October 29, 2013

Eerie or cute, it's Halloween

It's Halloween time, with ghouls, goblins and zombies appearing all about town and many are with an Optimist Club. I've seen parties, trunk or treat, and many more activities that are worthy of mention like the absolutely adorable pumpkin races that are taking place in Princeton, Illinois.

However, I've only seen one activity where the name truly fits: Eerie Erie. Yes, that's right, the Optimist Club of Erie, Colorado encourages the community to come out in costume for a 5k or 10k Goblin run or walk about town. They make the town eerie, if only for a few hours, just in time for Halloween. Some photos of the event, courtesy of the Erie Optimist Club are shown here. To learn more, please visit the Erie Optimist Club website. 

October 23, 2013

Royal Oak Optimist Club earns Community Spirit Award

It's no secret that optimists have great attitudes so it should come as no surprise that an Optimist Club, full of positive upbeat people, should win a spirit award for sharing their optimism with others. However, I'm not all that aware of many of those kinds of awards being given out so I was especially excited to hear that the Royal Oak Optimist Club was honored last evening, October 22, 2013,  at the 66th annual Royal Oak Community Awards Dinner.

Their award: The Community Spirit Award.

According to members, its fun to be a part of the activities that the club coordinates. In fact, it is so much fun, members bring their spouses and soon their spouses are members too. Member John Wagster explained, "It's very satisfying and fulfilling, getting to contribute and help the community. It's just a very positive experience for me."

And I would say it's a very positive experience for the community too, to have a group of caring adults who enjoy one another and work together to make things happen. Congratulations to the Royal Oak Optimist Club on your community spirit!

Photo contributed by the Royal Oak Optimist Club.

October 21, 2013

Make sure the message you send is the one you want to be heard

The Arizona and California South Districts of Optimist International held a combined district meeting this past weekend, October 19-20, 2013. It took place in Yuma, Arizona and Optimist International president-elect Ken Garner was in attendance. According to newspaper reports, he was there to speak about "how the philanthropic organization can carry out its mission of serving youth."

Ken Garner, President-elect, Optimist
International speaks in Yuma
Unfortunately, the article in the Yuma Sun didn't really explain how the organization accomplishes its mission and the reader is left uncertain what Garner's proposed actions for the future might be. It clearly stated, however,  that one of the biggest challenges for the organization is attracting new members. During the presentation, Garner further explained that individuals in the Gen-X and Millennial Generations are a priority for the organization to recruit.

This kind of message always concerns me. Yes, recruiting young adults is important; and yes, recruiting members is a challenge for any service organization. But really, do you want to tell that to the newspaper reporters?

Once aired, that message can take one's mind and writing in many different directions. An unfortunate result might include an exposé about declining memberships in service clubs and their lack of relevance in today's society, the very rumor that we in leadership positions work courageously to dispel.

Gaining media attention is important. Scoring an article, with pictures nonetheless, is what public relations is all about. However, delivering a message that furthers your cause is critical. Instead of creating awareness about a deficit, the speaker must explain how that void will be filled.

Based on what was said at the meeting as described in the Yuma Sun, I think the message delivered should have been, "Optimist International values a diverse membership, made up of individuals of all ages. Knowing that those in the Millennial and Gen-X generations need an extra push to be involved in service clubs, we've created the $30 under 30 program. The $30 under 30 program makes it easier for young adults to volunteer their time with an Optimist Club."

Optimist International delivers leadership training through the district meeting format. In that setting, it is appropriate that real concerns, like membership, come to light; but it is equally important that plans be made to address concerns. When bringing together such a unique and caring set of leaders, one must listen to them, talk to them, and open channels for two-way communication to take place. Most of all, one must respect that the answers to most questions that trouble the organization probably lie within such groups and understand that they will take what they heard at the meeting and share it through their local channels at home.

If you tell them that membership is declining; that is what they will believe and report. If instead you tell them that membership will be increased through particular strategic methods, they will believe that, report that, and work to make it happen.

Photo credit: Yuma Sun

October 19, 2013

Nobel-prize winner Paul Krugman wins third place in Optimist International Oratorical Contest

On Wednesday, October 16, Paul Krugman, Nobel-prize winning economist, professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University, and op-ed columnist for the New York Times was awarded one of the 2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards. He was presented the Freedom of Speech honor for exemplifying FDR's vision of democracy.

