By DAVID LLOYD JONES
SPIRIT OF GIVING: Students donate their time to collect food for the less fortunate at an area Wal-Mart.
A number of civic organizations try to give teenagers a key to success but the Kiwanis Club of Tulsa has gone directly to the source – the Key Club.
“It’s one of the best things we do,” enthuses Kiwanian Tom Black, who oversees the Key Club of Mingo Valley Christian school, an educational institution that goes from pre-school through high school. “We do it in a number of high schools and the results have been marvelous. The students get a real jolt of self-confidence and learn invaluable leadership lessons.”
Mingo Valley Christian faculty member Cathy Pennington, who has been helping the club since its inception four years ago, echoes Black’s sentiments.
“It has been an enormous success,” she says. “We get almost 25 percent of the eligible students as members and they have learned incredible lessons.”
A Key Club is, quite simply, an outreach program doing things for the community. The projects are dreamed up by the students, who also (with a little adult supervision) put together a plan to fulfill some perceived need in Tulsa.
Says Pennington, “Last year they decided to do gift baskets of food to be distributed through the John 3:16 mission so people who wouldn’t have a Thanksgiving Day feast could celebrate the holiday. The problem was how would they get the food?”
The students decided to take the direct approach. Positioning themselves outside the door of the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market at East 81st Street and Sheridan Avenue, they asked the patrons for donations of canned goods both as the customers went in and came out.”
“One of the boys collecting shopping carts from the Wal-Mart parking lot told us we were crazy; no one would give us anything,” says Pennington. “After we had collected 120 bags of food items he changed his mind. The people of south Tulsa were extraordinarily generous, particularly when it came to helping those less fortunate.”
That was simply one example of the Mingo Valley Christian Key Club contribution. Others included sending blankets to fire stations to aid persons burned out of their homes, or simply holding a bingo party for seniors in a retirement home with some of the members subbing as family members for elderly players who had no one visit.
So how does one become a Key Club member? Club president Caroline Conner says membership is easy – and not so easy.
“It doesn’t cost much, only $25, to join. The real value comes from the commitment of the member.
“Any one who is in high school, that is grades nine through 12, can join. The real contribution is made in time. It takes a lot of work and commitment. You can’t just come in if you’re not serious about community service. This attitude helps us get the serious kind of student; the sort of people we want.”
Becoming a Key Club officer is even more difficult. Students must have at least a 3.5 average on a four-point grade scale. This is not an organization for slackers.
A person joining a Key Club is evaluated on a point system. Every time they make a meeting, or participate in an activity, they are awarded a point. To stay in the club they must accumulate four points a month. They learn that bright ideas are nice, but each one needs planning and implementation of that plan. Armchair dreamers must rouse themselves to action.
“It really helps students with leadership skills,” says Pennington. “Not only do they learn to give back to the community that nurtured them, but it’s really neat watching the whole process work. It’s fun to watch them complete a project and watch their joy when it is completed successfully. To see that joy is priceless.”
So how do non-members look upon the Key Club? “I really think it’s one of the most prestigious clubs,” says Conner. “Besides, it’s a great way to hang out with all your friends while you’re doing someone some good.”
Success has begun to take some of the work out of finding worthy projects. Says Pennington, “once you get established as a club that gets things done you get calls and the projects start to come to you.”
Such news is music to the ears of Black and his fellow Kiwanis Club members.
“This is only one of the clubs we sponsor,” says Black, “and we are trying to add others all the time.
“It’s a great program. It teaches the students to use their imagination, to learn to solve problems, and hones their leadership skills.”
And how to the students feel about it?
“I love it,” says Conner.