Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - July 16, 2010

What the clubs do

Service and fraternal organizations provide big money, helping hands to support local and international needs

There are dozens of service and fraternal clubs on the Midpeninsula. Here are the histories of a few of them:

Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks

The Elks began as a fraternal organization in 1868, morphing out of the Jolly Corks, a group of New York actors who formed a private club to elude New York City laws governing the hours of operation at taverns, according to the lodge's history.

The group began charitable work after a member died and his family was left without an income. The group based their rituals on a British fraternal organization, the British Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, but took the name Elks to give the group a decidedly American name.

The organization opened to African Americans in the 1970s and to women in the 1980s.

Services: Locally, the Palo Alto Elks Lodge No. 1471 Veterans' Committee provides bingo, an outdoor barbecue and trips for hospitalized vets. The lodge supports the Palo Alto Little League, Sea Scouts, Adolescent Counseling Services and other programs and hosts the annual Soap Box Derby.

Regionally, the California-Hawaii Elks Major Project, Inc. provides aid and scholarships for children with disabilities. Nationally, the Elks National Foundation has a $400 million endowment and contributes millions of dollars annually to many causes, including $3.5 million in college scholarships.

Symbols: Elk with antlers surrounded by a clock face and letters B.P.O.E.

Kiwanis International

The name Kiwanis comes from an American Indian word meaning "we shout" or "we gather." The organization was founded in 1915 in Detroit, Mich., by a tailor, Joseph G. Prance, and Allen S. Browne, a professional fraternity organizer, who wanted a business and professional men's club that networked and served the poor. Kiwanis became a service-focused organization in 1919.

The Kiwanis International Foundation started in 1939 with 25 silver dollars that were auctioned for $625. The organization works globally to eliminate child hunger, abuse, neglect and to provide medical care.

Kiwanis began accepting women in 1988.

Services: Locally, Kiwanis Club of Palo Alto constructed playground equipment at Mitchell Park and Palo Alto Community Housing Corporation's California Park Apartments; serves meals at Clara Mateo; has repaired local day-care centers and the duck pond at the Baylands; and builds homes with Rebuilding Together and Habitat for Humanity.

Internationally, clubs have contributed more than $80 million toward the global elimination of iodine-deficiency disorders through UNICEF. They are also working with UNICEF to address neonatal and maternal tetanus.

Symbols: "K" in a braided circle surrounded by a global icon.

Lions Club International

The Lions is a secular organization founded in 1917 by Melvin Jones, a Chicago businessman who believed success is not achieved until one gives back to the community through good deeds. Work on eyesight projects and blindness prevention began in 1925 when Helen Keller addressed the organization at its international convention, according to the organization's history.

All funds raised are used strictly for charitable purposes, and administrative costs are kept separate and paid for by members.

Women were admitted starting in 1986.

Services: Locally, Palo Alto Host Lions organizes the Concours d'Elegance auto show, which has raised more than $1 million in 44 years for local community organizations, including Blinded Veterans Association, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Jean Weingarden Peninsula Oral School for the Deaf and organizations for seniors, persons with developmental disabilities, diabetes and children's mental health.

Internationally and nationally, the group supports programs to prevent or eliminate blindness in Third World countries and has provided aid to cities and countries rocked by disaster. Also addresses hearing loss and cancer.

Symbols: Lion; double lion head surrounding a circle with "L"

Masonic Lodge

The early origins of this fraternal organization are debated widely but the Masons or Freemasons date back at least to 18th-century England and was established in the United States in 1733, according to various sources. George Washington was perhaps the most notable American Mason.

The Masonic Lodge of Palo Alto was started in 1902, with several orders established at its center on Florence Street, including the Order of the Eastern Star, Palo Alto-Roller Lodge, George Washington Club and Order of the Amaranth.

Services: Locally, the Masons support Ronald McDonald House, diabetes organizations and soup kitchens.

Nationally, the organization supports orphanages, homes for the aged, hospitals, education and medical foundations, programs for children with diabetes, burn victims, literacy, sight and medical research.

Symbols: Compass, right angle forming a diamond shape with a "G" at the center; others.

Odd Fellows and Rebekahs

The Odd Fellows date back to the 18th century, but the modern fraternal organization is said to have taken shape during England's Industrial Revolution. People who left their rural communities for the cities lost their social network and safety net, according to Debra LaVergne, a Palo Alto member and past Noble Grand. Members were called "odd fellows" because it was deemed odd for people to organize to give aid to the needy without recognition, she said. The Rebekahs is the ladies' auxiliary.

Odd Fellows formed in the United States in 1819 and in California during the Gold Rush in 1849, according to historian Peter V. Sellars. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was an Odd Fellow, according to the organization.

Services: The group maintains two assisted-living centers in California for the aged; Rebekah Child Services, a residential and educational campus in Gilroy for deeply troubled children; and the Compadres program, which works with at-risk children and teens and their families directly in the home.

The group has raised $2.5 million to support a professor's chair at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute.

Nationally, since 1927, the Odd Fellows Education Foundation has provided $6.8 million in low-interest student loans and hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to low-income students.

Internationally, it supports SOS Villages and homes for orphaned and AIDS-affected children.

Symbols: Three-Link chain representing friendship, love and truth; All-Seeing Eye; others.

Rotary International

Founded in 1905, Rotary claims to be the world's first service organization. An attorney, Paul P. Harris, started the club among professionals because he wanted to capture the friendly spirit he felt in small towns as a youth, according to the organization.

Rotary's name derives from the club's early practice of rotating meetings at its members' offices. After World War II, the organization called for a conference to promote international cultural and educational exchange. It inspired the founding of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Palo Alto has two Rotary clubs: Palo Alto University Rotary Club and Rotary Club of Palo Alto.

Services: Locally, it supports a variety of organizations financially and through hands-on projects, including Belle Haven Community Center, the Opportunity Health Clinic, Downtown Streets Team, Stevenson House, Lytton Gardens and the City of Palo Alto.

Nationally and internationally, it works to combat hunger, build schools, improve health and sanitation in poor countries, education and job training and to eradicate polio.

Symbols: Gear

— Sue Dremann

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