While thankful and humbled by the honor bestowed upon him, Krugman posted on his blog that "In truth, nothing will ever top this," and he treated his readers to a photo of his third place trophy (shown below) won as a young teen, in an Optimist Club Oratorical Contest.

third place optimist international oratorical contest krugman

Optimist Clubs have been hosting the Optimist International Oratorical Contest since 1928 and countless young men and women have participated, gaining the confidence and poise that helps them develop as young adults and succeed in many diverse endeavors as adults. I find it so exciting when they acknowledge their participation, not because it brings awareness to the cause that I find so dear; but rather, because their acknowledgement is proof that Optimist Clubs truly help young people reach their full potential.

You can help children reach their full potential in your community by becoming an Optimist Club member today. Click here to find an Optimist Club near you and join. 

Photo credit: Paul Krugman at the New York Times

October 14, 2013

Big Kid Award goes to Mary Williams of Boone, NC

In North Carolina, the Boone Optimist Club has a tradition of honoring a local person for the impact that they have had on children over their lifetime. The recognition is known as the Big Kid Award.

This year that very special honor went to Mary Williams. For twenty-seven years, she has worked with students with special needs in the Watauga County school system. She's written and received grants totaling a quarter of a million dollars in order to start-up and maintain programs for this special population.

One of the most successful programs involves about 400 families each year as special needs parents are matched with other special needs parents to create a bond where they can share mutual experiences and learn from one another. Most of all, the "Parent to Parent" program provides a support system for parents, families and individuals with disabilities.

Most recently, she's started "Coffee Talk" where the special needs students are taught meaningful skills from shopping to making and serving coffee and accompanying items. During "Coffee Talk" events, the students raise funds which are then contributed to the adaptive PE program and other nonprofit causes in the area.

It sounds like Mary Williams has a big heart to match her newly granted "Big Kid" status. On behalf of all Optimist Club members, allow me to say, congratulations!

Photo and story contributed by the Boone Optimist Club.

October 10, 2013

Brand awareness starts with you

The Optimist Club of Leesburg, Florida is getting ready for Kids FunFest 2013. Club members have decided on the location; it will take place at the Harley Davidson of Leesburg. They have recruited sponsors and participants, informational exhibitors and vendors, and they are now in the process of marketing the event.

I'm happy to report that they took to Facebook and Twitter in order to gain some social media buzz and in both locations they claim that the Optimist Club of Leesburg is putting on Kids FunFest 2013. However, they've also included this flyer with their posts.

Notice anything wrong? Let's do a quick survey:

  • Location? Check.
  • Date? Check.
  • Time? Check.
  • Who will be there? Check. 
  • Who's coordinating the event? 
  • How do I get more information?

Sadly, they Optimist Club has forgotten to include its own name, logo and contact information as the coordinator of the event. Not only does the flyer leave questions unanswered, the Optimist Club will miss out on the community awareness and goodwill that the event will generate.

Don't be shy, Optimists! Share the Optimist International logo as often as you can. This is just one example of how brand awareness starts with you.

October 8, 2013

Lead outside your comfort zone

Every year on October 1 Optimist International installs new officers throughout the organization. Optimist Clubs get new presidents, districts get new governors and the organization welcomes a new international president as its leader. The structure encourages a rebirth of energy and enthusiasm and puts fresh eyes and hands to work to carry on the mission of the organization.

There is always a challenge to turnover; namely, change. We are programmed to resist change, not because we don't want it, but simply because change is different. Change may require us to act differently and as creatures of habit, that may make us uncomfortable. That's why the leader must put her followers at ease with open communication practices. Transparency is the friend of transition. It helps our cause when people know not only what we are doing, but why we are doing it and it furthers our cause when they are able to talk about it without feeling threatened. 

Two-way symmetrical communication is not a new concept; however, it has never been as achievable as it is today with the social media tools that exist. I encourage every Optimist Club and community service organization to embrace and use them widely in order to really engage with their constituents and stakeholders alike. Let your followers know what you're doing and listen thoughtfully to their concerns and, yes, even their criticisms. Only then will the organization open itself up to truly diverse growth potential. 

There is one other caution that I want to share with those who have recently accepted new leadership roles. It's tempting to think that this year is your year to be president. News flash: it's not. This is simply another year in the organization's long history and it is your turn to lead the organization. You must lead it in a manner that sustains it, nurtures it, and helps it to grow. 

Our leaders can be inspirational and some inspire action from individuals because of a personal commitment. However, your job as a leader is to reach out to all and to inspire more than those with whom you are already connected. John Quincy Adams said, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." 

I challenge you to do more.  Lead outside your comfort zone; be a leader who inspires all. 


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