There are so many needs and worthy causes in Centre County that it would be overwhelming and impossible for any one group to address them all. Fortunately, we have a great assortment of local service organizations that volunteer in a variety of ways to help meet as many of our neighbors’ needs as possible.

You’ve certainly heard of most, if not all, of the clubs featured in this story: Rotary, Lions, Elks, Kiwanis, Soroptimists. These are big names in the world of service organizations. Within Centre County alone, you’ll find eight Lions Clubs, three Elks Lodges, five Rotary Clubs and four Kiwanis Clubs. Of course, these are just a sampling of the many volunteer organizations doing good works for our community.

These groups have a lot in common. All of them offer their members fellowship and fun ways to socialize, while keeping service as a top priority. They all contribute in similar ways, such as by sponsoring Scout troops, cleaning up stretches of highway, ringing the Salvation Army bell and donating to local nonprofits like Little League teams and fire departments. But each club also has its own niche and its own signature projects that allow members to make a difference in their own way.


State College Sunrise Rotary

Each year, as the holidays approach, a candy-cane-striped mailbox magically appears in front of The Corner Room on College Avenue.

One of State College Sunrise Rotary’s signature projects, Santa’s Mailbox is a place for kids to deposit their letters to Saint Nick, which Rotarians then answer on Santa’s behalf.

“This is a favorite project of our members. Some of the letters are really touching and pull at your heartstrings,” says club President Ron Beyer.

Another of the club’s signature community projects is its annual Four-Way Test Awards (named after the club’s ethical guidelines) ceremony, honoring local first responders.

Other key projects for the club include collecting recycling and trash at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts as part of the “Green Crew,” participating in United Way’s Day of Caring and carrying out a project unique to Sunrise Rotary: a pollination initiative focused on developing pollinator habitats in the region.

“That’s kind of the beauty of Rotary,” Beyer says. “At the club level, you can make Rotary whatever you want it to be.”

“Service Above Self” is the Rotary International motto. Globally, Rotary is known for its work toward eradicating polio, promoting peace and supplying clean water, and Beyer says some Sunrise Rotarians have participated in service projects around the world. The club also sponsors students involved in Rotary’s International Youth Exchange program, both by helping to find host families for students coming here and by sponsoring local students who go abroad.

As with any service group, fundraising is key, as sponsorships and projects cost money. The club’s signature fundraiser is the annual Hearts for State College campaign, which allows customized messages to be printed on heart-themed banners to hang throughout downtown State College during February.

Beyer says membership has held steady at around 30 people for the past several years, and he anticipates growth in the coming year. He invites anyone who might be interested in learning more about the club to attend one of the meetings, which, as the club’s name suggests, occur bright and early, at 7:15 on Wednesday mornings. Each meeting features a different speaker from the community.

According to Beyer, the early meetings help the club achieve a good balance when it comes to the ages of its members, by helping to attract younger professionals who may have a difficult time committing to lunch or evening meetings.

“That’s one of the things I really like about our club,” Beyer says. “We have people from diverse backgrounds, diverse occupations and diversity in ages, with people in their 20s all the way up to their 80s. It’s a good mix.”


Harris Township Lions

Every year, the Harris Township Lions Club, along with the Boalsburg Village Conservancy, helps the village of Boalsburg get into the holiday spirit by decorating the town and organizing the Hometown Christmas celebration.

Santa Claus himself is a member of the club, and he lights the tree on the diamond while other members sell hot chocolate to warm up the crowd.

It’s just one of many ways this active group supports Boalsburg and the surrounding community. The Lions have also assisted with the development of the Harvest Fields Community Trails, both financially and with some hands-on work, and they have helped maintain headstones in the Boalsburg Cemetery. They also sponsor a middle school Peace Poster contest and award scholarships to seniors at State College Area High School.

Some of the Lions’ contributions also serve as the major fundraisers for the club, like their popular kettle fry stand at the Boalsburg Memorial Day celebration. The Lions also raise money by parking cars and directing traffic at the Grange Fair, a nine-day commitment for the club.

“We’re very dedicated to that. It really does assist people. When you help to stop traffic for people who are in wheelchairs or using walkers or canes, it is such a good feeling. It helps everyone,” says President Bob Hoffman.

Their other signature fundraiser is the club’s chicken and pork barbecue sale, which takes place twice a year. Meals are presold to the public, and the chicken and pork are barbecued on the premises at the Lions building on Academy Street.

The building, a renovated church, is an important aspect of Lions Club operations and the Boalsburg community. The Lions Club formed a separate entity, the Harris Township Community Service Association, in order to purchase the site back in the 1950s.

Today, the building is where the club holds its monthly meetings. It has also been used for community ventures from dog training programs to family Thanksgiving dinners. Past President Doreen Diehl says the club would like to see the community use the building even more, which is a goal they are working toward.

Along with other nearby Lions Clubs, the Harris Township group holds a free sight screening campaign at Grange Fair. They also collect used eyeglasses in the shed behind their building and in businesses around town; the glasses are then refurbished for visually impaired people who may not be able to afford corrective eyewear.

This is part of the International Lions Club signature program Sight First. The Harris Township Lions also support the international club’s disaster relief efforts.

“Oftentimes, the Lions are the first people on the ground after a disaster because they’re local and they know the area,” Diehl says. “We’re right there with FEMA and the Red Cross.”

The club currently has about 50 members and is hoping to add 20 more over the next year, Hoffman says. Members do not need to reside in Harris Township.


