As the Charles Town Kiwanis Club marks its 88th year of service to the youth of our community, the club’s longevity is all the more remarkable considering the challenges it has faced in the last several years. The most recent concern is the loss of revenue from ice cream sales at the spring Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival, which is no longer held.
Club members hope to replace that loss with a successful rummage and yard sale Saturday at the Charles Town Walgreens just off U.S. 340 N. as well as sales of ice cream treats at the Independence Day fireworks celebration July 5 at Sam Michaels Park.
Most of the money raised by the Charles Town Club supports its youth programs, especially the project for which the club is best known, Santa’s Toy Shop. Through this program, parents experiencing financial stress are selected by the Community Ministries to visit the Toy Shop and select at no cost several gifts for their children so that they too will enjoy a happy holiday.
Last year the Toy Shop served about 700 children at a cost of more than $18,000. The club could not have met this challenge without its donor network of local businesses, municipal contributors, civic organizations and individuals.
Another and perhaps the most serious of the Kiwanis concerns, which it shares with almost all service organizations today, is the maintenance and growth of its membership. As the population of Charles Town has grown, so have the needs of its youth. Continuation of the club’s youth service programs and supporting fundraising projects depends on hours of member commitment each month.
The club has taken measures to make membership more attractive, including holding just two meetings per month and the adjustment of its membership fee in exchange for project participation. However, the most difficult hurdle to attracting new members is recognition and understanding of the club’s name and purpose.
It is believed that the word Kiwanis is derived from a Native American saying, “Nunc Kee-Wan-is” meaning “to make oneself known.” The word was adopted by a Detroit service club and was chartered under the name Kiwanis by the state of Michigan exactly a century ago.
Due to the strength of the organization’s constitutional objectives, Kiwanis Clubs multiplied throughout the nation and eventually throughout the world. Today, international Kiwanis membership, counting adult and youth clubs, is just shy of 600,000. Charles Town’s club was organized in 1926 and over the years has established an impressive legacy of service and more than a few unusual accomplishments.
Two early Club projects were sponsorship of the Shenandoah River bridge construction so that residents east of the river could have easier access to the rest of Jefferson County, and then advocacy for a highway from the bridge to the top of the mountain.
When Virginia was reluctant to build four miles of road on their side of the mountain, Charles Town Kiwanians partnered with the Leesburg (Va.) Rotary Club to persuade the Virginia Commissioner of Highways to finish the job.
In 1931 the club purchased 126 acres of land for a Boy Scout camp but sold the property after a Scout camp consolidation. The proceeds were donated to a new hospital. Fourteen years later the Club sponsored another new hospital for which the cost, $400,000 was underwritten by Kiwanis member R. J. Funkhouser.
Deeper into the Depression, the club managed to raise money to grade the high school athletic field, produce a motion picture about Charles Town and, with the assistance of the Public Service Commission, persuade the telephone company to install modern French telephones instead of citizens having to rely on the old crank phones then in use.
In the decades that followed, the club sought to create a recreational area in Charles Town. This effort led to the development of Jefferson Memorial Park and construction of its swimming pool. With encouragement from club member Mickey Johnson, the Charles Town Kiwanis sponsored a Jefferson County Little League team and built a baseball field behind Jefferson High School for Little League use.
To this day, a Leetown Science Center Fishing Derby, a program initiated by club member Dr. Rocco Cipriano, and conducted annually by Van and Beth Ott, provides a morning of catch-and-release fishing for developmentally disabled children.
In 1966, a Charles Town Kiwanis member, James Moler, was elected to the presidency of Kiwanis International. That year in Paris, Moler and his wife Katharine had the unique experience of welcoming to the Kiwanis organization the first international member club.
Imagine, a small-town educator and his wife, a teacher at the tiny Millville school, traveling the world to represent an international organization of some 300,000 members. What an honor for Charles Town.
Today, the Charles Town Kiwanis Club takes pride in its commitment to education – kindergarten through college. For many years the club has sponsored high school Key Clubs and awarded scholarships to graduating seniors. The club has contributed to the Shepherd University Foundation since its inception in 1966.
Kiwanis’ Bring-Up-Your-Grades award programs are quarterly events at several Charles Town elementary schools. Ranson Elementary has added to its program the David Fuller Award for Achievement in honor of that club member’s dedication to the school.
A very special highlight of the year for Kiwanis recognizes outstanding middle school students, to encourage them to achieve their educational goals.
This year at the suggestion of Kiwanian Ralph Lorenzeti, the club took on a new venture, an investment in the future of children assigned by the court to an after-school program. In addition to a cash donation from the club, Kiwanian Lana England donated a generous amount of toys and games for the children’s enjoyment.
Throughout the Charles Town Club’s existence, many mottos have been used to define the Kiwanis objective: “Children, Priority One,” “One Child, One Community at a Time” and “We Build,” to name a few. They all speak of service to children and leadership development for the community. Essentially they speak to the future.
If you are inspired to help, we welcome your membership in the Charles Town Kiwanis Club. We promise you opportunities to help children in need and the satisfaction of building bridges to the future.
The Charles Town Kiwanis Club meets at 6 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of the month at Hollywood Casino’s Epic Buffet. Make yourself known, and bring a friend.
– Penny Fuller is the vice president of the Charles Town Kiwanis Club