Optimist Club providing for county youth for more than 45 years

The Huntington Chapter of the Optimist Club has focused its efforts on providing for the youth of Huntington County for over 45 years.

The first official Optimist Club was formed in Buffalo, NY, in 1911, when citizens started to form voluntary organizations to address the needs of their communities.

The name "optimist" was used to define the group's expression of its desire for a positive outlook in the face of all problems.

Momentum for a nationwide Optimist movement began when the Optimist Club of Indianapolis was formed in May 1916.

"I believe the club has a positive effect on the community through all the pro-grams that are either sponsored or supported."

Envisioning a nation-wide organization, founders of the Indianapolis club moved ahead in the summer of 1916 to start Optimist Clubs in many other major cities.

The Huntington Chapter was first started in 1960, with Gene Snowden as the first president of the organization.

Current President Rob Paolillo says the club's mission has not changed since it first began.

"We focus on programs that benefit youth," Paolillo states. "As part of our motto says, ‘Friend of Youth,' that's where all our support goes."

According to the club's Web site, Optimist clubs are serious about "Bringing Out the Best in Kids" and doing their part through community service programs.

Each club is autonomous and run by members in their community, who have the flexibility to serve the youth of their community in any way they see fit.

Internationally, Optimists, as members are called, conduct 65,000 community service projects each year, spending $78 million in their communities.

Optimist programs positively affect 6 million kids each year, the site notes.

Paolillo adds that the Huntington chapter has been involved in numerous projects, many of which are still supported and sponsored by the club today.

"We sponsor the annual Miss Huntington scholarship program," he says. "The program provides scholarship opportunities for contestants."

Additionally, Paolillo says, the club awards three $1,000 college scholarships to Huntington County youth.

Among the other programs the club sponsors or supports are the Tri-Star Basketball skills competition, for youth ages eight through 13, and the "Clothe A Child" program, which helps needy families to buy clothes for their children before the start of the school year.

There is also an "Optimist Youth of the Month," one each from the middle and high schools.

Teachers and counselors at the respective school nominate the monthly youth Optimist.

"We also partner with Lincoln Elementary, in the ‘Lincoln Buddies' program," Paolillo states. "The program partners members with first-graders to assist with after school help."

Paolillo adds that sometimes the aid goes beyond schoolwork.

"Sometimes they just need someone to talk to for a while," he states. "By listening, our members not only build relationships with the students, but are also representatives of what good roles models should be."

Paolillo states that most of the club's efforts is focused in the local community.

"The Optimist Club also makes donations to several local charities," says Paolillo. "Among them are the American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Club and the ‘Respect for Law' camp, and the club sponsors sports teams through Huntington County basketball and the PAL."

In a more public setting, the Optimist Club participates in the Pioneer Festival each year by having a pork roast.

Paolillo states that club meetings provide members with relevant information.

"Gene Snowden and Jamie Groves are our program directors," he says. "They put together programs which allow us to hear from different groups, government and state leaders and learn about military programs."

Paolillo says the approximately half-hour program allows a question and answer session for members to gain more information.

"We are always open to helping other organizations and agencies and these programs allow us to hear from some of them," he states. "We then see if there is a need that we are able to meet."

The club has 55 active members and is comprised of a cross-section of Huntington County, he adds.

"We have members of all different backgrounds and professions," Paolillo states. "We have community leaders as well as business owners and professionals."

Membership to the club is straightforward and simple, Paolillo says.

"If anyone is interested, we invite him or her to contact a member and visit one of our meetings to see if the club is something they want to be involved with," he states. "There is also an application process, but the first step is simply coming out."

Paolillo states that members believe that optimism is a philosophy of life.

"I believe the club has a positive effect on the community through all the programs that are either sponsored or supported," he says. "In the youth, it helps to encourage development and instill a sense of service by giving back to your community."

The Optimist Club meets every Thursday, at noon, at the North Star Civic Center, located at 2824 Theater Ave., Huntington.

To contact Paolillo, call 356-3318.