Scott Solomon had been a member of one of the three local Sertoma Clubs for 20 years. He helped run the annual Christmas party for hearing-impaired children. The club raised many for gifts, lunch and a visit from a Santa Claus who knew sign language.
"Without fail, every year was a heart-warming experience to watch the children communicate with Santa," said Solomon, an independent adviser with LPL Financial. "You can't imagine my dismay when, due to declining membership and aging and passing of our clubs' members we slowly crumbled down to one club with 13 or so members and really only four or five who were really doing all the work for the club. We tried a number of things to prevent it but ultimately decided to close the club."
In July 2011, Solomon was introduced to the Optimist Club of Columbus, now in its 65th year and with 27 members. The Optimists not only have taken over sponsorship of the Christmas party for hearing-impaired children, they also took on the Sertomas' primary fundraiser, the poinsettia sale.
"I am glad to say the Optimists were smitten with the party and took it on as a permanent project and the fundraiser as well," Solomon said. " We are typically all very busy people. But from what I have learned in my experience with civic clubs, it is these very busy people who make up the heart of the club and make it possible to achieve great things for the children of our community."
Greg Ellington, an attorney with Hatcher Stubbs Land Hollis & Rothschild LLP, put it this way:
"The truth is," said Ellington, one of the firm's lawyers who represent the Muscogee County School District, "when you stop thinking about yourself and all the complications in your life and you start thinking about somebody else, you generally feel better. And through our common action in helping others, you remember your place in the world. The world is changed by small, incremental steps, one at a time."
The world has more than 2,900 Optimist Clubs. Their mission: "By providing hope and positive vision, Optimists bring out the best in kids."
The Columbus chapter raises thousands of dollars for local organizations that support and empower youth, including Boys and Girls Clubs of the Chattahoochee Valley, Sara Spano Clothing Bank, If I Had a Hammer, Our House, Fore Kids Columbus and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Among the club's projects:
Poinsettia sale: All proceeds go to the Signing Santa Program, which allows hearing-impaired children to communicate with the jolly old elf. Last year, the club also used proceeds to buy 10 iPads for special-education classrooms. To order poinsettias, call Solomon at 706-718-9491.
Oratorical contest: Open to anyone younger than 19 who hasn't graduated from high school. Prizes include scholarship money and a chance to advance to the zone, state and national competition.
Night golf tournament: Traditionally held on the eve of the Georgia vs. Auburn football, proceeds go to the club's general fund to benefit various youth organizations.
Fore Kids Columbus Youth Golf Tournament: No entry fee to play for ages 18 and younger, who compete for trophies and prizes. All entrants receive door prizes and lunch. The proceeds from the sponsors benefit the Fore Kids Columbus program, which teaches life skills through golf skills.
Tulip sale: In time for Mother's Day, the flowers are long-life tulip bulbs that grow and bloom in a vase. Proceeds go to the club's general fund to benefit various youth organizations.
Backpack Buddies: This partnership with the Columbus High School Beta Club gives children from needy families nutritional food for the weekends.
Brett Willis, senior manager of credit administration, is the Optimist Club of Columbus president. He called the members "passionate about the needs of the children in our community. When we think of a child that has a disability, or a child that doesn't know whether he or she will have a meal over the weekend after leaving school on Friday, or a disease that commonly afflicts children for which there is a local champion trying to raise both awareness and funds for a cure, we want to help. We want them to know that they have in us an advocate for their cause."
Now that the holiday season is upon us, and it is time to count our blessings, who better than the Optimist Club to help us be optimistic? Willis graciously emailed the Ledger-Enquirer's questionnaire to the local chapter's members. We asked:
What makes you optimistic about your personal life, and how do you attain that outlook when you aren't?
What makes you optimistic about your local life, and how do you attain that outlook when you aren't?
What makes you optimistic about your global life, nationally and internationally, and how do you attain that outlook when you aren't?
Here are highlights from their responses.
Name: Vaughn Bray
Job: owner, Beltone Hearing Center
Personal optimism: "Faith is the cornerstone to my optimistic outlook. Being an active member of St. Paul UMC and being nurtured by the wonderful staff has allowed me to grow into an optimistic outlook on life."
Local optimism: "During the week, Wednesday lunch for the Optimist Club meeting has become my midweek shot of adrenaline that helps me finish the work week. Many diverse personalities gather for one common bond, serving the youth of the area, and fellowship, laugh and learn together. I always leave there renewed with faith and optimism."
