On Tuesday, June 26, a small group of individuals took an oath to officially form a new service organization, the Rhinelander Area Optimist Club
The small group of 15 charter members is affiliated with Optimist International, a service organization that conducts more than 65,000 service projects annually, helping an estimated six million young people, and has more than 2,900 chapters around the world. The organization’s primary focus is on children, but their generous acts have touched many adults as well.
The new local chapter was the brainchild of Kevin Jenkins, the former Rhinelander mayor, who had a chance encounter with an active member of the Merrill Optimist Club, City of Merrill Police Chief Ken Neff, several months ago.
“I was talking with Ken, and he kept coming back to how much he enjoyed being a part of the Optimist Club, and how much their club does for that community,” said Jenkins. “We decided to put some feelers out in the community to see if there was interest in organizing a club here.”
After several informational meetings over the last two months, the group officially tallied the 15 members required to receive its charter. Dave Mannikko was elected the club’s first president Tuesday. Mannikko, a financial advisor at Boyd Financial Services, said the idea of joining the new Optimist Club appealed to him for several reasons.
“I’m a strong believer in the focus on youth and education on the local level,” he said. “Our youth are this community’s future, and groups like the Optimist Club are going to help them succeed.”
Jenkins noted that Optimists don’t pursue only a one or two programs to help area children, but cast their net wide.
“From everything I’ve learned, it’s not about having just one program to hang your hat on,” he said. “Optimist clubs have respect for law programs, internet safety programs, stay in school programs, sports programs and a lot more.”
“There’s just a lot of need to help the youth, and that’s where an Optimist Club steps in,” said Susan Van Dreser, and member of the Wausau Noon Optimist Club, and the District Governor for Optimist northern Wisconsin district. Van Dreser served as the master of ceremonies at Tuesday evening’s meeting at Boyd Finanical Services, swearing in the Rhinelander Area Optist Club charter members.
According to Mannikko, the price and flexibility of being involved in the Optimist Club was also appealing. Yearly dues of $100 are relatively inexpensive compared to other area service organizations.
“I’ve been interested in getting more involved with volunteer work in the community for awhile, but belonging to a service organization can get pretty expensive,” said Mannikko. “I look at this as an opportunity to be a part of something that’s on the ground floor in the Rhinelander area, and that’s pretty exciting.”
Jenkins said he hoped the organization’s inexpensive dues and flexibility would appeal to the community’s young professionals and those with young families. Jenkins and his wife, Jennifer, another charter member of the organization, welcomed their first child last week, and Jenkins said that the Optimist focus on youth development was appealing.
“I’ve been involved with other service groups like Rotary for several years, and I don’t mean to take anything away from them or the other service groups in the area, but each has a different, good community focus,” said Jenkins. “These groups should never really be in competition with each other, because they are all providing a service to the community.”
In addition to Mannikko being elected president, vice-president duties will be shared by Nicole Polkowski and Miriah Busche. Brett Aylesworth was elected as the organization’s secretary/treasurer. While he admits that the group is heading into somewhat uncharted waters, Mannikko is excited for the challenge of being the organization’s first leader.
“I’m thrilled that the other charter members of the organization thought enough of me to give me a shot at this,” said Mannikko. “I’m excited to get the ball rolling.”
The Optimists will next meet on Tuesday, July 10, at 5:30 p.m., at Boyd Financial Services. The initial plan is to meet weekly, and evaluate in a couple months. Club membership is open to both men and women over the age of 18. The current hopefuls welcome any and all who are interested in assisting the youth of the Rhinelander area.
For more information on joining the Rhinelander Area Optist Club, call Mannikko at (715) 499-3283, or email DMannikko@gmail.com.