Kiwanis Club of Greater Mt. Laurel to host Laurel Acres event Oct. 17

Families can decorate pumpkins to help fund local scholarships

The Kiwanis Club of Greater Mt. Laurel will be observing 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 the individuals calling 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 its growing membership base all call the same town home. Gleaner himself is a Moorestown resident; he said that other members hail from nearby Marlton and Maple Shade, as well as Voorhees and Sewell.

What members do share is a drive to give back, (especially in during the increased difficulties the panemic has presented). The group has shifted the way it does things since social distancing required them to do so, with everything from taking its meetings to Zoom to getting creative with the ways it presents its events.

Take the upcoming Oct. 17 family pumpkin-painting activity, which will be held in Mt. Laurel’s Laurel Acres Park from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Gleaner said that 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 rules, making use of Laurel Acres’ pavilion space, and will include optional hot-chocolate supplies to anyone who wants an extra seasonal indulgence. The limited capacity, Gleaner said, will help club members ensure that each of the seven half-hour slots host small groups.

Marlton resident Kristin Lukianovich joined the Kiwanis Club earlier this year and has been a significant force behind the Oct. 17 event. She said, especially as a mom, it was important to bring a sense of normalcy to the community with 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.”

She 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 said.

Giving families a place to safely gather as they decorate pumpkins isn’t just a fun activity: It’s also part of the Kiwanis Club’s fundraising efforts, as the club grants scholarships to local schools like Lenape High School and Burlington County Technical Institute, as well as organizations like the South Jersey Home School Key Club and Mt. Laurel’s Alice Paul Institute (API).

The club is suggesting a $10 donation from those participating in its Oct. 17 pumpkin-decorating event for those scholarships. Additionally, to cut down on costs, they’re still seeking donations of pumpkins.

As the Kiwanis Club continues to find ways to support the widespread South Jersey community through the pandemic, it’s also meeting online in addition to the socially distanced in-person ones it holds at accommodating locations like API’s Paulsdale homestead and the nearby 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 said. “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.”

Because the Kiwanis Club, which has chapters on six continents, is united in its purpose of being the change and 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,” said Lukianovich. “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-aged 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 the space is available.