Global optimism: "Without sounding like an ostrich with his head in the sand, I limit my exposure to the negative press. So much, too much, of what we hear and read is about poor human relations. It seems as if the quality of your relationships with others is directly correlated to your faith in God. The greater your belief, the better your relationships and the more optimistic your outlook."
Name: Stephanie Callahan
Job: controller, Automated Business Machines Inc.
Personal optimism: "I think that I'm naturally optimistic and know that as long as my mind, body and soul will allow me to do the things that make me happy, like helping where I can, I will always do what is best. And when I'm not in the best of situations, I'm quick to remember that nobody's going to do it for you, so why not just do it, and I normally catch that second wind and realize this was worth all the effort. Plus, I have a responsibility of setting an example for my son, who I hope will also be a mover and shaker."
Local optimism: "I honestly believe that we can all make a small difference if we try. But not everybody will sacrifice personal time, like instead of spending an hour on Facebook at night, I'd rather organize for a nonprofit event. So I guess my priorities in my local life are what make me optimistic about my local life. I understand that there are some people that don't have the resources to do a lot, but everybody can do a little -- if they really want to. I've had the honor of working with volunteers that share my passion to fix what we can when we can, and the end result is always rewarding and that is what renews my optimism.
Global optimism: "With all the negative headlines, I'm more drawn to the positive headlines when it comes to our world. If we dwell on the ugly, we're standing still. But if we can draw from that one incident where the underdog came out on top or the victim survived against crazy odds, I remind myself there is always hope and God is still in charge."
Name: Will Cliatt
Job: Self-employed real estate appraiser
Personal optimism: "My faith keeps me optimistic in my personal life. I attend St. Paul United Methodist Church. My mother could find good in almost any person or situation. I try to do the same thing."
Local optimism: "Looking at the things that are taking place in the community makes me optimistic about Columbus. Civic groups, like the Optimist Club, do an awful lot of good here without a need or desire for recognition. Columbus is so fortunate to have strong groups like the United Way, the American Cancer Society and the Alzheimer's Foundation. Those groups rely on volunteer efforts that rank high in the state for fundraising and local community programs to help those in need. The House of Heroes is an outstanding cause that is basically a volunteer run effort to help veterans and their families. It's also hard to think of community service in Columbus without the Servant Leadership Program at the Pastoral Institute and the John B. Amos Cancer Center coming to mind. In my mind, those are a couple of examples of ideas that became reality through optimistic, forward-thinking people."
Global optimism: "Globally, I'm not as optimistic. I worry that we're becoming a 'me' society. In the news, I rarely see someone stand up and say, 'It's my fault.' In most cases, someone is casting the blame in a different direction. I have to look at our military, our church leaders, our teachers, our public safety personnel, our doctors and nurses as well as those that serve others with the hope that they are doing what's best and that we're going to be OK. I guess it all comes back to faith."
Name: Beckie Crenshaw
Job: accounts receivable clerk, Peek Pavement Marking LLC
Personal optimism: "I'm normally a pretty happy, optimistic person. I am able to provide what I need in life. I have a supportive family and network of friends."
Local optimism: "There's so much drama everywhere. Working in collections can be depressing. I try to maintain a positive attitude -- even if it's that I'm positive I don't like something. Every week after the Optimist Club meeting, one of my coworkers asks me if I'm optimistic. It's our little joke, but the truth is, no matter how bad my day is going, after a meeting I'm always happy and upbeat. There's something about the members of this club. Everyone is always happy to see each other, always welcoming. We pick and tease like families do. We don't always agree, but we respect each other, our differences and our passions. When we work on a project, everyone pitches in to the best of their abilities. You always know you're going to laugh if the Optimists are around."
Global optimism: "I don't really focus on the national and international levels. If called upon to contribute, such as voting, I do, but my focus is really on the local level."
Name: Greg Ellington
Employer: attorney, Hatcher Stubbs Land Hollis & Rothschild LLP
Personal optimism: "I think, for most people, optimism in the face of adversity, which is when it really matters, is a conscious decision. There is no magic to it that I know of. I will confess that I frequently fail at being optimistic, but I keep trying to get there. In truth, I have every reason to be optimistic: I have a very supportive family. They love me, and they know I love them. Life is full of challenges. Knowing you can count on the love and support of your family and friends because they know they can count on you in return gives us hope that we can withstand life's inevitable obstacles."
