For Jacob Reeves, 17, president of the Octagon Optimist Club of Blackfalds, which is geared towards youth, has become a way of life.
Reeves joined when he was in fifth grade, not overly sure of what he was getting himself into. He wanted to be a part of something and said in that time, he has developed a sense of community and learned a few worthwhile skills as part of the team.
“Mostly, I joined to get myself to do something. I didn’t really have the scope of what I’d be doing at the time. I think through the Club I’ve gained a lot of insight into society as it really is,” he said. “It helped me realize that volunteering is a big, important role in many people’s lives. There are a lot of things that we take advantage of, especially big events that people look forward too, that just don’t happen without volunteers. To have a group that exists specifically to organize these events and be dedicated to volunteering in a range of aspects is a really cool thing to be a part of, and it’s very important I think.”
Optimist Clubs around the nation work towards engaging youth in communities. The motto of Octagon is ‘Kids Helping Kids’, and they do this by organizing community events, volunteering with third party organizations and by developing relationships between youths of the Club.
The group is welcome to school-age children and meets several times throughout the month. The best way to get in contact with the Club is through their facebook page.
“We don’t just support the community around us (through volunteering time or organizing fundraisers) but we really do a lot of team-building within the Club as well,” he said. “We do some things like handing out baskets at the hospital around Easter, and we do fundraisers around town through bottle drives and penny drives and everything else that ends in drive. We also host events within our group, just for members. We go to the corn maze at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year, we usually go to West Edmonton Mall and things like that.”
Until this year, the Octagon Club was in charge of organizing the annual Fun Run event. The project has since been relinquished to the Abbey Centre, but was one example of how the group created community engagement.
As well, the group organizes a number of community dances at the Blackfalds Community Hall that give youth in the area a chance to get together and have some fun.
“Our initiative is to create events and start projects in which we involve the community, specifically the youth. Our more popular events are the dances we hold at the community hall here in town,” said Reeves.
“With those dances, the main things we do is organize chaperones, get volunteers to run the event and take turns calling people to try and get them on board. Usually everyone in the group comes out and we all just have fun. They aren’t fundraisers for us, they’re just a place for people to go and have fun and we know that people in the community look forward to them.”
The Octagon Club also offers their collective services as volunteers for community events. Members are taught the benefits and given the experience of volunteering, which Reeves said often carries forward after the youth outgrow the Club.
Reeves said that there are a few aspects of the Club and memories he’s held that have kept him involved for seven years.
“I think the most impactful event for me was the first one I did. We went to Cheemo Club Senior Centre in Blackfalds, and we played shuffleboard and cards with them. I think that had an impact on me because I realized how simple it is to do what we do, and how much of an impact it has on people. Not only did I enjoy it, but the people we were with enjoyed it a lot as well. That kind of gave me a drive to continue,” he said.
“Bottle drives actually stand out for me as well, oddly enough. After we go door-to-door, which is very tiring, we go back to wherever we’re hosting it and organize them all. It’s really neat to look at how our Club, along with the adult Optimist Club became intermingled and created a network of organizing and working as a team. Some of us are running bottles back and forth, some are bagging the bottles, some are cleaning – it’s like a machine.”
Reeves said there are several benefits for joining the Club that he’d like to emphasize to the community. “I think through the Club you learn how to communicate better, you learn how to deal with people, work as a team unit and you gain insight on how important volunteering is. You don’t just move from the Club and stop volunteering – you find other ways to continue that in your community.
“In the Octagon Club, you make valuable friendships, meaningful relationships and are involved in inspiring and important activities. Skills from interacting and being respectful and learning how to build good character all develop in the Octagon Club. Those all affect anything else you’ll do in life.”