August 6, 2010

Seeking wealth? Embrace the Optimist Club in your community

As my readers know and as it is pretty easy to observe, I write about Optimist Clubs. Optimist Clubs have been around for almost 100 years providing services that communities need on a local level from building swimming pools to offering after school activities for latchkey children and more.

Optimist Clubs are successful when they unite individuals in local causes that make their communities a better place to live. According to best-selling author and urban studies theorist Richard Florida, choosing the community that you live in is really about choosing the quality of life that you want for yourself and your family. When considered in that light, Optimist Clubs are part of the economic development infrastructure of any community.

Unfortunately, many Optimist Clubs consider themselves to be charities. What's the difference between being part of the economic development infrastructure and being a charity? Simple - charities give their money away while organizations involved in economic development  invest their time, talent and treasure in projects that will see a return on investment. At the end of the day, an Optimist Club should be able to assess its impact with a financial measure in a way that contributes to the wealth not of individual populations, but rather to the community as a whole.

Please notice that I did not say that Optimist Clubs are businesses.  They are not. While every club or organization should operate in a business-like manner, the point of the Optimist Club should not be about creating wealth for its members. Again, the financial measure is in creating wealth for the community as a whole.

Does that thought seem rather overwhelming? It felt overwhelming as I wrote it. Twice. Creating wealth is not an easy measurement because people don't always measure their wealth in dollars. They add in health and other quality of life factors such as job satisfaction, social interactions, entertainment opportunities, mental health and well-being, and friends and family into their personal measurement. I have even heard it said, "I measure it [wealth] by how happy I can be without money."

So if personal wealth might be achieved with or without money, how do we define community wealth? For economic development purposes, I choose to consider a community that has a balanced tax structure and fair and equal access to jobs, education, healthcare, housing, cultural, entertainment, faith and lifestyle choices as being wealthy.

Any time that an Optimist Club can perform a project, carry out a task, or provide inspiration that allows others to realize their wealth in those terms, then I believe they are achieving their mission. Any time that an Optimist Club can create a movement or collaborate with others to allow innovation and entrepreneurship, then I believe they are achieving their mission. Any time that an Optimist Club recognizes and promotes the potential of young people, or people of any age, then I believe they are achieving their mission.

Being part of an Optimist Club is about sharing a positive attitude and positive ideas to move yourself and your community forward.  If  your Optimist Club finds itself more caught up in fundraising efforts than in serving a greater community good, then it might be time to reconsider your club's impact in economic development terms.

Where would your community be without the good deeds of an Optimist Club? Be honest and ask yourself some tough questions. Be scared of the answers. Be ready to make adjustments. Then and only then will your Optimist Club engage others in your cause and soar into the future.


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