Even though its charter said South Kent, the name Kentwood Jaycees just seemed to fit better when the group original formed in 1966. It certainly described the area that this particular chapter of the United States Junior Chamber covered.
But with recent changes, including absorbing the former Wyoming Jaycees chapter, the name did not seem to fit anymore. So in 2015, the former Kentwood Jaycees chapter rebranded itself as the South Kent Jaycees.
“It really broadens our horizon not only for the membership but for the communities we are able to help,” said Jen Groom, secretary of the South Kent Jaycees. “By staying Kentwood, we could only help Kentwood.”
A requirement of being part of the Jaycees organization is that you live within the state and are from the area the local chapter represents. Looking at its membership, South Kent Jaycees leaders discovered that many lived or worked outside of the Kentwood area. The name changed also allowed the organization to expand its reach into adjoining communities which include Grandville, Jenison, Byron Center, and Caledonia along with Kentwood and Wyoming.
With that South Kent Jaycees leadership was able to find a larger base of service and leadership opportunities. Most recently, the South Kent Jaycees worked with the Ronald McDonald House with a holiday wish list drive. South Kent Jaycees also have teamed up with the Grand Rapids Jaycees in an effort to bring the Kids Kicking Cancer program to the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. Kids Kicking Cancer, which just expanded to help all children who are in pain, focuses on martial arts therapy.
“It is a really great outlet for the kids while they are in the hospital,” Groom said.
And should anyone fret over the Forest of Fear disappearing, Groom and the other board members confirmed plans are in the works for this year’s haunted attraction and that the popular Breakfast for Santa event also will continue.
Gone is the Kentwood Jaycees Club House, which before being the club house was a Pizza Hut located at 1640 44th St. SE. According to the group’s website, it was sold so the organization could focus more local trainings, community benefit programs and local partnerships.
“I joined the Jaycees to give back to my community, but what I get from it so much more than that,” said Marybeth Schafer, who is the secretary of the Grand Rapids Jaycees and is part of the Grand Rapids and South Kent Jaycees collaboration efforts. “It helps me grow personally and professional and I have made some really close friends.
“You also not only meet people in your area, but across the state and the nation.”
The Jaycees organization was established on January 21, 1920 to provide opportunities, at that time, for young men to develop personal and leadership skills through service to others. The organization included women in 1984 after the U.S. Supreme court ruled that Minnesota could prevent sex discrimination in private organizations. 1985 marked the end of the US Jaycee Women organization. Today, there are numerous Jaycees chapters around the globe. There are about 33 chapters in Michigan with five being in the West Michigan area, Allegan, Greater Muskegon, Lakeview (covering the Montcalm area), Grand Rapids and South Kent.
This year, according to Julia Klein, who is a District 2 Michigan Chairman of the Board and treasurer for the South Kent Jaycees, the Michigan Jaycees chapters will host the National Jaycee Conference which is set for Sept. 22 – 25 in Detroit.
But you do not have to wait until September, or head to Detroit, to learn more or join the Jaycees, said Scott Avery, South Kent Jaycees vice president. The organization has monthly membership meetings where potential members can learn more about events and meet other members. Meetings are rotated through the South Kent Jaycees coverage area. On April 20 at 6:30 p.m., the group will meet at Bigby’s in Wyoming. May 23 at 6:30 p.m., they will be at the Byron Family Restaurant, 2527 84th St. SW, Byron Center. On June 18, they will be meeting at 10 a.m. at EB Coffee and Pub, 8980 Rodgers Court SE, Caledonia.
More information can be found at the South Kent Jaycees’ website or the group’s Facebook page.