club has given her opportunities to build friendships with local community leaders and promote library services all the while serving the community and the world in a very satisfying manner.

The Streamwood Kiwanis Club locally gives college scholarships, supports local school needs, and offers young people events such as a talent show and a fishing derby, while also supporting the international goals of the organization. Fundraisers range from the popular annual peanut sales to garage sales, and gaming nights. Volunteers work throughout the year raising funds to support various children’s needs.


Karolyn Nance, director of the Bartlett Public Library District (BPLD) is a member of the Bartlett Rotary Club, serving as secretary and literacy chair for the organization. BPLD is also a member of the Bartlett Hanover Area Chamber of Commerce. The opportunity for Nance to network and meet other community leaders through Rotary has helped the Bartlett Library to become more prominent as a leading government agency within the Bartlett community.

Chicago attorney Paul Harris founded Rotary International on February 23, 1905 as one of the world’s first service organizations. The Rotary Club of Chicago was a place where professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful lifetime friendships. Rotary’s name came from the group’s early practice of rotating the weekly meetings among the offices of each member. “Whatever Rotary may mean to us; to the world it will be known by the results it achieves,” said Harris.

Rotary International is dedicated to international, worldwide commitments. Within 16 years from its founding, Rotary had established clubs on six different continents. Today, club members work together online and in-person to solve some of the world’s most challenging issues. Rotary Clubs are also known for persevering in times of strife and hardship. For example, during World War II, Rotary clubs in Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, and Austria were forced to split their clubs apart. Despite some of the very real threats they received, these clubs continued to meet in secret during and after the war.

Rotary International took on the goal to eradicate polio in 1979. Their first goal was to immunize 6 million children in the Philippines, which they successfully completed. As of today only three countries in the world remain that have not been able tomstop the transmission of polio.

At their weekly club meetings, Rotarians recite the following pledge, “The Four-Way Test.”

Of the things we think, say, or do:

1. Is it the TRUTH?

2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?


4.Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Each Rotarian pledges to adhere to these principles, believing maintaining these in their personal and work lives helps improve communities.

Each local club offers many service opportunities to their communities and makes generous donations. The Bartlett Rotary Club donated $25,000 to the Bartlett High School Boosters to support building a football field for the school. The Bartlett Rotary Club also donated money to a local church to assist with raising enough funds to fix their 100-year-old bell. This year the Bartlett Rotary Club is using $20,000 from its reserve fund to purchase a Rotary Clock to be put up in downtown Bartlett next to the train station. Community residents and businesses will be able to purchase plaques featuring their names and/or their businesses. This fundraiser will match the Club’s $20,000 to cover the total cost of the clock, $40,000.

The Bartlett Rotary Club holds a number of fundraisers throughout each year, including an annual Rotary 5000 event, an evening out with dinner and a raffle that typically nets about $11,000 for the club; Hustle up the Hancock in conjunction with the Bartlett Fire Department, during which a few Rotarians will participate in the race at the Hancock Tower in Chicago to raise donations; and each club member of the club also donates $100 each towards the project, which nets about $10,000 for the club.

One of the most successful service projects has been Rotary Reads. The Bartlett Rotary Club partners with the Bartlett Public Library District annually for the Illinois Family Reading Night sponsored by the office of the Secretary of State and State Librarian, Jesse White. The Bartlett Rotary Club purchases snacks for the event and also donates a free new book to each of the children who attend. The highlight of this evening is that the Bartlett Rotarians our guest readers to all of the attendees.

Rotary International is a very successful organization and each of the local clubs continue to serve in their communities and really are able to make a difference through their fundraising efforts and service projects.


Betsy Adamowski, executive director of the Wheaton Public Library (WPL) is a member of the Wheaton, Illinois Lions Club, and serves as its secretary. WPL is also a member of the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and Downtown Wheaton Association; Betsy is the incoming president for the Wheaton Rotary Club. Building relationships with organizations and businesses is a strategic goal of WPL and is very important to the success of the library.

Lions Clubs International (LCI) is a social welfare organization. The LCI mission is very simple, “Lions Serve.” Melvin Jones, a Chicago business leader, founded the first Lions Club in that city in 1917. Jones had adopted a motto “You can't get very far until you start doing something for somebody else,” which led him to work with other business groups around the world to come together and form the International Association of Lions Clubs. The history of LCI is rich with such notable happenings as rising to Helen Keller’s challenge to the organization to do more for the blind and hearing impaired, giving musical legend Stevie Wonder his first drum set, and starting the sight guide dog program. This focus became trained on libraries when in 1935, the Milwaukee Lions Club made a donation to the Milwaukee Public Library to purchase a Talking Book machine for the blind to hear books.

LCI truly takes Jones’ motto seriously and works hard to make a difference in every community that it serves. Working with WPL, the Lions Club of Wheaton has been making a difference to families who have a child or adult with vision impairment for many years. In the last few years, WPL has been hosting vision screenings using the Spot Vision Screener on a regular occurrence. The Spot Vision Screener is a fast and objective way to detect up to six amblyopic risk factors that may lead to blindness in children or impaired vision development in a non-intrusive span of five to eight seconds. The Wheaton Lions members do the testing, if impairment is detected, the caregiver of the child is advised to see an eye doctor. If financial assistance is needed for the doctor visit or glasses the Lions Club will help. This is a win-win situation for both the Lions Club and WPL as it is serving a special need for library patrons, it is making the library a destination, and it is giving both the Lions members and the Library staff a way to build a relationship. Along with the Spot Vision testing the Wheaton Lions Club donates funds to WPL to support low-vision equipment, large print materials, VOX books, and audiobooks.

It is important to note that LCI supports six global causes: sight, hearing, hunger, environment, diabetes, and childhood cancer. This is an ambitious philanthropy and libraries of all types can reach out to a Lions Club anytime to build a relationship to not only receive funding to help develop a program, a service project, or a collection to support any of the global causes but also to develop a relationship that will strengthen the library and Lions’ missions. Lions clubs around the world are looking for opportunities to build and expand their message; the library can be the place for that to happen.


There are many service organizations around the world doing wonderful works in their respective communities. Public libraries share many common goals with these organizations as we serve our communities by identifying the needs and wants of our local taxpayers, our key stakeholders. When a public library can invest some time and effort into their community by partnering with an active service organization, we can increase our effectiveness in improving the lives of our patrons.

The first step is to recognize common ground by looking at the library’s strategic plan and comparing it to the goals and initiatives of the service organization. The second is to determine if the organization serves the stakeholders of the library. Third, determine just how much time the library can devote to an outside organization before it cuts into its own internal needs. Fourth, see what areas of community involvement your library board already has committed to. With balance, planning, and attention to the big picture, a library director can invest well in their respective community by serving in a service organization.

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