This is the fifth in a series of features exploring the world of service club organizations. They all have familiar names, but do you know what they really do? The name of each service club organization may evoke a particular memory from your past that describes what you think is their main activity in the community. This series will examine aspects of these groups that may not be as well-known to all of us but are very important to the people they serve. How did it all start? Again, the explanation is not so simple.
Altrusa Institute was it’s original name and it was founded in 1917 in Nashville, Tennessee. During World War I many women out of necessity joined the workforce. There was a need for women’s civic organizations. Mamie L. Bass had been the Superintendent of the Women’s Division of the United States Employment Services, but then became a partner in her brother’s architectural firm. She assisted her brother in organizing a Rotary chapter in Indianapolis, Indiana. She met Dr. Alfred Durham, a Kiwanis member, when he moved to Indianapolis after he already organized Altrusa Institute in Nashville, Tennessee, Louisville, Kentucky, and Dayton, Ohio. Mamie L. Bass decided that Altrusa could serve a higher purpose. The Altrusa Institute became a classified service club for women in June of 1919 when they held their first convention. The institute was later renamed the National Association of Altrusa. Mamie created the Principles of Altrusa and defined “Altrusa as ‘a builder of women’ and an organization based on merit and accomplishment.” The principles were officially adopted in 1921 along with a major club building effort. Altrusa had built 20 clubs by 1922 and by 1935 it became Altrusa International when the first club was formed in Mexico. In 1946 Altrusa sent it’s first representative to the United Nations.
Altrusa International established the Altrusa International Foundation that’s dedicated to improving economic well-being and quality of life through a commitment to community services and literacy. They established ASTRA service clubs in 1966 to prepare youth ages 13 to 21 to participate in community service in hopes they would be the future of Altrusa. Literacy was adopted as their on-going area of service in 1977. They added a resolution in 1989 to promote environmental concerns.
The first Altrusa clubs were established in the Russia with the breakup of the former Soviet Union. The organization has branched out to Russia (already mentioned), Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Mexico, India, Korea, Ukraine, Ireland, Great Britain, Bermuda, Canada, and New Zealand.
In 2011 Altrusa “launched a new branding and marketing campaign with the purpose of increasing the association’s image in the communities and reaching out to an evolving membership.”
The Eugene Altrusa was organized in 1957, but was disbanded for a while. It was “restructured” in 1999. Now 21 women and, according to member Mary Arendt, 2 very brave men (husbands) make up their current club membership. Twelve of those members are from the original group who “restructured” the club. Their club may be small, but they keep busy.
Many of the projects have to do with providing books for those who really need them. They include Books for Affordable Housing Complexes, Books for Rural Volunteer Libraries, and Books for Underfunded At-Risk Schools.
Another group of projects reflects their desire to help those in need. They include Clothes and Personal Hygiene Supplies for Halfway Houses, Clothes and Personal Hygiene Supplies for Homeless Day Center, and Clothes and Personal Hygiene Supplies for the Eugene Mission.
Some of Eugene Altrusa’s other projects include Snack Packs for Preschool, School Supplies, Bags for Women Vets, and Bags for Foster Kids. It is obvious that their small group of dedicated members has a passion for being of service to the community.
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