A MUSEUM in the Millyard might sound like a fitting spot for a century-old service organization to hold its meetings, but the Kiwanis Club of Manchester was thinking about its future when it chose a new locale.
The Millyard has a legacy even older than Kiwanis, but these days it’s a magnet for millennials, thanks to the presence of tech companies, colleges, small businesses and loft apartments. Maybe some of those millennials might be interested in joining a group dedicated to helping kids in the Queen City.
Some of the club’s older members have been involved for 60 years, said Marilyn Charbonneau, a senior business banking officer for NBT Bank.
“The future of the club is we need to attract some of the younger generation,” said Charboneau, who joined Kiwanis a decade ago. “We’re doing an OK job there, but we’re hoping our new location in the Millyard will help with that.”
Charboneau calls her entry to Kiwanis a “semi-work requirement” — a chance for her to get more involved with the community. Over the years, she’s gained long-term friendships with fellow members and the satisfaction from working on such civic projects such as upgrading city playgrounds.
“Having two small children many years ago, I always did volunteer work whether it was in their school or the church,” Charboneau said. “I was always that parent volunteering. It’s pretty much realigned with my personal values.”
The Kiwanis Club recently celebrated its 100th birthday at the Manchester Historic Association’s Millyard Museum. A commemorative program produced for the event included snapshots of the group’s history, including a front page story from the Feb. 14, 1921 Manchester Leader announcing its formation.
Back then, Kiwanis was “a new organization of Manchester men” modeled after Kiwanis International, which was originally founded as a business networking group and charitable group. Until 1987, women were not allowed to join.
About half of the Manchester club’s current members are women.
“We don’t even think about it anymore,” said local broadcast veteran Tom Kallechey, who is a longtime member. ”We’re Kiwanians. We’re not men or women.”
Kallechey became a member after a work colleague who was a Kiwanian left his company.
“I had been a guest at a couple of meetings so I kind of jumped into his place,” Kallechey said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to contribute to the community and also to foster some terrific personal relationships as well.”
Some of the club’s legacy projects span decades. Through Walk with a Child, Kiwanis provides winter clothes to children from the Boys & Girls Club and teens at Webster House. Students from Kiwanis Key Clubs at local high schools assist with the shopping sprees.
Last year, Kiwanis made that program a virtual event by providing shopping certificates, but it will resume offering it in-person this year, partnering with the Walmart in Hooksett.
“We found ways to continue to provide service even during COVID,” Kallechey said. “Through this whole thing we’ve had food drives, drives for toiletries and household products to benefit MPAL (the Manchester Police Athletic League), the Boys & Girls Club and other partner agencies.”
The club provides about $25,000 in grants annually to social service agencies that help children. Some of the larger projects span three or more years, such as the recent resurfacing of basketball and pickleball courts at three city parks, which costs about $75,000.
Kiwanis is working with the city to install free book kiosks in a few city parks as part of a literacy project promoted by Kiwanis International. A similar book lending program initiated in an inner city laundromat was suspended during COVID.
“They’re built. They’re ready to go. We have the books,” Kallechey said.
Kiwanis members raise funds through such events as an annual auction and a $10,000 “reverse raffle.” Both were put on hold over the past couple of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
They also volunteer their time for such projects as building a playground at the Boys & Girls Club or cleaning up the grounds at Bakersville School.
“Not everybody is able to get out there and lift a shovel, but they can contribute in other ways,” Kallechey said.
Kiwanis Club of Manchester meets at the Millyard Museum, 200 Bedford St., every other Wednesday from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. Visit kiwanismanchesternh.org for more information.