KEARNEY — Celebrating the service club’s silver anniversary this year, members of Kearney’s Optimist Club said they’ve had fun serving their community throughout the last 25 years.
“All the members are just a good bunch of people that like to do things for the community and our kids. That makes it fun. ... We don’t have a ton of rules and we don’t have a lot of meetings. We are more casual,” said Kenny Barham, who was the charter vice president and is still a member after 25 years.
Optimist International is a worldwide volunteer organization dedicated to children’s efforts made up of more than 2,500 local clubs. Each year, the Kearney club, made up of roughly 15 members, hosts the Labor Day Races in front of Kearney City Hall on Washington Street, participates in the city’s Kid Fest in Jesse James Park, provides banquets for local Special Olympics teams, donates to the Kearney School District’s robotics program, helps fund Eagle Scout community improvement projects and funds scholarships for local students.
Funds are raised for the club’s efforts through concession sales at the group’s mobile concession trailer. One of the biggest sale events is the annual chamber of commerce bull ride, held this year at the end of July.
Local Club President Shelby Buchanan said she got her start in Optimists about a decade ago.
“My mom was involved so I kind of got started as a junior member. Ever since then I’ve been pretty heavily involved,” she said. “... The older I got, the more I appreciated what we were doing and so I wanted to continue to be involved.”
Buchanan’s mother, Connie Crawford, has been a club member for 15 years.
“It’s been good for our family because when I got involved I wanted to find something our family could do together that was good for the community,” she said. “It’s great because I got to bring my daughter along and she would work and volunteer right alongside me. Now she is the club president and she is bringing her friends along.”
Crawford said she likes the Kearney Optimist Club because it provides a way for people of all ages and abilities to give back.
“Plus, everything we do is free for kids. I really like that,” she said.
In her professional life, Buchanan said she works with children so it’s nice that her private life also has a facet where she can give back to youth.Her favorite Optimist activity, Buchanan said is the Labor Day Races, where children and families compete in three-legged, scooter, skateboard and bicycle races in addition to an egg toss. Winners are given quarters to purchase treats on site.
“I think it’s fun because it’s not just an event we’re selling food at and raising money. We are giving things away and it just really is about child involvement,” she said.
Through the last quarter century, Barham said some club offerings were discontinued.
“We used to give dictionaries out to the school kids. Nowadays though, nobody needs those as they have those kinds of things on their computer or in their phone,” he said. “...We used to do an Easter egg hunt. Now, everybody does Easter egg hunts. We weren’t getting very many people to it so it’s something we don’t do anymore.”
Barham said as technology and ages of members change, so too is the club’s collective thinking on how to provide for local children.
“We are still talking about programs we can do to replace (the dictionary giveaway),” he said. “We are a group that does a lot of little things in the community.”
Buchanan said she is constantly looking for ways the club can branch out and offer more to area families and children.
“If people out there have something, some kind of need, people can contact us and we will try and meet that need or at least try and connect them with one or more groups that can,” she said.
The president said she also is on the lookout for new members.
“I love talking to people about joining,” she said.
Barham said he’s made fond memories serving with fellow Optimists. For those who may be looking for a cause to contribute time to, Barham said Optimist clubs are great because of the international network local clubs are affiliated with.
“There are clubs all over Missouri and the country. It’s a really good network of people. There are several friends that I’ve met through Optimist International,” he said.