More women embracing service organization leadership roles

 More women embracing service organization leadership roles

Pictured (from left) are Penny Joy (President of the Plymouth Noon Rotary Club), Beth Stewart (President of the Plymouth Morning Rotary Club) and Liz Kerstens (President of the Plymouth Kiwanis Club).

It’s more than coincidence that three of Plymouth’s service organizations are headed these days by women — a circumstance unforeseen as recent as the late-1980s when only men could join Rotary International.

“I think one reason more women are joining the Rotary Club is because more women have careers now (compared to the pre-1980s),” said Penny Joy, who was sworn in as president of the Rotary Club of Plymouth on July 1. “A lot of employers encourage their employees to be a part of their local service organizations, so with more professional career women working now, it is natural for the local organizations like ours to include more women.”

Joy is one of three Plymouth/Plymouth Township women to serve as president of their local organizations. Beth Stewart heads the Rotary Club of Plymouth’s morning organization; in fact, she’s held the title multiple times.

And Liz Kerstens embraced the responsibilities of the Kiwanis Club of Colonial Plymouth’s presidency on Oct. 1.

The Rotary Club of Plymouth meets every Friday at 12:05 p.m. at the Plymouth Cultural Center. The Kiwanis Club of Colonial Plymouth meets every Thursday at 12:05 p.m. inside the Plymouth Historial Museum. The Rotary Club of Plymouth A.M. meets Tuesday mornings at 7 a.m. at the Plymouth Arts & Recreation Complex.

During a recent group interview inside Plymouth’s Cultural Center, Joy revealed that women are securing leadership roles in service organizations both close to home and on an international scale.

“For instance, the Windsor (Ontario) Rotary Club was all-male not too long ago,” she noted. “Now, its membership is 100% women.”

The ladies also added that Rotary International is led by Jennifer Jones, its first female leader.

Beth Stewart and Penny Joy flank the Rotary International plaque that adorns a wall inside the Plymouth Cultural Center
Beth Stewart and Penny Joy flank the Rotary International plaque that adorns a wall inside the Plymouth Cultural Center

Making a difference

Regardless of the their leaders’ gender, local service organizations like Rotary and Kiwanis share the same goal: enhance the communities in which they live — and the lives of people around the globe.

Thanks to the diligence of over 700 volunteers, the Plymouth Rotary Club annually serves over 8,000 chicken dinners at its Fall Festival event, often raising close to $50,000 each year. In 2021, the all-volunteer organization also awarded scholarships totaling $34,000 to high-achieving local students, and donated 600 boxes of food (covering 12 pallets) to Focus Hope.

The Kiwanis Club is equally uplifting to the community, raising funds year-round for several charities and activities. Its most impactful fundraisers each year are an August golf outing that it holds in conjunction with the Plymouth Foundation, and a pancake breakfast at the Fall Festival.

From member to leader

Joy, a retired Plymouth-Canton Community Schools educator, said she often accompanied her husband Tim (a longtime Rotarian) to events like Salvation Army bell-ringing and the Fall Festival chicken BBQ before officially joining the organization.

“Once I retired, I had more time to volunteer, so I decided to officially join,” said Joy, who taught at Miller, Bird and Isbister elementary schools before capping her career by working in the P-CCS downtown headquarters. “My son, Eric, is a former Rotary president, so it something that means a great deal to our family.”

Stewart’s morning Rotary organization was created as an off-shoot of the existing Rotary Club to make it more convenient for people who wanted to join, but couldn’t necessarily find time in the middle of weekday afternoons to attend meetings.

“I think all service organizations share the same basic tenets at their heart: to serve their community and help kids,” she said. “The Rotary has an international flavor to it, which is something that appeals to me. When people ask me why they should join, I tell them you can sit and watch the evening news or read the newspaper and know that you’re actually helping some of the people around the world who are struggling.”

Passion sparked

Kerstens’ passion for the Kiwanis Club’s mission was sparked when she was asked to speak at a meeting about the Plymouth Historical Museum by then-president Jim Jabara.

“I fell in love with the club instantly,” Kerstens said. “I loved the way the humor just kind of flies around the room. I’m a former U.S. Marine, so the Kiwanis offered the same kind of camaraderie I found in the Marine Corps. When Jim asked my to join, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.”

All service clubs are experiencing attendance declines in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An encouraging sign, however, is the rising percentage of women members and — as Joy, Stewart and Kerstens’ roles reflect — leaders.

Ed Wright

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