Civitan International has been around since its organization in 1920. The first club was organized in Birmingham, Alabama, 1917. Today, there are more than 30,000 worldwide clubs across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. And now, through the efforts of Bob and Mary Shell, Civitan is coming to the River Valley. The Shells are from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and members of the Bartlesville Civitan organization. Additionally, Bob is this governor of Civitan's Heartland District - which just happens to include the Fort Smith area.
The Civitan International mission is "to build good citizenship by providing a volunteer organization of clubs dedicated to serving individual and community needs with an emphasis on helping people with developmental disabilities. "
This past Wednesday, Abilities Unlimited in Van Buren hosted the 3rd organizational meeting of what is to become a new Civitan club serving our community. Staff and clients at Abilities Unlimited treated attendees to a "made from scratch" lunch of some of the best chili around. Clients, all facing various degrees of developmental challenges, had prepared the meal under the supervision of staff members. As each had the opportunity to introduce themselves, you could see the pride on their faces to have prepared a meal that would be shared with community members attending the Wednesday meeting. Staff, clients and community members all sat together to enjoy the meal as Bob talked about Civitan, its origins, and mission to serve.
Here is what made this event so heartwarming. While we, in the River Valley, are laden with non-profits and service organizations, rarely are those we serve included in the process of how and why we choose to serve. Sitting together, with those we hope to serve, offered the opportunity to actually connect and interact. For that one hour, we were a part of each other's lives. And, though we were organizing to seek solutions to meet their needs, here they were, serving us! Which brings me to this point.
We are all called to serve. No matter our age, social status, financial abundance, or lack thereof. We are called to serve according to our abilities and our talents. My 4-year old granddaughter is serving when she holds the door for a fellow student, the clients at Abilities Unlimited were serving when they prepared the meal we shared, that homeless person on the street is serving when they pick up a piece of trash carelessly tossed by others. No matter our station in life, we are called to serve. Service to one another is one of the underlying principles to most of the world's religions.
When we serve our hearts change. Our eyes begin to see the plight of others differently. We begin to feel and connect with others in a more meaningful context. When we are busy serving there is no time for petty quarreling. There is no time for keeping score about who's contributing the most - or taking the most. When we are serving, we are creating a better world. When we are serving, we discover that we are the recipients of so much more than what we are giving.
The next two Civitan meetings will take place at Abilities Unlimited, Van Buren, on November 1st and 8th. The new Civitan club will hold its Charter Celebration at noon on November 15th - place to be determined. The charter presentation, initiation of new members, and installation of new officers will be conducted by Area Director Dale deReign from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
Civitan International offers an opportunity for us to join together to serve. Civitan clubs around the world are committed to service. They build parks, they buy fire trucks. They volunteer time to paint or repair a home for a low-income family or senior citizen. They fundraise to support the efforts of a local non-profit.
The Civitan International Research Center, located on the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, conducts research to find causes and cures for developmental disabilities. The research center is funded, primarily, through a Civitan International grant. Civitan is a leading organization in funding and volunteerism for the Special Olympics Summer and Winter Games. Civitan members are a "hands-on" service organization. They provide financial assistance, but also roll up their sleeves and become involved in the real work of the projects they support.