By Stuart Deane

“Why am I a member of the Exchange Club of Greater Newburyport?”

“In light of the struggle to attract and keep members in service clubs nationwide, I have given my own membership some thought.”

“After fourteen years with the National Exchange Club, founded in 1917, I still enjoy the social aspect of attending dinner meetings, and I still enjoy providing service to my community. Why is that?”

“Well, to begin with, I consider the club members to be my friends. I like them. They like me. We share a camaraderie from sharing our time and effort to help others.  Who wouldn’t want to have such friends?”

“l feel like I’m sharing a night out with my friends,” said member Nancy Mullen of our dinner meetings. “l look forward to it. Every two weeks, I catch up with friends. We don’t judge each other by how much we contribute. We accept what each member is able to give.”

“Of course, I wouldn’t have known that at the beginning. I was reluctant to join Exchange, as I was comfortable with my life as it was. But member Jim Noyes

Stu and Jim Welcoming New Member New Member Regina Branco

was persistent in asking me to join. and my wife urged me to join to get involved in the community. I’m glad I did.  I thank Jim for the opportunity.”

“Then I was tossed right into service, first being asked to take over the newsletter, then being added to the board of directors. eventually serving as president. If members don’t get involved, they don’t stay it’s as simple that.”

“My installation ceremony as a local club president at a hayride and barbecue has grown to legendary status over the years as a comedy of errors. Who would have known that so many members would be out of town on the selected date, that another would be called away at the last moment to pick up his son at the airport, that there would be a street and an avenue of the same name in neighboring Haverhill to confuse the attendees, that the wife of one member would be allergic to hay, that a horse pulling a separate carnage for the allergic one would plant her feet and refuse to budge, that the two riders would then take a wrong turn and got lost on the walk back to the barbecue, that the guitar player wouldn’t show up, that because of the lack of lighting we would have to move inside a stable for the ceremonies, that I would forget the flag and banner?  But all of that happened. Still, the difficulties on this evening of a full moon would only draw us closer together.”

“My most important role in the club, however, has been as editor of the newsletter.  Not only has it kept members informed. but it has become a record, a history, of club activities. I write the newsletter as I would write a letter to friends, for they are indeed that. When they express appreciation for my efforts, I am inspired to continue.

“The purpose of a service club, of course, is the service. A club must provide service if it is to have any meaning. We are a small club of about twenty members. As new members trickle in. a few others drop out —  for a variety of reasons. Usually, it is the result of a lack of involvement, though we have lost a few good members because of job changes or moves. Still, we have maintained our core of “workhorses,” and we provide a solid program of services. The benefit is to those we serve, but the good feeling is felt on both sides.”

“At our annual holiday party for a group home of adults who are mentally challenged, a resident was asked by his mother the name of the group giving the party.”

“Its the Friendship Club,” he explained, unable to think of our official name.”

“I think that sums it all up,” she would say later. “He considers you as friends coming to a party. People will give money and drop off gifts, but very few people will come and spend an evening. My son and the others look forward to it. It was absolutely wonderful.”

“Who wouldn’t feel good about that? Who wouldn’t want to offer that sense of satisfaction to a friend as a potential member?”

“In addition to that party, our direct service includes taking senior citizens to an outdoor philharmonic concert, serving food to the runners in a road race fund-raiser in memory of a slain high school cheerleader, putting teddy bears in police cruisers for use with children at the scene of accidents or domestic disputes, escorting children from a women’s crisis center to buy gifts for their families, and serving as waiters and waitresses for a banquet at a senior citizens’ housing complex.”

“The concert involves transporting seniors to a local state park, Maudslay State Park arts center, listening to a free rehearsal concert, serving a light lunch, conducting a tour of the park’s flowering rhododendrons, and then returning to the housing complex in a restored steam mill. At our first outing, we realized that we had too much food so we invited the orchestra to partake of the luncheon, and thus was born a tradition.”

“Thank you so much.” commented more than a few. “We had a wonderful time.”

“The road race is to raise funds for a scholarship in the name of Pentucket Regional High School cheerleader Beth Brodie, who was slain by a classmate who wished in vain to pursue a romantic relationship.”

