BY REBECCA HOEFFNER, firstname.lastname@example.org
The annual fireworks show in Lindsey Park, the downtown Christmas parade, an Easter egg hunt for the blind and a haunted house – events that have drawn tens of thousands over the years – could be a thing of the past in Tyler.
The Tyler Jaycees, the service organization that spearheaded the events, is no more, said Bobby Jones, last year’s Tyler Jaycees president.
“There’s no chapter. There are no more members,” Jones said. “It hurts my heart to see that happen … I guess people don’t want the responsibility.”
For thousands of East Texans, the Tyler Jaycees events were a tradition.
"It's family time. It's just being around them," said Dennis Waller, who attended the Fourth of July fireworks event with his granddaughter in 2012. "There are not too many times that we can get together, and the Fourth is one of those times."
Jones said the fireworks event alone drew up to 30,000 people. He also recalled a barbecue event that raised more than $10,000 for a young woman’s medical bills.
“The Jaycees did a ton of stuff people don’t think of,” he said.
Drawing young membership is a problem the organization has been having nationwide, said Joel Harper, executive director of the national headquarters.
“All civic organizations are trending the same way,” Harper said. “People aren’t volunteering like they used to, but that doesn’t mean they’re not volunteering. Young people are not as civic club minded; they are more civic cause minded. For example, the Occupy Wall Street movement, or the living wage movement.”
Jones said Jaycees chapter could be saved if Tyler residents took an interest.
Members from previous years said the problem had been brewing for a long time.
“From what I understand, there was not enough interest in the age group of 21 to 41 in our community to keep it going,” said Jennifer Smith Cook, former member who aged out of the organization a few years ago. “The U.S. Jaycees require you to keep 20 active members on your roster in order to keep a charter.”
The Jaycees organization was started to offer young professionals valuable leadership experience through community involvement, according to the Tyler chapter’s website.
“The Tyler Jaycees are people - young adults who want to make a positive difference in our community,” reads the website. “Tyler Jaycees are also friends who have a lot of fun together, whether we are participating in a community service project, planning a seminar, going to a party, playing softball, skiing, or canoeing. People join the Tyler Jaycees for many different reasons.”
Ms. Cook didn’t think the events that the organization is known for will continue as they require so much manpower and long hours to organize.
“A few of us past presidents tried to breathe new air into (the organization) in 2011 and 2012, but it did not seem to last very long,” she said. “It's a shame, too, because it is a great organization that inspires leadership while serving your community. Provides great networking and looks good on a resume. I have made many great contacts all over the world and some life-long friendships.”