Local optimism: "I have faith in the basic goodness of people. It's easy to become cynical watching or reading the news. Our community is full of smart, capable people who earnestly want to make a difference in the lives of others. Participating in the Optimist Club has given me an opportunity to learn about many of our area's charitable groups and to sometimes be part of their effort to help. Helping someone else is a great way to put your own problems in perspective or forget them all together."
Global optimism: "Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' I believe he was right."
Name: Ed Gaffney
Job: owner, Automated Door Ways Inc. & Overhead Door Company of Columbus
Personal optimism: "I am always grateful for what I have. I know that there are many people who have it way worse than me. I also tell myself tomorrow is another day. And I pray."
Local optimism: "I see people doing random acts of kindness. People in this community give of themselves. I believe there is more good than bad. I try to tell myself that negative people have always been there; we just report it more - social media, Internet, etc."
Global optimism: "I still believe that we live in the greatest country on Earth. We have the ability to start a business, get an education and pull ourselves out of poverty. I also believe that things eventually balance out and become the way they were intended to be."
Name: Mary Ann Griswold
Job: retired educator, Fort Benning Dependent Schools
Personal optimism: "I think being a teacher and being an optimist go hand and hand. As a teacher, you learn to look for the best in your students and always be encouraging toward their ambitions and goals. As an optimist, I can continue to encourage and mentor. Setting an example as an optimist is crucial in enabling others to see their great potential. The Optimist Club allows me to extend the spirit of optimism to children throughout our community."
Local optimism: "It's easy to be optimistic about life in our community. Every day it seems there are signs of new growth and yet the people remain friendly and helpful. My grandchildren from Mississippi say this would be their favorite place to live. Coming from youth, this is quite a compliment to our lifestyles.
Whenever I travel, I try to encourage people to come and explore our community and hospitality."
Global optimism: "Being an Army brat, I had the opportunity of living in Italy and Taiwan. I saw true poverty, and I saw people appreciative of even the smallest nicety. People are good."
Name: Jimmy Monfort
Job: owner, Radio Wholesale
Personal optimism: "I'm fortunate to have a great wife, son and daughter. I have to be optimistic because I've got to get those two through college."
Local optimism: "Me and my wife are both small business owners. It's a daily grind with taxes, insurance, etc. piling up. We have faith in the Lord to guide us in the right direction."
Global optimism: "I rarely watch or read anything about national or international news, since it's almost all negative."
Name: Scott Solomon
Job: independent adviser, LPL Financial
Personal optimism: "I did not enjoy being around negative people when I was young. So I guess I chose to be an optimist. I try to look for the best in friends and family. It can, of course, be hard at times. I don't really have a process for turning myself around when I am down. I never stay down for long. I believe your attitude and state of mind essentially boil down to an individual's choice."
Local optimism: "I moved to Columbus in 1985. Since then, community leaders seem to have made an effort to make Columbus a great place to raise a family and create or provide places to go and events that help bring people to and keep people in Columbus."
Global optimism: "I struggle with that right now."
Name: Laurie Wolfe
Job: owner and president, Puddle Jumpers Child Enrichment Center
Personal optimism: "The main thing that keeps me positive in my personal life is my 6-year-old daughter, Lily. I had her, against all odds, at the age of 46, giving me belief in miracles. She is my living, breathing miracle. Ever since having her, nothing seems that bad anymore. We have been very fortunate in that we haven't had to face any major obstacles in her life, but in everyday 'normal' life, the things that used to bug me or worry me or cause me major strife just aren't that important anymore. When most people my age are starting to think about winding down their lives and looking toward retirement, I have been given the gift of looking at life through my child's eyes. But on top of that, I get to experience life through the eyes of 150 kids every day at Puddle Jumpers."
Local optimism: "There are so many giving people and organizations, such as the Optimist Club, in our community. I always tell my employees, 'I don't want to hear what the problems are; I want to know what the solution is. If you think something should be changed, then tell me what you think needs to be done to change it. That doesn't mean that it will happen, but at least I have you thinking.'"
Global optimism: "I'm a little less optimistic globally than I am locally and personally. There are just so many things out of our control globally. However, I also see that there is a tremendous amount of good in the world as well. We'll never solve or have the answers to all of life's questions and problems, but we do have the tools and intelligence and abilities to make changes and impact our lives for the better."
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.
HOW TO JOIN
The Optimist Club of Columbus meets each Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at the Country Club of Columbus, 2610 Cherokee Ave.
Dues are $150 per quarter for an individual membership and $165 per quarter for a corporate membership, which includes lunch at the weekly meetings.
To contact the club, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.THE OPTIMIST CREEDPromise Yourself
To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.
To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.
To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.