Roots of Optimism

The oldest tree in Frisco, firmly rooted in history, still reaches its vast branches out toward the surrounding community – emblematic of the shelter, peace and connectedness of our community in spite of today’s frenetic life. Frisco’s people, also rooted in the history of this growing community, unknowingly do the same. Time and time again, they reach out into their community to provide shelter, comfort, aid and peace in more ways than there are leaves on that big old tree.

Recognizing this strong sense of community and volunteerism, as well as the incredible rate of growth in the Collin County area, a well-established volunteer organization with its own strong roots and sturdy branches decided to propagate in this area.  

On May 1, 2014, The Optimist Club of Collin County quietly took root with 26 charter members. It quickly grew to 107 members. With diverse ages and professions, the members have one main goal: giving back to children in the community.

According to Bron Austin Deal, the governor of the North Texas District of Optimist International, “For every one Optimist, we reach 34 children.” In 1987, Optimist International also revealed that Optimist efforts reached 5 million young people each year.

However, the rippling impacts over all the years are just too expansive to calculate.  

According to Optimist International, in the early 1900s, grass-root volunteer clubs began forming in the N.Y. area to address the societal challenges caused by industrialization and urbanization. They took the name “Optimist Club” to express the desire for a positive outlook in the face of all these problems.

The official inception of Optimist International occurred on June 19, 1919, in Louisville, Ky., with William Henry Harrison, a descendant of the ninth president of the U.S., elected as the president of the newly-formed Optimist International. Today, there are Optimist Clubs all across the world, with more than 125 in Texas, including our very own Optimist Club of Collin County, or “OC3,” as it is affectionately called. If you are looking to expand your community impact, OC3 has many branches of opportunities available.

LovePacs

One of the club’s largest service project partnerships is with LovePacs, and entire families have the opportunity to get involved. Lovepacs serves children on the free and reduced lunch program through area public schools in Aubrey, Austin, Cy-Fair, Frisco, Little Elm, Plano and Lewisville. The program aims to serve children during extended school breaks, when food they receive from the local backpack program is not enough. “We pack boxes of food for children on school lunch programs for extended breaks,” Mr. Deal explains. “We make sure they have food when they are not in school, specifically during Thanksgiving, Christmas and Spring Break.”

OC3 has opportunities to volunteer throughout the entire LovePacs process, such as logistics, donating food, packing LovePacs and more.

CASA

The club also partners with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). This program supports and promotes court-appointed volunteer advocacy so abused or neglected children are provided with safety and have the opportunity to thrive. Their biggest service project for this organization, a Christmas toy drive, offers volunteer opportunities throughout the process, as well.

Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children

In addition, Mr. Deal hopes The Optimist Club of Collin County will offer volunteer hours at the new Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Frisco, when it opens. The new facility, which will be located at the corner of Lebanon Road and the Dallas North Tollway, will serve outpatients with clinic visits and day surgery. He mentions that the club is always open to partnering with other organizations whose common goal is to help children in the community. “We can always help with a project where man hours are needed,” he explains. While membership is open to anyone who is 18 or older, entire families have many opportunities to volunteer together.

Flag Program

The Optimist Club of Collin County offers a fun and easy way to show support for America.  Based on orders received, Optimist Club volunteers deliver and set up flags in requested yards.  Mr. Deal says these are big flags on a substantial pole, with a permanent, ground-level hole in the yard (which is capped when not in use). A $50 order per year covers five holidays ($10 per holiday). To place a flag order, or to volunteer, visit the group’s website.

Junior Optimist International

Optimist International also offers a Junior Optimist International (JOI) program, for children in kindergarten through twelfth grade. “We currently do not have a Junior Program in Frisco, but we do have one that is being developed in the Lewisville district, and we have one that is being built in the Plano School District,” Mr. Deal states. He would love to see a JOI program embedded in the schools of the Frisco ISD, as well. Children helping other children in the community eventually comes full circle and creates a legacy of compassion. Having been a member of JOI himself, and a scholarship recipient, Mr. Deal is quick to explain how the Optimist Club can profoundly impact a child’s life – especially his. The passion behind his current leadership role in Optimist International, and their mission of helping children, is contagious, as Mr. Deal emphasizes how Optimist International’s three scholarship contests can changes lives.

The Optimist International Scholarship Contests

Established in 1928, the Oratorical Contest is the longest-running program sponsored by Optimist International. Designed to promote experience in public speaking, the program gives entrants the opportunity to win up to $22,500 in college scholarships. The contest begins at the nearest Optimist Club, where entrants present a four to five-minute speech on a specific topic. The topic for 2016-2017 is “What the World Gains from Optimism.”  

Winners at the club level move on to compete at a zone level, a district level (for a $2,500 scholarship), a regional level (for a $5,000 scholarship) and a world level (for up to $22,500 in scholarships, including previous district and regional awards).  

Last year, Dawt Sung, the oratorical contest winner from The Optimist Club of Collin County, placed fourth in the world competition. Just shy of winning a world scholarship for first through third place, she still came home with $7,500 in scholarships, priceless experiences and a whole lot of Tic Tacs (OC3’s add-on, tongue-in-cheek bonus for each amazing win). Deeply impacted by the experience, she is now working to start the first JOI club in her school district.

The Essay Contest, established in 1983, gives participants experience in writing and critical thinking by requiring a 700 to 800-word essay on a specific theme, such as this year’s topic, “Chasing Optimism in the Face of Challenges.” Competition starts at the local club level and progresses up to the final district level for a $2,500 college scholarship.  

The Communication Contest for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (CCDHH) is designed to give students, who have certified hearing loss of 40 decibels or more, increased confidence and skills in signing or orating in front of an audience. Participants can compete up to a final district level for a $2,500 scholarship. The 2016-2017 topic is “What the World Gains from Optimism.”

“This is a contest that not a lot of people compete in,” Mr. Deal explains. “It is a great opportunity that a lot of people miss, because they do not know it exists.”

To enter any of these scholarship contests, Mr. Deal recommends referring to the Optimist International website (optimist.org/programs.cfm) for rules, guidelines and application information.

For more about The Optimist Club of Collin County and its volunteer opportunities, including contest entry evaluation, visit optimistofcc.com.

Amy Richmond is a writer who relishes faith, family, intriguing conversations and inspiring words. She wishes time could be saved in a bottle because one lifetime is not enough.