Bellefonte Elks Lodge 1094

The Bellefonte Elks Lodge is located in a historic house once owned by former Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin. The social arm of the organization, the club, centers around the bar and restaurant area located on the main floor of the building. The philanthropic arm of the organization, the lodge, convenes upstairs in a meeting room.

This dual structure is the way Elks Lodges are set up across the country. Elks members are automatically a part of both aspects of the organization.

Money made at the club, through food and beverage sales as well as small games of chance, helps to support the lodge’s local charitable endeavors, as does a large endowment, the David B. Garver Charitable Fund. In addition, two of the organization’s biggest fundraisers are a raffle booth at the Grange Fair and an annual basket auction.

“We give away tens of thousands of dollars each year in some form,” says current Exalted Ruler Ray Holsing.

The Bellefonte Elks’ biggest beneficiary is the Pennsylvania Elks Home Service program, which provides free in-home nursing and social services to families of children with developmental disabilities. Locally, the program supports seven Centre County families.

The organization awards scholarships for seniors at Bald Eagle and Bellefonte Area high schools, and, in conjunction with state and national Elks, they host a drug awareness poster contest for elementary school students and an Americanism essay contest for middle school students.

During the holiday season, the Elks partner with the Faith Centre Food Bank and Toys for Tots to provide nearly 100 Christmas dinner boxes and toys to local families in need.

In support of veterans, the lodge donates Welcome Home kits to local soldiers returning from military service, providing items like appliances, housewares and toiletries. The lodge also hosts an annual Veterans Day luncheon and a Flag Day ceremony.

With over 900 members, it might not sound like the Bellefonte Elks need to do much recruiting. However, as with many service organizations, a relatively small portion of the overall membership tends to do the bulk of the charitable work, Holsing says. Many Elks join primarily for the social aspect of the club. Holsing himself was once one of those people.

“I was a member here for many years before I ever went to a lodge meeting upstairs,” he says. “Now when I recruit members, I try not to emphasize the inexpensive drinks. I mean, that’s a great thing. But I try to emphasize all the charitable works we do.”

Still, the social aspect itself is an effective recruiting tool, says Terree Michel, leading knight.

“A lot of our members come in with friends, have dinner and find they enjoy the meal, the camaraderie and the facility. That’s usually how we bring in members,” she says. 

Michel herself says she has found getting involved in the Elks to be immensely rewarding.

“When you see the kids who are benefiting from all of your work, your heart just swells. It gives you goosebumps and brings tears to your eyes. That’s why I’m doing this,” she says.

The only qualifications for membership are American citizenship and a belief in God. Bellefonte Elks members do not have to reside in Bellefonte.


Kiwanis Club of Penns Valley

The Kiwanis Club of Penns Valley only has about ten members at the moment, but that hasn’t stopped them from making a difference in the lives of local youth.

As President Mike Powell says, “We’re small, but we’ve done a lot of good stuff.”

Everything they do is centered on the Kiwanis International motto: “Serving the children of the world.”

The Penns Valley Kiwanis respond to many requests from local organizations, from the YMCA to the Penns Valley Area High School music department. The club also sponsors scholarships awarded to Penns Valley High School seniors who are members of the Key Club, which is basically the high school version of a Kiwanis Club.

According to Powell, a favorite cause of the organization is the Penns Valley Hope Fund, which provides financial assistance to families experiencing a medical crisis or personal tragedy.

To raise the funds that enable these donations, the club’s signature fundraiser is their blueberry sale in June, in which they sell ten-pound boxes of blueberries shipped in from New Jersey. Powell expects the group to sell over 1,000 boxes in 2024.

Powell says the biggest challenge currently facing the group is finding a way to grow its membership in order to continue and expand the ways it supports Penns Valley residents.

“We’re open to anyone service-oriented. It’s actually an easy way to provide assistance to the community,” he says, adding that the reward comes from “seeing the joy in people whenever you are able to help them with their needs or achieve their goals.”


Soroptimist International of Centre County

Soroptimist International of Centre County encompasses all of Centre County, and in fact reaches into Mifflin, Huntingdon and Clinton counties in its efforts to empower and support at-risk women and their families.

“These women may be at risk or facing challenges of poverty, homelessness, food insecurity, domestic violence, lack of training or education and access to health care,” says President Dee Bagshaw. “Our primary mission is to help get them resources to improve their lives.”

The club accomplishes this through its two signature projects: Live Your Dream, supporting female heads-of-households, and Dream It, Be It, supporting girls in middle school and high school.

“Live Your Dream typically supports single moms; these are women who are trying to hold down jobs and raise a family while getting additional training or education,” Bagshaw explains. “We’re not a big enough organization to pay for their college, but these women may struggle with things like, ‘My car has a flat tire and I can’t get to class or to my training opportunity.’ So we give out three to five small educational support awards every year.”

The support the group offers to the girls involved with Dream It, Be It is a little more hands-on, Bagshaw says. Soroptimist members serve as mentors and help facilitate a specific curriculum at local summer camps. 

In addition, SICC supports local organizations that deal with the at-risk population, such as Park Forest Preschool and Out of the Cold. They also provide Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets to families in need.

To fund their causes, SICC’s primary fundraiser is the Soroptimist Golf Classic. This year’s event was the club’s fifth annual golf tournament, held at the Penn State Blue Course.

SICC’s members range in age from late 30s to early 90s. While the members are currently all women, men are encouraged to join, as the group welcomes anyone who is interested in helping women and children, Bagshaw says. T&G

Karen Walker is a freelance writer in State College.

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