She talks about a new benefactor for the Lawn Party, attracting members and how the community can help out.
Lynn Larson is just a few weeks into serving as president of the Longboat Key Kiwanis Club. The club’s biggest annual undertaking of the year, likewise, is just a short time away: the Gourmet Lawn Party, planned for Dec. 7 behind the Longboat Key Club’s Harbourside Ballroom. Instead of raising money for college scholarships, as it has in years past, the event will benefit All-Star Children’s Foundation, a Sarasota group building a 5-acre campus, through the philanthropy of Graci and Dennis McGillicuddy, to house about 60 children with the goal of keeping siblings together. Larson chatted with the Longboat Observer about her role, the role of the club on the island and how All-Star came to the attention of the Kiwanis Club. She sat down with Longboat Observer Managing Editor Eric Garwood to chat.
What are some of the key roles of Kiwanis on the island?
Kiwanis has always raised awareness about public issues and educated citizens about what’s going on around the community. That’s something that I think is really good. We’ve also had the Lawn Party for years, and we’ve raised a lot of money for different causes. It’s been very successful.
How have things with the club evolved and changed even after there was talk about possibly cutting back or disbanding?
When they talked about disbanding, I suggested, basically, how many people do we need to continue the Kiwanis Club, and the answer was 15. So I said, good. We’ll get eight couples, that’s 16 people. I said, we can rotate once a month hosting meetings. You need to have a minimum of one meeting a month, so we could rotate once a month from a person this month and another one the next month (for an evening get-together). And Steve [Branham] agreed to remain president. So we did that. And then Michael Garey generously agreed to host breakfast meetings at 8:30 a.m. [at Lazy Lobster] permanently (on the first Thursday of each month). And that was an acceptable time. So we agreed to that, and that’s great.
This year, the Lawn Party’s fundraising is focused on one group: All-Star Children’s Foundation. What was the origin of that connection?
Foster children are the neediest children of all — and children who have been abused or neglected or without parents for whatever reason. So I said, let’s learn about foster kids in the area. I pulled up Emily Walsh’s article [on All-Star] and scheduled an appointment to see them, and I intended to keep going, but my husband and I went out and sat down with the people at All-Star and saw what they were doing.
And we were like, they’re really at the cusp. This isn’t something I’ll pay for that’s three years away. You know, this is something that those homes will be furnished, and parents and children will be in there in the next few months. So probably about February. So this is somebody that’s trying to do something good, you know? … So I suggested that and asked Graci [McGillicuddy] to come [to Kiwanis] as my guest, not to speak but just mingle. Members supported it, and the feeling came from the members: “We want all the funds to go toward All-Star.” But that doesn’t mean we won’t do scholarships. We did scholarships last time, and we didn’t even have a Lawn Party.
How can community members help you in your work?
Well, support children. They could buy a raffle ticke; they can attend [the Lawn Party] and have a great time and buy those tickets. They could buy a table of tickets and other neighbors. We can accommodate groups up to 16. So it can be a neighborhood thing. Or simply make a donation — $5 $10, $20 — but whatever they felt like. I can tell you there’s not all rich people on Longboat Key.
Perhaps one of those visible roles of the Kiwanis is the annual Red Kettle Drive during the holidays. How does that benefit children?
The Salvation Army has agreed that all the money that was raised on Longboat Key goes toward children in the two-county area, Sarasota and Manatee. People will donate over and over and over. And there was somebody last year who matched every $20 bill.
Why is it so challenging to attract new members or younger members? Is that largely a generational thing?
People are busy working and raising their families. I understand that. Maybe they’re networking on social media; I don’t know. But we knew we needed younger blood to help sustain us, and that’s not just Longboat Key — that’s all over. Not just Florida, but the membership has dropped nationally. We have to get people more involved.
Longboat Key people always seem willing to help out. Why do you think that is?
I think a lot of people on Longboat Key are grateful for where they are and how their lives turned out and want to help.