It came to our attention over the last couple of months that more than one caring citizen in Sault Ste. Marie had applied to the Kinsmen Club and been rejected.
For no apparent reason.
Key word… apparent.
For those of you who don’t know, Kinsmen Canada Clubs exist across the nation. It was founded in 1920 by Hal Rogers, and is the nations’ largest of all Canadian service club organizations.
In terms of what they do, their website states, ‘Kinsmen, Kinette, and Kin clubs play a vital role in Canadian society by raising funds for worthy causes, undertaking community projects and providing leadership, training, and networking opportunities for our members.’
It goes on to say, ‘Kinsmen, Kinette, and Kin clubs across the country work to better their communities, enhance the well-being of Canadians, and improve the environment. The Association boasts a proud history dedicated to fostering life-long friendships while ‘Serving the Community’s Greatest Needs.’
(More on their mandate and organizational values can be found here).
While these are great mission statements to live by, they are a little elusive in terms of what kind of work is actually done.
Despite this, the call to action for volunteers resonated with two local Saultites, who were looking for the perfect organization to devote their time, dedication, and passion for the outdoors and of our local community to.
David Kochanowski and Jack Trombello are two citizens who wanted to give back to the community, particularly in terms of nature and improving the leisurely activities available to children and families in the Sault.
Kochanowski, a Firefighter with the Sault Ste. Marie Fire Services, father of two young children, and avid volunteer with the SSM Professional Firefighter Association charity events, saw the Kinsmen Club as the perfect fit because of his interest in strengthening the community and the countless hours he has spent between Hiawatha and Kinsmen Park.
Likewise, Trombello and his whole family are very outdoors-y, regardless of time of year. A stay at home dad with two kids, he is very passionate about mountain-biking, hiking, and giving back to the community.
Both men believed they could offer input of value when making decisions on how to better the Kinsmen property and improve trails to increase tourism, sports, and general enjoyment in the Sault.
Both found themselves perusing the Sault Ste. Marie Kinsmen Club web page to find answers to questions like, How can I join? How can I help? What can we do?
While there is a map of the trails and some photos on the web page, as well as some of the organization information as listed on the Kins Canada page, there was very little information on what the Kinsmen Club actually does in the Sault.
Trombello and Kochanowski’s natural instincts were to contact the Kinsmen Club and find out.
Well, when you hit ‘Contact’ on the web page, you get a ‘404 page not found.’
Turning to Google, they found a 211 lookup which gave an e-mail and a phone number to contact.
The lack of visibility though, is concerning.
Especially when considering the fact that the Kinsmen Club owns the land use agreement for Kinsmen Park, giving them control over how the park space is utilized.
That same land owner use agreement covers Redpine loop in the Hiawatha Highlands as well, a very popular spot for mountain biking.
Both Kochanowski and Trombello applied, outlining their experience as community-oriented, outdoorsmen, and after multiple e-mail correspondences with delayed, elusive, vague, and somewhat short responses by the Kinsmen representatives, John Myles and Rod Lehto, were both denied.
The responses to both men by Kinsmen representatives include lines such as, “A member has volunteered to make contact if his time allows to determine if we can accommodate your request. There has been an unusual number of similar requests lately and they will be dealt with as time allows. I make no assurance that you will be contacted or if so that you will attain membership in the club.”
“The club has spent the last four meetings to discuss your application. We, The Kinsmen of Sault Ste. Marie voted on the motion to bring you in as a prospective member. The result was that your application was voted down to become a Kinsmen of Sault Ste Marie.”
These decisions were made without meeting either individual in person, making contact on the phone, or seeing an official resume.
Kochanowski also posed the following questions to president Rod Lehto, with whom he was e-mailing,
‘Can you please provide me the reason behind your decision?
You mentioned your club is undergoing some changes to your membership, would you be able to elaborate on what that entails?
Would you be able to provide me with a list of current and executive members as well as general members?’
The Kinsmen Club responded by saying, “After four meetings of discussion we voted. I did not have to vote because there was not a tie. I do not know why each voted the way they did, and I do not want to question a member about their vote.”
Kochanowski responded by asking specifically how the vote works, what the decisions are based off of, what the criteria is, or if it is just a personal stance.
Lehto did not respond.
It has been radio silence ever since.
Kochanowski then reached out to Kathy McFarlane, District Club Support Director, who said,
“Good afternoon David, I’m actually out for the afternoon and evening but saw your email. To say that I’m completely shocked is an understatement. I will certainly follow up with John and other members of the Kinsmen club. His response in no way reflects who we are as an organization.
Please allow me to investigate further and get back to you.
District Club Support Director”
However, after further investigation, she claimed that “Each club has their own set of House Rules and can include any rule they wish so long as they are not in contravention of our National By-Laws which allows them to set their own procedures for accepting new members into the club.”
Research showed us at SaultOnline that, while Kinsmen Clubs across the province and country have Facebook pages – where they can be easily contacted and share photos and information regarding member work and donations – one for Sault Ste. Marie was absolutely nowhere to be found.
Our research into the Kinsmen Club and their process led us to a young college student who applied to be a Kinsmen (Kinette) this past March.
She applied and was invited to attend a meeting, whereby a vote on whether or not to accept her as a member would follow, with a pleasant response from Lehto, and a form to fill out.
The message reads as follows,
“The next meeting is the April 16th at 6:30 for dinner which we have for fellowship and the meeting starts around 7:15 I will pay for your first dinner.
Hope you can make it.
Attached is the form which needs to be filled out as requested by Kin Canada.
Hope it is not a problem, and send it to me before the meeting.”
This form, which is essentially a formal application with spots to fill in references, past experience, and sign off on agreeing to member rules, was not shown, offered, or even mentioned to either Kochanowski or Trombello.
The offer to attend a Kinsmen meeting to get introduced to everyone prior to a vote was also not extended to Kochanowski or Trombello.
They were simply rejected and ignored.
SaultOnline sent an e-mail inquiring about how one would go about joining the Kinsmen Club of Sault Ste. Marie, as we have heard from more than one person that they have been rejected with no explanation.
This gave our local Kinsmen branch the opportunity to explain their process and justify the reason for rejection.
SaultOnline gave them a week, and received no response from the Kinsmen.
This has left both Kochanowski and Trombello asking, “where is the accountability to the community?”
Trombello commented, “When you have great ideas and people that are progressive in the community, and then you have people who hold permits that decide whether you can allow it or not, and they aren’t progressive, the community suffers.”
Likewise, Kochanowski stated, “There are endless opportunities in Southern Ontario, which is great, and I realize the Sault is different, however, when you look at communities – even small ones like Marquette – they are very community driven and they really seem to be able to come together regardless if you are this club or that club to benefit the community as a whole.
So, y’know my wife and I are raising two children here, and we want opportunities to be available to them, yet we continually run into these groups and close-minded people.”
They both more or less agreed that it appears as though only those with like minded values are allowed to access membership to this organization, although there is no criteria publicized that suggests that is needed.
How can balance ever be created if groups are only made up of people who think a specific way? Both men have been speculating.
One would think that becoming part of a community-oriented volunteer organization is based on the desire to do so, not some unknown, unbalanced formula as the discrepancy in applications described here appear to demonstrate.
So now SaultOnline is asking you, what are your thoughts?