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Quietly making a difference

At this week’s meeting, club members enjoyed a visit from local country western trio “Behind the Times.” / W.C. Mann

CULLMAN - On Monday, I was invited to help get a monkey off someone’s back.  Actually, it wasn’t a monkey; it was an ape, a near-life-size plush toy orangutan named Otto that members who don’t bring a guest to a local weekly lunch might be obliged (by lottery) to carry home with them to be ape-sat until the next meeting.  Thus, I was introduced to the Cullman Kiwanis Club.

The local chapter of Kiwanis International meets for a fellowship lunch at noon each Monday in Christ Hall at St. John’s Evangelical Protestant Church.  The meal is no snack; it has choices of entrees, vegetables, soups, salads, desserts and drinks.  Each lunch gathering features some type of program that may be a speaker from local government or another organization; sometimes it’s just fun entertainment, like this week’s meeting when the local country western trio “Behind the Times” put on a mini concert.  It’s a good time for professionals to network, and a great time for friends to catch up. 

And someone gets an orangutan.

Obviously, these are people who know how to laugh, and who enjoy being happy, but there’s more to the Cullman Kiwanis Club than good food (very good, by the way) and oversize plushies.  The motto of Kiwanis International is “Serving the Children of the World.”  Around the world each year, members dedicate more than 18 million hours to roughly 150,000 service projects, and raise more than $100 million.  As stated on their website, “Through service projects and fundraisers, Kiwanis members improve their communities, make lifelong friendships, and, most importantly, help children thrive, prosper and reach their full potential.”

Longtime Cullman Kiwanis members Martha Burchell and Melba Palys (who, with her late husband Bob Palys, were driving forces in area high school Key Clubs) talked about what their local chapter does for Cullman County.

Burchell: “We serve our community; we serve Key Clubs; we’ve got four.”

Palys: “We sponsor four: Cullman, Fairview, Holly Pond and Addison.  They (Cullman Kiwanis Club members) provide moral support, which we obviously need; they provide money for our kids to go to leadership conferences and conventions.  Our kids come and work projects with Kiwanis like Pancake Day, and I’m lining them up to come help with the dog show.

“We both benefit.  I tell (the Key Club members) all the time, ‘If there’s something that you need from Kiwanis, just tell me, and I’ll see what I can do to get it for you.  And (Kiwanians) have been so supportive; we couldn’t exist as a Key Club without them.

“At the end of each year, each school (with a Key Club) has been getting a $500 scholarship for a while.  But last year we had a good fundraising year, so this year it was $1,000, and we give two scholarships to each of those four schools.”

Burchell: “In addition to just the Key Clubs, we do a lot of support for the community, wherever there’s a need: knapsack ministry, the shoebox ministry which is just opening up right now, and we support the parks and recreation.  Our Key Clubbers do this: they go every year to the Special Olympics.”

Palys: “It’d be hard to put a name to everything that we do; most of it others don’t know about.”

Burchell: “Most of it is done without any recognition.  We just see a need and provide it.”

Palys: “We’re very proud of what we do.  I think we’re a very important part of the community.  We’re a well-kept secret; we talk about that all the time.  A lot of people don’t know we exist.”

Burchell: “I think we’re the best-kept secret in Cullman, because we do a lot that nobody knows anything about.  It’s not that we’re trying to do it under the table or anything, it’s just that we don’t broadcast it.  We just see a need and provide it.”

Palys: “I agree with her.  Some organizations want their name on their project; they want it labeled that this is a certain project for such-and-such club.  But we don’t ever really do that.  We just do these things, we raise this money, and through the year we give it out to people that need it, organizations that need it.  I’m just proud of what support we give to everybody; we spread it around.”

Cullman Kiwanis Club’s regular projects include:

  • Knapsacks for Kids
  • Thanksgiving gift baskets for the needy
  • Special Needs Field Day at Cullman High School
  • Walk of Flags at Depot Park
  • Weiner dog races and dog show during Oktoberfest
  • Radio Day, which allows local individuals or businesses to advertise on WKUL for donations to Kiwanis
  • Key Club scholarships
  • Sending Key Club students to national conventions and other events

Find out more at www.facebook.com/cullmankiwanis.

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