Serving the children
Published 10:40 pm Sunday, November 5, 2017
Things are constantly changing for children both at home and in the realm of public education. But one thing that has remained constant for the children in Winchester is support from the Winchester Kiwanis Club.
Kiwanis of Winchester was founded in 1920, just five years after the first club of its kind began in Detroit.
The club’s goal is simple and broad: to help meet the needs of children in the city.
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“We can do anything to meet that goal, but we primarily work with the school system,” Kiwanis secretary Russ Morrison said. “There are a lot of kids out there who live with their grandparents who are frankly too old to do stuff with them, and there are parents who are just too busy. We help give them the one-on-one time they need.”
But one-on-one time with students is just one aspect of what Kiwanis does, albeit one that is woven throughout all of the projects the club takes on. Kiwanis offers high school and college scholarships to students, works in a mentoring capacity encouraging students to bring up their grades, provides adequate clothing and supplies to children at the beginning of the school year and raises funds in support of other community organizations helping children.
According to Kiwanis.org, The club was originally founded in 1915 in Detroit by a group of business owners. Initially called the Supreme Lodge Benevolent Order of Brothers, the group changed the name to Kiwanis a year later. The word “kiwanis” was coined from an expression once used by American Indians in the Detroit area that meant “we trade.”
The mission of Kiwanis was initially business networking, but in 1919, the group changed its focus to service — specifically service to children.
More than 100 years later, Kiwanis is now an international organization with more than 600,000 members operating in more than 80 countries. Every year Kiwanis members worldwide complete more than 18.5 million service hours and raise more than $100 million in support of local and global causes, all serving children.
The Kiwanis Club of Winchester was founded Oct. 12, 1920, at the Brown and Proctor Hotel. The club is the oldest continuously operating civic organization in Winchester. The businessmen in the downtown corridor established the club to help the children in Winchester and Clark County. The club still has meetings at noon each Wednesday at Taste of China.
It’s next fundraising event is the annual Kiwanis pancake breakfast, coming up next Saturday. Tickets are $7 for adults in advance or $8 the day of the breakfast. Children’s tickets are $5 in advance or $6 at the door. Veterans eat for free.
Winchester Kiwanis began with 44 members, and at its peak in the early 2000s, the club had reached about 75, Morrison said.
“They actually split in two and started a Clark County club,” he said. “But the county club was mostly made of older members, and it shut down in 2010.”
Currently, the club has 36 members and raises about $20,000 a year to fund its programs and support other groups.
Walk with a child
Winchester Kiwanis’ biggest project of each year is Walk With A Child, which happens at the end of summer just before school begins.
Kiwanis works with the family resource center coordinators at the district’s elementary schools for the project, compiling a list of more than 100 students who need assistance with getting clothing for schools. The club then sends the families of the students invitations, and for one day takes any of them who show up clothes shopping.
This year, Kiwanis purchased clothes for 160 students, spending about $79 on each child for a total of $12,591.48.
The money to fund the program comes from several fundraisers the club hosts each year, most prominently the East Kentucky Variety Show, now in its second year at George Rogers Clark High School.
The amount of money the club is able to spend on each student depends on the amount collected through the fundraisers as well as the number of students identified by the FRC coordinators.
A strong partnership
Morrison said the FRC coordinators have been integral to the success the club has had in the school system. In addition, Kiwanis has also found success working with Partners in Education, a local organization that partners representatives from Winchester’s business community with individual schools to provide mentors and other services.
“Working with PIE has allowed us to get into the schools easier and be able to see the kids face to face,” Morrison said.
The change from being a distant supporter to being regularly seen in the schools has been beneficial to the club, Morrison said, as it allows members to talk directly with teachers and students to find out what they need, and it shows that members of the community care about how the children do in school.
“The kids will recognize you if you’re out around town, and they aren’t afraid to tell you what they think,” Morrison said.
Being in the schools has allowed Winchester Kiwanis’ Bringing Up Grades (BUG) program to thrive, Morrison said.
The program, which is for elementary students but more specifically targeted at third graders in Clark County, brings Kiwanis members in to talk to students about the importance of getting good grades and especially increasing reading proficiency. At the end of each quarter, Kiwanians come back to visit each class in the district. Students who brought up at least one letter grade are given rewards for their work, while students who bring their grades up and also help their classmates bring up grades are names “super BUGs.”
Teaching leadership through sevice
Super BUGs represent the first step in one of Kiwanis’ larger goals, to inspire people to be servant leaders in their community.
“We’re very hands-on,” Morrison said. “Other groups give more monetary support, and they do good work in the community, but we like to be hands-on.”
A new hands-on initiative the club has started recently is the creation of service clubs in the schools.
According to Kiwanian Greg Yates, the formation of a Key Club at GRC has been a goal of Winchester Kiwanis for years. Club members have partnered with GRC guidance counselor Elton Parish in an attempt to build a framework for the group and identify students interesting in joining.
Key Clubs are student led with advisors from both the school they operate out of and the local Kiwanis chapter. As the club gets on its feet in Winchester, Yates said Parish and Kiwanian Michelle Blackburn will act as advisors for the students. They will assist students in getting a charter for their club and with any needs the members run into during operation, but the students themselves will plan their meetings, put together the agendas and create their own community service projects.
Like adult Kiwanis clubs, Key Clubs stress community service as their priority.
Parish said Key Club members can plan projects to benefit the high school or any other part of the community. Where and how the club serves is entirely dependent upon the vision of its members.
Now Kiwanis is looking at starting similar clubs in all the schools in the district. Morrison said Kiwanians are working with staff at Campbell Jr. High School to start a Builders Club there, and plans for K-Kids Clubs, which are for students up to sixth grade, are in the works at Baker Intermediate and Justice Elementary schools.
Like Key Club, the younger clubs are student-led with faculty and Kiwanis advisors to help guide them. No two clubs are alike, as the students at each one get to choose what their projects will be and who they will serve.
Morrison said Kiwanis is always looking for ways to build on its service to children in the community, but to expand on what the club is already doing requires time and volunteers.
“We are always looking for new members,” he said.
The cost to be a member of Kiwanis is $100 annually, and new members must be sponsored by existing members.
However, even if someone doesn’t have the time or money to officially join the club, Kiwanis will also accept volunteers to help out at some of its functions, like taking families shopping during Walk With A Child.
To learn more about Kiwanis or to join the club, contact Russ Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 771-6091.