The Formula headlines

Why I stayed

May 22, 2018
June 2018

"My mom always taught us that the greatest thing you can do is help someone, and by doing that you help yourself," says James A. Phelps, lieutenant governor of Division 3 in the Southwest District. "I wanted to help with Zozobra, the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe’s signature project. So my mom contacted a member of the club and from there, I showed up to my first meeting and filled out an application. I was 21 at the time." 

While the average age of a Kiwanis member is currently 62, this didn’t distract Phelps from joining this club, where the average age was mid 40s. “There were a quiet a few older members and a few younger ones, and for the most part, the club atmosphere was good," Phelps says. "Some members did question my qualifications when I took certain club officer positions, but then there were those members who, still to this day, are mentors to me. They were the ones who made me realize that if I persevere, I could continue to succeed.” 

Because of Zozobra’s wide success in Santa Fe, that event drew Phelps to Kiwanis, and it continues to provide a great opportunity for Kiwanis to spread its name and mission to others. Zozobra takes place the Friday before U.S. Labor Day and is said to be the “Original Burning Man.” Zozobra, which also is called Old Man Gloom, is a man-shaped structure that towers 50 feet in the air, is made with wood and wire and shrouded in endless yards of muslin. It is then stuffed with slips of paper inscribed with a year’s worth of gloomy thoughts and disappointments provided by the attendees. 2017’s event drew more than 60,000 individuals to witness the burning of Zozobra. So, to say this event is a big deal is a large understatement. 

“I initially joined because of Zozobra, and after helping with the event, I’m still a Kiwanis member 10 years later because of the service our club does for the community and for the children of the world," says Phelps. "The money our club raises allows us to give grants to other nonprofits and scholarships for college students. Our club also has a partnership with the Salvation Army, where members ring bells during the holidays, and we help with their back-to-school backpack and clothing giveaway.” 

Phelps realizes the importance of a visible signature project and how that can initially attract potential members. 

“We are fortunate enough to have a signature project that is so recognizable in the community," he says. "It is an initial draw for some individuals who then join our club. But just like me, they stay because of the impact we have year-round in our community. Our focus as a club is increasing the reach our projects have on the children of our community. We invite potential members to become involved in the service first and from there, we educate them on the benefits of becoming a member of Kiwanis.” 

Having an impactful and visible service project in your community is a great way to attract potential members. Inviting community members to a project introduces them to the hands-on work your club does in the community. Making sure those potential members know the outcome of the project and why a strong membership increases the effect your club has on the children in your community: These are important steps in introducing people to Kiwanis.  

After 10 years of membership, Phelps is still as proud and involved today as he was when he first joined. 

“I enjoy the fact that we are and continue to be the only organization that provides leadership and service for students from kindergarten to college," he says. "I'm fortunate enough to be the assistant administrator for Circle K in the Southwest District, and I'm so proud to be able to be of service but, more importantly, learn from Kiwanians and SLP members who inspire me every day. And I couldn’t have done it without the help of my family, friends and coworkers that have helped me through my process of being a Kiwanian, thank you!” 

James Phelps 
Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, New Mexico