Membership for Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) organizations across the country has been in decline since 1980, with what was once more than 380,000 members now down to fewer than 20,000.
In 1980, there were more than 9,200 Jaycees chapters in the United States. Today there are fewer than 700, said Joel Harper, the organization's national executive director.
Although he said the newest generation of American college graduates are leaving school with a stronger commitment to serving their communities, Harper said his organization and others like it found over the previous three decades that young adults were more career- and family-focused and less inclined to volunteer.
Except, he noted, "in specific places."
A place, for instance, where the Jaycees headquarters stands just two miles from a private Catholic university whose mission , in part, virtually echoes the Jaycees motto that "service to humanity is the best work of life."
Membership in the Davenport Jaycees is a robust 60-plus and more than a third of those are St. Ambrose alumni, said 2013 club president Chad Gaul '05.
Joining a service organization is a natural progression for freshly graduated Ambrosians, who grew accustomed to being part of service-minded organizations during their years under the oaks.
"It was a natural fit for me," Gaul said.
Likewise for Jenny (Kisla) Kincaid '03, who joined the Davenport organization after returning to the Quad Cities to practice law a few years ago. Kincaid said she was drawn to the Jaycees when she attended a membership recruitment event and saw no fewer than six people she knew from her undergraduate days at St. Ambrose.
"I thought, ‘OK, this is a group I have a connection with,'" she said.
Kincaid recently has worked alongside fellow Jaycees and Ambrosians Heather (Venema) Hartley '06, '08 MOL, Stella (O'Rourke) Roederer '05, '07 MOL and Amy (Hoover) Jones '02, among others, to coordinate the Davenport Jaycee's Bridal Expo.
The Expo has raised more than $300,000 the past five years alone. That has helped fund such projects as building parks, rehabbing central-city homes, purchasing Christmas presents and school supplies for hundreds of underprivileged Quad City families, feeding the homeless and buying hygiene supplies for local domestic abuse shelters.
At the 2012 national convention, the Bridal Expo won the Jaycees Top Project Award for Fundraising.
Kincaid said the SAU alumni work hard to avoid making the Davenport Jaycees seem like an extension of their old school - there are a handful of Augustana and Iowa alums on the membership rolls, too - but they will inevitably lean on things they learned at St. Ambrose.
"I think the focus that St. Ambrose puts on the students to give back to the community, the knowledge that the world is bigger than yourself and your job, leads us to be part of a civic organization that does more than just networking and socializing," she said. "One that actually impacts the community that we live in."
Hartley said that as existing members begin having children or age out of the organization, it is a natural inclination for the St. Ambrose contingent to look north toward the campus on West Locust Street.
"It is important to know where your roots are and continually go back," she said. "New graduates have a lot to give and a lot of energy. They can help keep your old members energized."