SHERIDAN — A large tree falls in the street and onlookers complain about the inconvenience of delayed traffic. Horns are honking; it starts to rain. A young boy drops his backpack and walks over to the tree. He tries to push it out of the way but it doesn’t budge.
He tries again and again as the rain drenches his shirt. Other children run over to help but the tree still blocks the road. The children laugh as they futilely push at the tree. Others start to join to help and finally, the tree is cleared. Rain-soaked people smile with accomplishment.
“What did you take away from that video?” Justin Wutzke asked a room of Sheridan Jaycees members. Everyone saw the problem but it required one person taking action to accomplish the goal, one member said.
Sometimes it takes a group of young people coming together to start change, another Jaycees member said at the meeting.
The Sheridan Jaycees’ monthly meeting featured United States Junior Chamber president-elect Justin Wutzke, who joined the Jaycees as a way to connect with others after college.
Wutzke presented “JCI Impact: Projects for Sustainable Solutions to Community Challenges” to the Sheridan Jaycees at the Holiday Inn Sheridan Convention Center Tuesday.
“The Sheridan Jaycees (United States Junior Chamber) gives young people between the ages of 18 and 40 the tools they need to build the bridges of success for themselves in the areas of business development, management skills, individual training, community service, and international connections,” according to the Sheridan Jaycees Facebook page.
Wutzke said he came to Sheridan to inspire and motivate local members to look deeper at community issues, identify root causes and develop projects to address community needs. He will be training and meeting with other chapters around the nation in the coming year.
Some chapters don’t know where to start with a project idea but the Sheridan group is well-situated with a project that’s already in motion, Wutzke said. Sheridan Jaycees members met with a city representative Tuesday to discuss the Jaycees’ proposed project of developing a playground in town that is accessible to children with special needs.
Members nationwide have been focused solely on fundraising, which only scratches the surface of Jaycees’ potential, Wutzke said. The JCI impact training is designed to show members they have more to offer their communities than writing checks. Building relationships and working toward sustainable solutions can be more effective, he said.
Wutzke said he discovered making friends as an adult was challenging and the Jaycees offered a way to connect with others through shared interests and goals. Many people didn’t take him seriously as a 20-something professional and the organization provided an outlet for his skills and expertise, he said.
“I felt the Jaycees was this perfect place to find people that are genuinely caring about others and the community and developing themselves,” Wutzke said.
One of Wutzke’s goals during his one-year tenure as national president is to encourage more people between 18 and 20 to get involved. There is a large group of 18- to 20-year-olds who aren’t engaged socially because they can’t drink yet, he said.
“[Our society has become] a drinking society, that’s what we do for fun, instead of getting creative with our minds and doing other activities,” Wutzke said.
Wutzke said he wants to empower that age group to collaborate and develop community activities through their local Jaycees chapter, or create one if a chapter doesn’t currently exist. The organization is a “playground” to fail and learn from mistakes within a supportive group, he said.
By encouraging young people to create and think independently, norms may shift away from drinking as the default for social activities, he said. Young people who are looking to cure boredom can be empowered with purpose and belonging in a safe space with Jaycees, he said.
Wutzke said he will prompt Jaycees chapters to plan at least one activity or event in the next year to appeal to the 18-21 age group. Nationwide, many members are aging out of the organization and membership is decreasing, which has put many chapters at risk, Wutzke said.
Part of being an active citizen is encouraging participation in community initiatives across many age groups, former Miss Wyoming Beck Bridger said at the chapter meeting.
Wutzke said he is looking for a grassroots effort of community involvement between community organizations like the Jaycees, Kiwanis and Rotary. What makes the Jaycees unique from other service organizations is socioeconomic diversity, he said.
Whether a business-owner, Taco Bell dishwasher or stay-at-home mother, Wutzke said each voice is invaluable to successful community-oriented projects. Different backgrounds and knowledge of issues facing individual communities expands the potential for projects, he said.
“I believe anything is possible with a great goal and a plan and action steps to get there,” Wutzke said.
Jennifer Epperson said Jaycees members benefit from the time they contribute to their chapter; some volunteer at an annual event while others are more regularly involved throughout the year. Epperson said she has improved her leadership, project management, public speaking and budgeting skills since joining Jaycees.
“If you come and get involved and you offer your expertise, and you come in with an open mind to learn other people’s skill sets and expertise, then you’re opening your life up to exponentially grow more than you would have if you just, kind of, kept to yourself and your friend group,” Wutzke said.