T-shirts handed out at the Union Kiwanis Club’s annual Memorial Day Day 5K Run/Walk for the last four years have had a single message — “I Saved 11 Lives.”
The $20 registration fee each participant paid was donated to the Kiwanis International “Eliminate Project” to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) around the world. At a cost of just $1.80 per inoculation, each 5K participant funded 11 inoculations.
But that was just the beginning. As a club, Union Kiwanis donated more than $38,250 to Project Eliminate, which will save the lives of more than 21,250 mothers and their children.
Here in America, MNT isn’t something that many people are too familiar with, much less worry about, but in some countries this deadly disease “steals the lives of 34,000 innocent babies and a significant number of women each year.”
So when Kiwanis International challenged its clubs around the world to contribute to Project Eliminate, members of the Union Kiwanis accepted the challenge and ran with it, said Mike Elliott, who spearheaded the club’s Eliminate pledge.
In 2014, the Union Kiwanis Club pledged to raise $37,500 toward the $110 million goal for Project Eliminate, said Elliott. The pledge was for five years, but the Union club was able to reach and exceed that goal in four.
This was the club’s second worldwide service project with Kiwanis International. Several years ago Union Kiwanis contributed $1,225 to Kiwanis International’s Iodine Deficiency Disorders project to help eliminate mental and developmental disorders.
The Eliminate Project for MNT was a much bigger undertaking, but one the club unanimously agreed to take on, said Elliott. They did it mainly by asking members to reach into their own pockets to contribute.
“We didn’t want Eliminate to compete with our local community projects,” Elliott stressed. “This came from everyone’s hearts.”
As much as 75 percent of the $38,000 raised came from Union Kiwanis members making donations. The other 25 percent came from special events organized by some of Union Kiwanis’ younger members that were advertised as fundraisers specifically for Eliminate.
“They had the energy and willingness to work some projects, and they came up with the ideas on their own,” said Elliott.
“We’ve always said that everything we raise stays in our community,” he said. “This was an exception, which is why the majority of the money came from our individual members.”
What Is Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus?
“Every day in the developing world, 19,000 children die of preventable causes before reaching their 5th birthdays,” Kiwanis International reports on its website. “The United Nations and other organizations have made it a priority to decrease this number.”
Kiwanis International has teamed up with UNICEF to target maternal and neonatal tetanus.
“In 15 countries around the world, MNT can quickly turn the joy of childbirth into tragedy,” the Kiwanis site reads. “MNT kills one baby every 15 minutes. Its effects are excruciating — tiny newborns suffer repeated, painful convulsions and extreme sensitivity to light and touch.”
The disease is caused when tetanus spores found in the soil come into contact with open cuts during childbirth. The good news is it’s highly preventable — just three doses of an immunization protect mothers, who pass on that immunity to their future babies.
Kiwanis International set a goal of $110 million back in 2010 to fund immunizations that would eliminate MNT in the remaining 15 countries where it is present, and with the help of clubs like Union Kiwanis, it has reached that goal.
Medallions and Special Events
Individual members of the Union Kiwanis Club led the way to reaching the club’s $37,500 pledge by purchasing medallions through Kiwanis International.
A variety of medallions are available in recognition for pledging a certain amount, and the Union club has purchased them over the years to honor specific members. For Eliminate, many members opted to purchase medallions in making their individual pledge.
“It was a really good cause, and it makes you feel really good knowing you’re doing this for the world,” said Lynne Elliott, Kiwanis member.
But not every club member is in the position to make a personal pledge, so they opted to organize special events that would contribute to the cause.
Christina Hickman chaired the Union Kiwanis Club’s 5K Annual Memorial Day Run/Walk for four years; Dan Rettke chaired a 3v3 basketball tournament at the annual Union Founders Day; and Brady Weinhold chaired a Charity Stripe free-throw basketball contest.
The basketball tournament drew 20 to 30 teams with 75 to 100 participants (kids and adults) each year. It was held at the city park or at Union Middle School if the weather was bad.
Some 15 to 20 Kiwanians helped run the event by keeping score and selling concessions, said Rettke. Prizes were donated by United Bank of Union.
The Charity Stripe free-throw contest was an idea Weinhold, who coaches basketball at Union Middle School, had to teach his students about giving back to the community.
Students participated by either making a one-time monetary donation or securing pledges (a nickel or a dime, for example) for every free throw out of 100 that they made.
“I wanted the kids to understand what it was like to do something for others without getting anything in return,” said Weinhold, noting the funds raised in the first event were split between the Union Kiwanis Club’s Project Eliminate pledge and the Union Booster Club.
Close to $2,000 was raised that first year, with around $1,000 for Eliminate. Seeing those final numbers made an impression on the students, said Weinhold. He recalled how one student was almost in tears thinking about the good they were doing.
