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Altrusa Club, a women's service organization, began back in 1917 when Dr. Alfred Durham, a member of Kiwanis, founded the Altrusa Institute. Dr. Durham realized record numbers of women were entering the workforce and their lives were changing. He saw the need for a women's civic organization where professional women could meet and exchange ideas. He envisioned the Altrusa Institute as a chain of national clubs, which has evolved into the Altrusa of today. His idea took root, and clubs were organized in Louisville, Nashville, and Dayton. More and more local clubs followed. The club became international in 1935 when Altrusa organized its first club in Mexico.

Membership in Altrusa is considered an honor. Each member has been singled out as a recognized leader in business, industry, or a profession in the community. As Altrusans, members channel their talents to the organization's community service focus and have opportunities for personal growth. Membership is by invitation only from a club based in the local community. Usually a current member sponsors the new member.

A "group within a group," the Altrusa Foundation provides cash grants to individuals and others who provide meaningful support in their community. In addition to giving grants, the foundation also funds two special awards for extraordinary community service. One is called the Community Leadership Award and the other is the Letha H. Brown Literacy Award, named for a past international president.

Expanding on its commitment to youth, Altrusa adopted literacy as ongoing service in 1977 and in 1997, Altrusa Foundation adopted Camp Safe Haven for kids with HIV/AIDS.

Camp Safe Haven is a camp founded by Tony Lombardi and Dave Butler. The camp has created a retreat experience that goes beyond the traditional. The camp provides a busy, fun-filled environment, giving the children a sense of belonging and acceptance. Camp sessions are held in April on Martha's Vineyard and in August at another site in New England.

While there is no cost for a child to attend Camp Safe Haven, housing, meals, activities, medical supplies, and transportation amount to approximately one thousand dollars per child per week. The entire staff--which includes doctors, nurses, social workers, and many others--donates all their time and services. Individual Altrusa members are encouraged to make a donation to Camp Safe Haven under a program called Club 21.

Altrusa is first and foremost a community-based, grassroots organization that seeks to solve problems in its area. Busy Altrusans raise funds for local charities through a variety of projects, or do direct, hands-on volunteering, such as helping at battered women's shelters, building homes for Habitat for Humanity, and so much more. Each chapter is free to select the projects and charitable activities of its choice. Early club leaders defined Altrusa as a "builder of women," and that goal remains.