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Tue, May 21

Optimist Club to focus on encouraging, recognizing youth

Volunteers who want a new opportunity to serve might take a look at the Quad Cities' newly formed Optimist Club.

Optimist Clubs have more than 2,900 branches worldwide, with 90,000 members. These organizations conduct 65,000 service projects each year, focusing on youth, and spend $78 million annually in their communities, the organization's literature states.

Optimist projects focus on working with local schools to enhance education, conducting substance abuse prevention programs, coaching youth sports teams, tutoring and mentoring young people, painting the homes of the elderly and needy, providing food baskets to families in need, assisting disaster victims, and reading to children.

Some of the international Optimist programs include the Junior Optimist Octagon International, a citizenship and volunteerism project; Internet Safety; Childhood Cancer Campaign; Youth Appreciation; Communication Contest for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Oratorical Contest; Junior Golf Program; Essay Contest; Respect for Law/Promotion of Non-Violence; and Youth Safety.

Prescott Valley resident and Town Councilman Michael Whiting has been involved with Optimists for more than 40 years. He was the first person to sign up for the local version.

Whiting said he was recruited for an Optimist Club in Casa Grande in the late 70s. He has served in every capacity in the organization. In 2000, he served as state governor, managing 40 Optimist Clubs in Arizona. He said he is excited to see one start in the Quad City area.

Whiting said the Optimist Club, which is not related to the women's Soroptimist Club, takes a little different approach to helping youth, focusing on encouraging them and recognizing their achievements.

"In my club in Tempe we related it to unsung heroes, the kids who are active in church, school and the community. We were looking for kids who had not been recognized, or not recognized for things people perceive as common place," he said. "We would see children doing things for other kids to help them through school, things through their church that no one else would know, or kids that had a real barrier in terms of things that other kids take for granted. They would have to go above and beyond to accomplish pretty common stuff at school, for instance, maybe they didn't have transportation to school, they had a disability, or a parent with a health issue that might be throwing everything off, or they were working to help their parents support the family while still attending school. People don't normally see these things. We would ask teachers to submit a profile of these kids for recognition."

Whiting said the City of Tempe adopted the Optimist student of the month program, and hosted a banquet for the youth, which the mayor, school superintendent, teachers and parents attended.

"They liked the way this process was created and how kids that are considered pretty normal are doing extraordinary things. The Optimists awarded certificates and scholarships to the kids," he said

Each Optimist Club stands on its own, Whiting said, with the local club deciding which projects would best suit its community. There are no specific requirements to join, and all ages are welcome, he said. Dues are $60 per year, $30 for those under 30 for the first year.

The local Optimist Club had an introductory meeting Monday and signed up six new members, bringing the total now to nine, with more people taking some time to think about joining, Whiting said.

"We have a good core to start with," he added.

The Optimists will continue to meet at noon on Mondays at Fuddruckers in Prescott Valley's Entertainment District until the club grows a bit, but Whiting stressed that it is open to all people in the Quad Cities area.

"We want to include all of the communities," he said.

For more information on the Optimist Club, call Whiting at 928-899-8680 or David Pizer at 602-790-8800.

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