Circus, Other Donations
Union Kiwanis President-Elect Kathy Skrivan noted that the club’s success in reaching its pledge is a reflection of its leadership over the years, including when then-President Michelle Young encouraged Union to become a Model Club by accepting the challenge to pledge $750 to Eliminate for every one of its members.
During Kiwanis Club President Marilyn Greife’s 2013-’14 term, money raised at the the club banquet’s silent auction and bar were donated to Eliminate, and Past President Mike Gluba set up volunteering events at Six Flags with proceeds being contributed to Eliminate.
The Union Kiwanis’ youth organizations, from the K-Kids in the elementary schools to the Builders Club in the middle school and the Key Club at the high school, also made contributions to the pledge.
“The K-Kids at Beaufort raised about $70 to donate to this, and you can’t imagine how proud they were of themselves for doing that,” said Dave Sutton. “ ‘We saved lives!’ ”
“When you can tell them for every $1.80 you raise, you are saving one little baby from painful suffering, they can understand that,” Mike Elliott said.
But it was the money raised from bringing the Kelly Miller Circus to town last year that finally pushed the Union club over its pledge. That was the motivation, said Elliott, who chaired the event.
“All money we raised was used to finish off the Eliminate pledge,” he said, noting the club received a percentage of ticket sales for the circus. “That frees us up to do more work for the community.”
Many businesses around Union purchase tickets and donate them to people with special needs or people who cannot afford to purchase tickets, Elliott said. So it really is a community effort.
Members of the Union Kiwanis Club feel a tremendous sense of pride at what they were able to accomplish with the Eliminate Project, and not just because they were able to surpass their financial goal.
“It’s tremendous that we did this. I really feel great about it” said Mike Elliott. “But I feel the bigger thing is that we had every single member . . . participate in our different projects in one way or another.”
“The club is always proud of what it does to support and bolster the local community, but to be part of a worldwide project makes you feel that much more pride in what Kiwanis does,” said longtime member Earlaine Sandoval, who served as president in 1995-’96.
$1 Million Contributed in Union Since 1979
The Union Kiwanis Club got its start in 1979 with help from Del Wachter and members of the St. Clair Kiwanis Club. Union’s first organized meeting was held March 27, 1979, at Brander’s Steakhouse and its charter gathering was held June 9 that year at the American Legion Hall in Union. The first president was Neil Knight.
The first women members joined the club in 1989, led by Sondra Jackson, Earlaine Sandoval (who is still a member) and Barb Wisman.
Membership has ranged from as few as 21 to 68 today.
The club has enjoyed a surge of new membership since it made its pledge to Eliminate, and that has helped it maintain its momentum, members say.
“This club is blessed by our young people, with their fresh ideas, they have really been a blessing to this club,” said Bruce Templer, longtime member who served as president three times over the club’s history.
From the beginning, the Union Kiwanis Club has been dedicated to helping the children of the community.
“The most important goal of Kiwanis is to ‘do’ service,” the Union club’s website reads. “This means hands-on projects where members take the time to make a visible impact on the community in which we serve.”
The Kiwanis motto is “Serving the Children of the World.”
In the nearly 40 years since it was organized, the Union Kiwanis Club has contributed more than $1 million and more than 57,000 hours in community service projects to the community.
The most recent of these is the nearly $250,000 the club raised through the Union Kiwanis Foundation for a special needs and use playground in Veterans Memorial Park in Union. And as usual, the Kiwanians weren’t content just with raising the money. They also showed up to help build and install the playground equipment as well.
Last year the Union Kiwanis Club completed 54 projects, gave 1,874 hours and served approximately 3,700 kids, said Sandoval.
The club has given more than $55,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors from UHS, more than $9,000 to the Book Buzz youth literacy program and nearly $8,600 for Reading Is Fundamental.
Every Christmas season, the club provides food baskets, makes and fills Christmas stockings and gifts for preschool-aged children in the Union School District, and funds for the Angel Tree Program to provide presents to people in need around the community, and every spring the club organizes a field day for students at Autumn Hill State School and Rainbow Activity Center.
The club contributes to Franklin County Habitat for Humanity, both in funds and volunteer work, the Wildcat Foodpack Program, which it founded, and Operation Clean Stream by providing liability insurance for the some 200-plus river cleaners (many Kiwanis members among them) as they clean more than 130 miles of river.
And club members say they have endless fun while doing all of these things. They think of each other as family and get together for a number of social events, like game nights and breakfast on the river, just for fun.
That enjoyment is reflected in the club’s many successful fundraisers, from its annual Tee Off for Kids Golf Tournament, which raised more than $12,700 last year, to the barbecue stands at the youth fair and Founders Day events to the Peanut/Pretzel Days, which has brought in more than $45,000.
And they do it all for one purpose: “To improve our community by helping children thrive.”
For more information on the Union Kiwanis Club, people can visit its website, www.unionkiwanis.org or contact Earlaine Sandoval at 636-399-6511 or firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Ken Rohrbach at 636-583-3659 at email@example.com.