This Club is a MUST If Living in Rural USA
I recently attended a local peach festival in my area where one of my neighbors was selling her homemade goat milk soap and lotions. We approached her booth which was decorated with burlap and antique metal display stands and while admiring the display of soaps, asked her how business was going. This was the first Annual Peach Festival and she was testing the market.
“It is going really, really well!”, she said.
I was thinking about the possibility of setting up a stand myself next year to sell my art and asked her how much a vendor table cost.
“It didn’t cost anything! This was the first year so they gave us the tables this one time. It is put on by the Ruritan Club and they did it to support all of us up on the mountain. They also put on the big Apple Festival which takes over the whole town.”
The Ruritan Club? I vaguely remember getting a flyer in my mailbox about a community pool and a couple dinners and events. At the time, I dismissed it because I was swamped figuring out how to get running water and building a solar system so our refrigerator would run more than 5 hours. Oh ya. And building a house. Besides that, I wasn’t much into “clubs”, especially being an introvert and all. I had a stereotype of local clubs being nothing more then “hole-in-the-wall” drinking clubs. Not for me.
But this seemed different.
A club that actually supported businesses on a small mountain? As an entrepreneur myself, this intrigued me.
I started researching “Ruritan Club” and found out that they are a national organization that serves over 900 communities. Unlike other national clubs, this one allows each club to “survey its own community as to the needs of that community and then work to meet some of those needs”.
Basically it means they cut through the bull-sh*% and give help and money to those that actually need it in the community, rather then lining the club’s pockets.
I found a contact for my local club and reached out.
Two weeks later, I was attending my first meeting.
I arrived to a group of about 35 people and a table full of food. The person I was communicating with escorted me around and introduced me to several of the club’s members. The meeting began and, as the guest, I was offered the first plate. The meal was catered by some locals and they made homemade Salisbury steak, rice, mixed summer vegetables, legit cornbread, fresh fruit and cake…and southern sweet tea, of course.
Everyone sat down at tables that were arranged in a U-shape and an elderly woman sat across from me. She introduced herself and started telling me how she had a stroke last August and was forced to move from her home on the mountain into an extended care facility in town.
Sadness just emanated from her. I could tell she was struggling to find the right words.
She continued to tell me how she had lived on the mountain her entire life. Born and raised. But after the stroke, her family and caretakers were concerned for her well-being, since she was living all alone. She continued to tell me how difficult it was for her to remember things these days and how she was going through physical therapy. I asked her how long she was part of the club. “Over 40 years”, she replied. “I’ll keep coming as long as someone can give me a ride.”
The meal finished and the meeting started. It opened with a guest speaker who was seeking help from the club. He held a Doctorate in Psychology and in addition, he was a master craftsman. He started a therapeutic program several years ago that teaches veterans how to make knives, which are then sold at the local Apple Festival to help support the program. He explained how working with their hands, they are able to create something tangible and in many cases, this helps to stave off depression. He also helps vets find jobs and homes. He went on to say that unlike many other programs, 100% of the profits go directly to the program. The staff isn’t paid. He recently bought some property on the mountain and was trying to build a facility that would both house the program and temporarily house vets. Currently, 80% of the program’s budget went to hotel fees and this would eliminate those fees. He was getting assistance from the VA, but they pulled funding until he could meet code on the building. He was seeking assistance from the club to help get electrical in the building.
After the speaker concluded, the meeting turned to their primary fundraiser, the Apple Festival. The proceeds from this festival were used to support the mountain community. A board member told me after the meeting what those funds were for:
“We raise money to support the community. We built the community pool for the kids up on the mountain and we support the local fire department. We also do things like pick up trash and hold dinners for vets. But mainly, we help support neighbors that won’t or can’t help themselves. Many people on the mountain are proud and refuse to ask for help. But sometimes they accept help from neighbors. Last year a man saw his 80-year old neighbor hauling buckets of water. He stopped and asked her what she was doing and she said her water pump was broken. The club bought her a new pump and we had volunteers to help install it. Another time there was a woman with cancer who wanted to go home to die. But the health department wouldn’t allow her to go home because she didn’t have a well. We bought her a 500-gallon tank and got the fire department to keep it filled for her. This allowed her to go home for the last 3 weeks of her life. That is what we do.”
That is what we do.
This wasn’t some front for a bar or a club looking to line its own pockets. This was a club of neighbors raising money to help their neighbors.
Needless to say, this is a club that Jeremy and I are in the process of joining. There is a minimal annual fee to join, of which all proceeds go directly back into the community. It’s not only a club where we can help others, but I see it as an insurance policy for the future. Who knows if or when we will be in a position to request help?
If you live in a rural community, I suggest that you take the time to see if there is a Ruritan Club in your area and attend some meetings to see if it is right for you. If there isn’t a club in your area, maybe consider starting one.