The Altamonte Springs South Seminole Optimist Club is celebrating a half-century of service to our community
With 50 years under their collective belts, members of the Altamonte Springs South Seminole Optimist Club look forward to another 50 years of serving the needs of the community – and beyond.
The local Optimist Club is one of more than 3,000 such Clubs in 20 countries under the Optimist International umbrella, which marked a milestone last year, as well, with its 100th anniversary celebration. Locally, the all-volunteer Optimist Club has 69 members. It was founded with 24 members in 1969.
“We enjoy giving back to the community through our programs,” says Steve Kranzberg, the current Club president and a longtime Optimist Club member who moved to Central Florida 11 years ago. The Altamonte Springs resident first joined the Optimists while living outside of St. Louis, Missouri, the headquarter city for Optimist International. “I started a new business, and I saw a way to give back.”
Steve adds that while Optimists focus mainly on the local community, members have begun to venture across continents. The Altamonte Springs-South Seminole Optimist Club, for example, has teamed up with the Accra Optimist Club of Ghana to exchange ideas and support one another.
Steve says the organization prides itself on having a strong emphasis on its Junior Optimist International Clubs, or JOIs for short. JOIs are groups of students who assist the Optimists with their activities. There are more than 15,000 JOI members worldwide. In fact, JOIs are considered the cornerstone of the Altamonte Springs-South Seminole Optimist Club.
“We manage about 35 programs a year,” says Steve. “Sometimes we will have three programs in a 30-hour time span. Gathering enough volunteers can be tough at times. Without the JOIs, we couldn’t do all of these programs.”
The success of the local JOI relationship is due in part to Mike Spalding of Winter Springs, a past president of the Altamonte Springs-South Seminole Club and its current Treasurer. Mike sponsored the first area JOI Club in 1991.
“I saw a lot of good things in the Club’s direction helping the youth,” says Mike, who retired after a 31-year teaching career at Milwee Middle School.
Mike says there are now four JOI Clubs associated with the local Optimist Club. Milwee’s Club is the largest with more than 50 members. Smaller JOI Clubs are now present at Lake Brantley High School, Winter Springs High School, and Lyman High School.
One of Mike’s favorite JOI-related endeavors is the Optimist Cheer Program, which provides food to Seminole County families at Thanksgiving. Last year, dozens of families were delivered turkeys along with all the fixings.
“It’s wonderful to see the kids’ reactions when they help deliver the meals.” Mike says. “I love not only seeing their faces, but also watching them grow by participating in community service programs.”
Besides the volunteer hours for various Optimist Club programs, JOIs help provide a flow of younger members. Like many volunteer clubs and organizations, recruiting new Optimists can be difficult. In fact, the total membership of Optimist International is almost half of what it used to be, now with 70,000 members worldwide.
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the Altamonte Springs South Seminole Optimist Club is funded by dues and donations. Meetings are held at Rookies Cantina in Longwood on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month at 7:00 p.m.
Plenty of Help to Go Around
These are some of the notable programs and local organizations supported by the Altamonte Springs South Seminole Optimist Club:
Advisory Board for the Disabled – Junior Optimist International members (JOIs) help this Seminole County nonprofit organization serve children with special needs by playing games with the kids and serving food.
BASE Camp Children’s Cancer Foundation – Optimist Club members, along with JOIs, entertain the kids at BASE Camp while their parents have a night out.
Mudwalk 5K – When funding was cut for Seminole County’s decades-old Environmental Studies Center, the Optimist Club helped organize the Mudwalk Spooky 5K Run/Walk to keep the center going.
Kids in Support of Soldiers (KISS) – Members volunteer for this nonprofit organization at fundraising events and help KISS pack care packages for military personnel overseas.
First Responder Program – JOIs put together care packages for each firefighter and police officer in Casselberry, Altamonte Springs, and Winter Springs. The packages contain a treat and a note about how much the first responders are appreciated.
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