‘Kids Helping Kids’ for 20 years at MHS
This school year marks the 20th year of the Junior Optimist Club at Merrill High School. Known until this school year as the Octagon Club, it was chartered at Merrill High School on Dec. 30, 1998.
The Merrill club has a current membership of 81 students, which is the largest it’s ever been. Merrill High School boasts more student members, in fact, than any other Junior Optimist Club in the Wisconsin North-Upper Michigan District.
The Junior Optimist Club is an extension of the Optimist Club International’s mission to support opportunities for youth in their local communities. The Junior Optimist motto is “Kids Helping Kids.”
“As Optimists, we help kids,” said Merrill Junior Optimist advisor Christi Stellingworth. “To have kids so into it, and see it grow, is really awesome.”
In the past, a Merrill High School staff member had served as the club advisor. For the first time this year, however, members of the Merrill Optimist Club are overseeing the Junior Optimists.
Stellingworth is joined by fellow Optimists Trina Delasky, and Rena Reissman in helping to guide the Junior Optimist club this school year. Amy Dinges is acting as the school staff advisor.
Club membership has been steadily growing, Delasky said, with additional students joining on a weekly basis during the school year. She credits the club’s leadership with making students want to get involved.
“This year it really exploded,” said Junior Optimist Club President Sierra Humphrey . “We have so many people volunteering; it really took off.”
While the adult advisors are there for support, the club officers are in charge of organizing and leading the club’s activities.
In addition to Humphrey as president, this year’s officers are Vice President Rachel Berg, Secretary Rylee Mrachek and Treasurer Anna Rydeski.
The Optimist Club provides a budget of $3,000 each year to the Junior Optimist Club. The student-led club decides how to use that money; whether for purchasing supplies for fundraisers or for community service projects.
The club’s most recent fundraiser, headed by Humphrey, involved selling bracelets with the messages “I helped a child in need” and “Kids Helping Kids.” At $2 each, the club sold 378 bracelets, enough to raise $810 for the Christmas Spirit project that provides Christmas gifts for Merrill area children in need.
“Each officer holds a fundraiser and can chose if the funds go back into our account or go to something special like Christmas Spirit,” Humphrey said.
The club has already been involved in 12 activities this school year: setting up a craft table at Breakfast with Santa, raking yards for Make a Difference Day, ringing bells for the Salvation Army, supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters, helping with the Kate Goodrich Harvest Dance, walking dogs and socializing cats at the Lincoln County Humane Society, raising funds for Christmas Spirit, helping with the St. John cookie walk, assisting students with Christmas shopping at Jefferson Elementary School, helping with the football banquet at St. John and selling pumpkin treats as a fall fundraiser.
Volunteerism is a big part of the Junior Optimist mission. As the first semester comes to a close, Merrill High School’s Junior Optimist club members have already logged well over 400 volunteer hours.
The opportunity to give back to her community is what drew Humphrey to the Junior Optimist Club. A senior at Merrill High School this year, Humphrey has been involved since she was a freshman.
“I love to volunteer,” she said. “I volunteer all the time at my church.”
Her brother was vice president last year and her sister had joined the club last year as a freshman. All three siblings also are involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Humphrey wants her fellow students to view Junior Optimists as more than something to pad their college applications.
“I want people to see that not only does it look good on your resume, I want them to have fun and see what they’re doing in the community when they volunteer; how it’s changing the community,” she said.
It’s not all work and no play for Merrill’s Junior Optimists, though. The club held a holiday party in December, featuring a white elephant gift exchange.
The Merrill Optimist Club awards two $1,800 Club Service Scholarships each year to senior Junior Optimist members. Key criteria include dedication and service activities.
Junior Optimist International is an all-inclusive youth organization sponsored by Optimist International. The organization embodies the Optimist Creed. There are over 15,000 Junior Optimist members in more than 500 clubs throughout the world.
The Merrill High School club meets monthly at the school during students’ third hour flex period.