“I have never seen an outpouring like this before,” commented then-U.S. Rep. Peter Torklldsen, on hand for the pancake breakfast. “This has been a tremendous show of community support and caring. That’s a lot of what makes this a great country. We’ve made a positive out of the tragedy of Beth Brodie. Through this scholarship, her memory is kept alive.”

“Without the Exchange Club, we would never have been able to do this,” said father Steve Brodie. “You’ve helped us immeasurably. Today is as much a tribute to the community as a tribute to Beth by the community.”

“In another annual project, the teddy bears are packaged with coloring books and crayons in Exchange-monogrammed canvas bags for use as ice breakers in police emergencies. The national focus of Exchange is on the prevention of child abuse.”

“We had two children running naked in the street,” commented Greg Frappier of the Newbury Police Department. “Upon investigation, we found the house to be unsanitary and unsafe. We even found a rifle and ammunition. We had to call the Division of Social Services. It was quite a drama, quite taxing. But we had the bears to calm the children down. The things Exchange does don’t go to waste. I personally appreciate what you are trying to do.”

“Added committee chair Jim Byrne of his coloring-book-and-crayon-buying spree, “l was standing in the check-out line with forty coloring books and forty boxes of crayons, and the lady behind me said, ‘That’s one heck of a party you’re having.’ When I explained to her what I was doing, the lady behind her said. ‘I’ve got some teddy bears I’m going to donate to my police department.’ Then the lady behind her said. ‘l make rag dolls. I’m going to donate some of those.’”

“It’s funny how one thing leads to another.”

“The holiday season brings out several projects. The Kmart-sponsored shopping trip for children from the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center involves helping the children buy gifts, not for themselves, but for members of their families, then helping them wrap and label the selections.”

“We couldn’t do this without Exchange,” said Regina Lensky, the coordinator of human resources for the Newburyport Kmart. “We really appreciate what you do. I just wish we could thank each one of you individually. There are no words to express what you do. You’re the tops.”

“This gave me a boost,” agreed one member. “Whatever the children got from the morning, I got more.”

“The holiday party involves serving food and beverages to residents of the Senior-citizen complex at the steam mill as they listen to holiday music and speakers, then cleaning up afterward.”

“We would like to thank you for a wonderful evening,” wrote the social director later.  The food was wonderful, the service great, and the clean-up amazing.  Never has our kitchen been so spic and span in such a short time. We should tell you that not a morsel was wasted. The following evening thirty-three residents were fed delicious chicken dinners, and the next day twenty-eight sliced chicken sandwiches were served.  Thanks again for all you do in service to the residents of Newburyport.”

“We also raise money for a variety of causes, including two college scholarships, and support, along with the other Exchange Clubs of the Merrimack Valley. the regional Family Support Center in nearby Lawrence, Mass.  Financial support is important. but, it is the direct service — person-to-person —  that is most meaningful. As one member said, ”You can only hand out so many checks.”

“For the spirit with which we provide these services, the Newburyport club was recognized with the New England District President’s 1999-2000 “Top Club Award”

“Its recognition of heart, soul, and spirit,” said past district director John Chamberlain. “It is a coveted award.”

“Sure. we could do more. but at the same time, we have to take satisfaction in what we do.   Always telling members that they are not doing enough is discouraging to the spirit and therefore to membership numbers. Why belong to an organization in Which you are not appreciated?

“What we do, whatever and how much that might be is appreciated by those we serve. Writer and motivational speaker Mark Victor Hansen tells us the following story in Chicken Soup for the Soul, here abridged:

“A man was walking along a lengthy beach when he spotted another man In the distance approaching from the opposite direction. Every now and then the stranger appeared to stop. stoop, pick up something from the sand and throw it out into the ocean. As the two got closer and closer. the man could see that the stranger was picking up starfish stranded by the receding tide and tossing them back into the water. “Why are you doing that,” he asked when they were finally within speaking distance “Don’t you know that starfish are stranded on beaches all over the world? What you’re doing can’t possibly matter.” The stranger stooped again, picked up another starfish, and tossed it into the water. “It mattered to that one,” he said.”

“And so, too, does it matter to those whose lives we touch. We can’t do every. ttüng. but we can do something.”

“Being among friends. Making a difference in the lives of other human beings. Why am I in Exchange? I can’t imagine not belonging.”