Kiwanis Club focuses on going ‘COVID-compliant’ with Oct. 17 event

BurlCo volunteers to host family-friendly event at Mt. Laurel’s Laurel Acres Park

The Kiwanis Club of Greater Mt. Laurel will observe its fifth anniversary next year, and President Ed Gleaner doesn’t want to celebrate as one of the region’s best-kept secrets.

He is proud of what the now-16-member club has accomplished in four years of quietly identifying ways to help both the community at large and individuals who call it home.

“Our events let us market ourselves a little bit, to let people know that we’re here,” he said. “We would love to keep growing, so we can keep doing more in our communities.”

The club’s focus isn’t just on Mt. Laurel, though, nor does all of its growing membership base call the town home. Gleaner himself is a Moorestown resident; other members hail from nearby Marlton and Maple Shade, as well as Voorhees and Sewell.

What Kiwanis members do share is a drive to give back, especially during the ongoing pandemic. The group has shifted the way it does things because of social distancing, including taking its meetings to Zoom and  getting creative with the presentation of events.

Take the upcoming Oct. 17 family pumpkin-painting activity, to be held in Mt. Laurel’s Laurel Acres Park from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Gleaner said the club was inspired to action once the cancellation of the town’s annual autumnal celebration left a void in local seasonal festivities.

“In the absence of Mt. Laurel’s fall festival, we figured it’d be nice to do something for the community,” he said. “It feels like a normal activity that people can still do.”

The event will be held outdoors in accordance with social distancing,   making use of the park’s pavilion space. Festivities will include optional hot chocolate supplies to anyone who wants an extra seasonal indulgence. The event’s limited capacity, Gleaner noted, will help club members ensure  each of the seven half-hour slots will host small groups.

Marlton resident Kristin Lukianovich joined the Kiwanis Club earlier this year and has been a significant force behind the Oct. 17 plans. She said   as a mom, it was important to her to have a sense of normalcy in the community through a family-friendly fall event.   

“I was thinking about how there probably won’t be a lot of things to do this fall, so how can we give the community a COVID-compliant event?” she said. “A pumpkin-decorating event gives our members a way to volunteer, and the parents in the community can do something fun with their kids.”

Lukianovich embraces the Laurel Acres event as a chance to help attendees learn more about the Kiwanis Club, too.

“I really hope they get a chance to hear about what the club does, the special events that we do, the volunteer opportunities that we have,” she added.

Giving families a place to safely gather as they decorate pumpkins is also part of the Kiwanis Club’s fundraising efforts, as it grants scholarships to local schools like Lenape High School and Burlington County Technical Institute and supports organizations such as the South Jersey Home School Key Club and Mt. Laurel’s Alice Paul Institute (API).

The club suggests a $10 donation for the pumpkin-decorating event to help fund those scholarships. And to cut down on costs, it is seeking donations of pumpkins.

As the Kiwanis Club continues to support the widespread South Jersey community during COVID, it is meeting online in addition to socially distanced in-person sessions at accommodating locations, including the API’s Paulsdale homestead and Bertucci’s restaurant.

The whole point is to be as flexible and inclusive as possible, according to Gleaner, which has provided the benefit of learning to operate in a whole new way.

“We don’t want anyone doing anything they’re uncomfortable with, because people are moving through the pandemic at different paces,” he noted. “But I think even after the pandemic, we’re going to continue with this hybrid model of meetings. It doesn’t matter if a member can meet in person when they’re showing up to do the volunteer work, which is what really matters.”

Members of the Kiwanis Club, with its chapters on six continents, are united in being the role models its civically minded members want to be.

“I wanted to show my boys the benefits of volunteering and giving back to the community,” Lukianovich explained. “It’s important, because you’re teaching them how to give back to the community and that it feels good to do something for others.”

“I have school-age kids, twin boys who’ll be turning 10, and I wanted them to see that service is normal, that if anyone has the time or the means, to pay it forward,” Gleaner added.

“If you’re instilling that sense of volunteerism and kids are encouraged to do it early on, they will continue with that tradition moving forward.”

Visit the club’s Facebook page at facebook.com/MountLaurelKiwanis for more information. Registration is required and can be done virtually through the pinned post on the club’s Facebook page, though walk-ins will be welcome if space is available.