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Special Service Recognition Award: The Batavia Area Jaycees

By Billie Owens

Last year was a very special benchmark for the Batavia Area Jaycees. It was their Diamond Anniversary.

On Saturday, the community service and social-networking group will receive the Special Service Recognition Award from the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce.

"The membership looks at it as a lifetime achievement for everyone who's ever been a Jaycee," said Steve Tufts, chairman of the Jaycees' 75th Anniversary Committee. "I think they are looking at the award as a nod from the chamber of commerce that they're doing some good stuff for the community."

Other committee members are Danielle Russell, Jodie Freese and Tara Pariso. Alumni who served on it are Bill Young, Ron Weiler, Bill Dougherty and Tom Ditzel.

The 1934 charter meeting of the Batavia Junior Chamber of Commerce was held at the Hotel Richmond on Main Street. Membership was restricted to men aged 18 to 35, but the age span shifted to 21 through 39 once the national legal drinking age became 21. The local chapter incorporated in 1976 and changed its name to the Batavia Area Jaycees. Eight years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the national organization and all its affiliates could not ban women from membership.

"That year, the brainstorming power of our chapter effectively doubled," Tufts said.

From the beginning, the Jaycees were all about networking and developing leadership skills to better themselves and their communities. So for decades now, the club has groomed tomorrow's leaders, which is one of the unique aspects of the Jaycees. Some people think of it as a "stepping-stone organization."

"We recruit them, train them and ship them out," Tufts said. "When they leave, they're better at organizing things, running a project or serving on a board. They understand the basics of Roberts Rules of Order and parliamentary procedure."

The development of an individual's leadership skills includes learning to: think fast and speak extemporaneously; debate topics; improve writing and otherwise hone the abilities considered to be valuable assets, both on the job and in the public sector.

People in their 20s and 30s experience a lot of flux and changes in their lives, so the average length of a Jaycee membership is three years. If a member hits 40 and "ages out," he or she affectionately becomes "an exhausted rooster."

Over the years, many people have benefitted from their association with the Jaycees. Past Chamber of Commerce President Ray San Fratello is said to credit the group with helping him learn the skills to serve in that capacity. Chamber Executive Assistant Melissa A. George was once a Jaycee president. So was Kelly J. Bermingham, the chamber's director of membership and special events.

Each year, the Jaycees Board of Directors proposes a calendar of events to meet the needs of the membership and the community. Programming falls into one of four areas: management development, individual development, community development and membership services. Community volunteer activities are offered most.

Early projects were health related, including Adam Miller's Stamp Out Syphillis program in 1937, free polio and measles clinics and a blood bank. During World War II, the chapter displayed flags on Main Street, led campaigns on civic planning, Americanism, Boost Batavia, and established three shelters for hitchhiking servicemen.

In the '60s, the Jaycees "spearheaded the effort to establish Genesee Community College," according to the Special Recognition Award application. And later, they held several annual competitions, including the Miss Batavia Pageant and Outstanding Young Farmer program. They developed a blind trail and built a shelter at Genesee County Park and a shelter at DeWitt Park.

Projects overseen by the Batavia Area Jaycees today include the annual Labor Day 5K Run, and the Home, Garden & Trade Show, which is the group's largest fund-raiser. Their 57th annual show was held this past weekend.

"It's been our longest-standing project because the basic model works -- it's a temporary place where local businesses can see more people than they normally would (in a weekend) and develop leads and maybe even sell some products," Tufts said.

He views the show as, indirectly, the chapter's best community service project, even though it is held to raise money for the chapter. Putting the show together serves as a "catalyst to local businesses" because homes are typically a family's greatest tangible asset, so virtually everyone has some connection to a home show.

The chapter's awards are too numerous to list. Suffice it to say that there are dozens and dozens of them, many of which are displayed at its hall in the historic Batavia Industrial Center on Harvester Avenue.

"We call it our woodpile," Tufts said, of the plaques, trophies, certificates, ribbons, etc., lining the shelves.

The fact that the Batavia Area Jaycees have a home base sets them apart from all other chapters in the state. It is a business. The chapter's ever-changing membership has been confident enough in its fund-raising abilities to take on the associated costs -- rent, utilities, insurance -- of renting office and hall space.

And they have succeeded, in part, because of the size of this community, not in spite of it. The small- to medium-sized community is best suited to any club that really wants to make a difference.

"We've got enough feelers out there to know and sense what needs to be done, how we can help and what gaps need to be filled," Tufts said.

General membership meetings are held at the Jaycee Hall at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month. The Jaycee Hotline is 343-5775.

Photo: Tara Pariso, Danielle Russell and Steve Tufts.

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