The Septuagenarian Speaks, published January5, 2022, Siskiyou Daily News

Where have all the young folks gone? To the septuagenarians reading this, the question may remind you of the old Peter, Paul and Mary anti-war song from the sixties. The song asks, “Where have all the flowers gone? … Where have all the young girls gone? …Where have all the young men gone?” Then, finally, “Where have all the soldiers gone?” It answers the questions with “Gone to graveyards every one. When will they ever learn?”

The question I am posing, as we begin a new year, maybe isn’t quite as dire as the folk song, but it’s still pretty dire. Where have the young folks gone? Where are the young people that once volunteered and worked for the betterment of our community?

Many volunteer organizations contribute toward what makes our community the great place that it is. These include private groups, such as fraternal organizations and service clubs. Some examples are the Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club, Lions Club, Soroptimist Club, and the Elks and Masonic Lodges, to name a few. There are also government-based organizations that rely on volunteer participation, such as the Yreka Volunteer Fire Department. Do these organizations still exist? Yes. Do they still make important contributions to our community? Yes, of course.

But many are struggling. Their memberships are down, and most of the members that they do have are senior citizens. Don’t get me wrong; we senior citizens are great folks, and we can still get a lot done; but unfortunately, as we get older and die off, younger people aren’t stepping up to fill the void.

Let me give you an example. For the nearly fifty years that I’ve lived in Yreka, the Yreka Rotary Club has been one of the dominant service clubs in the area. They used to meet once a week, and there was a time when as many as 91 members attended their meetings. Now they meet monthly and average 15 to 20 people. The club still does a lot for the community, but it means that fewer people have to do more.

Another example, and this really is frightening, is the Yreka Volunteer Fire Department. At one time the department had 40 members, with 20 more on a waiting list. Now, the department is down to 19. They are doing their best to make it work, but what is their typical response time, compared to, say, fifteen years ago? It’s scary. And how long can they continue to function at all if their ranks aren’t replenished?

So, I’m asking the question, where have all the young folks gone? I honestly don’t know the answer; thus, my reason for writing this. It would be great to receive some responses from readers. Perhaps I’m just looking in the wrong places. Are today’s young people contributing as much as ever, but in a different manner? Are they members of different organizations, and the traditional service clubs and fraternal organizations just don’t hold an attraction anymore?

I don’t think the young folks have actually gone anywhere, in the literal sense. All indications are that they are still here. I certainly see a lot of young people out and about in the community; on the streets, in the grocery stores, at the Post Office and other public places.

So, I think it’s not that young people aren’t here, it’s that they aren’t volunteering. Or at least they aren’t joining service clubs, fraternal organizations, the volunteer fire department, or similar organizations. But if they aren’t participating in such organizations, are they doing something else on a volunteer basis for the betterment of the community?

I have a pessimistic outlook about all of this. I fear that the younger generation no longer sees any value in volunteering. I fear that they expect that government will take care of everything, and that there is no need, or maybe no place, for private citizens to roll up their sleeves and get involved.

And, if the expectation is that government will do it, don’t hold your breath. Our city government doesn’t have the funds to take care of assets it owns. Consider the city pool, which has been deemed unrepairable.  Yreka Splash, a private non-profit organization, has recently announced an $8.5 million grant to acquire 7.8 acres and “construct a new pool with retractable cover, swim center building/support facilities, native park with a sculpture garden, meditation garden/butterfly viewing area, playground, picnic area, parking lot, pathways with vista points of the mountains, and public art, landscaping and lighting throughout the park.” This is good news, but one has to wonder where will the resources come from to maintain it in the future?

For years the city government’s business model has been that it is up to the users of its city-owned recreational facilities to maintain and take care of them. The Yreka Community Theater comes to mind. It is a first-class performing arts center which the city was able to construct, along with the adjacent Yreka Community Center, some forty-five years ago using grant funds. But in recent years the city hasn’t had the wherewithal to maintain it. The siding fell into such disrepair that the building wasn’t protected from the elements, and became so dilapidated that there was a danger it couldn’t be saved. Along came the Red Scarf Society for the Performing Arts, a private non-profit volunteer organization whose mission is to promote the performing arts in our community and support the Community Theater. Thanks to The Red Scarf Society, a $180,000 project was undertaken to install new siding on the building and save it from simply rotting away. The Red Scarf Society raised $108,000, or 60% of the total, with grants, in-kind support from its members, community contributions, and its own money. Who is the Red Scarf Society? Currently the number of active working members of the Red Scarf Society is 9, and the average age of those people is well above 75.

The volunteer organizations that we have traditionally relied upon to keep our community great all seem to be dying on the vine, and if the trend continues, their very existence is in jeopardy. Are these organizations obsolete?  Are our young people still actively rolling up their sleeves and volunteering their time, but perhaps in a different way? I’m not seeing this, but maybe I’m missing something. Let me know.

Bob Kaster
Yreka, California

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