Service clubs in America began as social clubs or networking organizations in the early 1900s. The first was the Rotary Club of Chicago in 1905. Before long, various service clubs began appearing across the national, and eventually international, landscape and evolved into organizations devoted to community service rather than just social activities.
New Mexico is home to many active service clubs that focus on a wide range of activities. If you would like to be a good neighbor in your community and lend a helping hand, here are a few prominent service organizations with which you can get involved.
The first Kiwanis Club was chartered in 1915 and now there are more than 5,000 clubs in North America and thousands more around the world. Today, the international service club’s slogan is “Serving the Children of the World.”
The New Mexico service club with likely the most iconic and well-known fundraiser is the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe. The annual Burning of Will Shuster’s Zozobra is held on the Friday of Labor Day weekend at Fort Marcy Park, 490 Bishops Lodge Road.
Zozobra, a giant marionette, is filled with everyone’s “glooms” that are burned away along with Old Man Gloom himself. The event attracts thousands of spectators who cheer on Zozobra’s demise.
With funds raised through this and other activities, the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe supports charities and nonprofit organizations that help young children in need. Over the years, Zozobra has given back $3.4 million to help the children of the community grow and thrive.
The service club also uses funds raised at the Burning of Zozobra to support Kiwanis International’s Project Eliminate, which provides neo-natal tetanus shots to pregnant women in third-world countries. So far, Kiwanis has been able to fund tetanus shots for more than 60,000 pregnant women. Learn more at burnzozobra.com/fundraising and on The Official Burning of Zozobra Facebook page.
ROTARY INTERNATIONAL Service Club
Rotary was formed in 1905 and eventually expanded worldwide, and its mission grew to humanitarian service. The Las Cruces Rio Grande Rotary chapter works with numerous organizations as well as heading up its projects that promote equality and education throughout Las Cruces.
Rio Grande Rotary has placed great emphasis on literacy over the past few years and has spearheaded a program that gives each third grader attending public schools in Las Cruces a dictionary.
The Rio Grande Rotary chapter has built more than 50 Little Free Libraries throughout the community, making books available to anyone who wants to pick up one.
Rio Grande Rotary also participates in the Dress the Child program, which in 2021 gave 600 youngsters the chance to buy new clothing and shoes.
“My mentor, Don Buck, used to tell me that we were put on Earth to pay it forward,” said the current president of Rio Grande Rotary, Terra Winter. Terra exemplifies this attitude daily in her roles as president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico and president of Las Cruces Rio Grande Rotary. Learn more about CFSNM at communityfoundationofsouthernnewmexico.org.
The Rotary Club of Santa Fe was established in 1924 and will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2024. The service club’s signature fundraising event is Pancakes on the Plaza, held annually on the Fourth of July. Local restaurants, hundreds of volunteers, and thousands of attendees come together to raise funds at an event where folks can enjoy a pancake breakfast and beverage. Up to 20,000 pancakes are served each year!
Historically, local youth programs apply to be selected for support from the funds raised by Pancakes on the Plaza. In 2022, 2023, and 2024, the focus is on the group’s centennial project. The first goal of the project is to fund a mobile museum for the Santa Fe Children’s Museum and repair its amphitheater. The second goal is to help YouthWorks with transitional housing for the youth they help.
YouthWorks provides a continuum of services designed to reconnect at-risk and disadvantaged youth with the community through education, employment training, and job placement. Visit santaferotary.org for more information.
SOROPTIMIST INTERNATIONAL Service CLubs
Soroptimist International was founded more than 100 years ago by about 80 women from the Oakland, California, area who united over the common goal of promoting equal education and economic empowerment for women and girls.
The word “Soroptimist” is made up from the Latin words “soror” meaning sister and “optima” meaning best, and loosely translates to “best for women.” Soroptimist International now has more than 75,000 service clubs in 121 countries.
The Las Cruces chapter of Soroptimist (SILC) was founded in 1971 and is a beacon of hope for women and girls of all ages and backgrounds seeking to better their lives through education. Dr. Esther Devall is the current president of SILC and has been a proud member for 30 years.
“Soroptimist was such a big part of my early success,” Dr. Devall remarks. “It just feels so good to give back to the community, knowing how much every little bit helps, and how much our support means. We believe the key to a better life is better education.”
SILC is part of the Golden West Region, and as the only club in New Mexico, it serves women and girls throughout the state and El Paso. The Golden West Region is made up of 35 service clubs in Southern California and Arizona that share ideas, inspiration, and resources collectively.
In 2022, SILC awarded eight scholarships to women and girls throughout its territory and helped several women obtain their GED.
Programs include grants for women who are the primary financial providers for their families to pursue post-secondary education, conferences and scholarships for high school girls, and GED-testing scholarships. To volunteer or join, email silcnm.org or call 575-642-3322.
OPTIMIST INTERNATIONAL SErvice Clubs
Optimist International began in the early 1900s during the global Industrial Revolution. The Optimist Club was created to support children and help them develop to their full potential. Today there are thousands of chapters with hundreds of thousands of members spanning the globe.
The Las Cruces chapter of Optimist International was founded in 1961 and meets weekly for breakfast to discuss programs and activities that help young people in the community find positive solutions and outcomes to the issues they face.
Scott McLaughlin, executive director of Spaceport America and former president and current secretary of the Las Cruces Optimist Club, said the organization had a positive effect on his personal and professional life.
“Optimism is an attitude and choice,” Scott says. “Without choice, a person can get stuck in a negative space. We aim to create choices through education and experience solving problems.”
The service club holds bicycle repair clinics, which empower kids with the ability to seek and explore their freedom and independence. On a larger scale, its oratory and essay contests award top students with the experience and confidence that come with public speaking and communicating.
The Las Cruces Optimist Club supports numerous local organizations by donating time and energy as well as donations that are earned through fundraisers like the Bob Ogas All-Star Baseball Tournament and Tour de Optimism Bicycle Ride.
To volunteer or join, reach out to the Las Cruces Optimist Club at lascrucesoptimistclub.org.
LIONS CLUBS INTERNATIONAL
Since 1917, Lions Clubs International has thrived through one mantra of two simple words: Lions serve. This basic principle has helped millions of people all over the world because its service clubs are dedicated individuals who come together to donate their time and effort for the unified goal of improving communities.
There are many Lions Clubs International organizations in New Mexico, including the La Mesa Lions chapter, which was founded in 1949. Founding member Chope Benevidez left a legacy of service for his community. The La Mesa Lions chapter still meets at the storied Chope’s Bar & Café every second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m.
Chope’s legacy lives on in the La Mesa Lions’ annual golf tournament named after him, which benefits select Gadsden High School students with educational scholarships every year.
The La Mesa Lions chapter is involved in numerous other programs throughout the year that benefit primarily the people of the south valley in Doña Ana County, such as the Dress-A-Child project, KidSight, and Christmas food baskets.
Former president and 20-year member Rick Stoes says a great reason to belong to service clubs is, “the excitement on the kids’ faces when they are given glasses, or jackets, or shoes of their own. You may join for business or [to] make friends, but it’s the service that keeps you coming back year after year.”
To join, volunteer, or donate to nearby Lions Clubs International chapters, visit lionsclubs.org.
These are just a few of the many service clubs doing good in New Mexico. If you’d like to participate, find one that matches your interests and get involved!
Story by Daniel Gonzales | Courtesy Photos
Originally published in Neighbors magazine | 2023
This article was posted by Olivia