Last summer, Connie and Tom Sohnleitner sent out a message asking others who were interested in “providing a positive vision to bring out the best in youth,” to join them for a coffee meeting. Little did they know, they said, that the organization would quickly become a reality in Sussex County.
Starting with six interested members, the Optimist Club of Sussex County — the first to form in Delaware — now has more than 30 members.
After several meetings — where the motto “Bringing Out the Best in Kids” outlining opportunities to help youth in our community was introduced — the Optimist Club of Sussex County became a reality on Nov. 6, 2017. Optimist International installed the Sussex County club with several Maryland Optimist Club members in attendance.
Immediately after installation, Optimist Club of Sussex County members began working with educators and students at local high schools, outlining the Optimist essay contest and youth-appreciation events.
The first major event was our sponsorship of the Optimist International Essay Contest. All Sussex County high school students were eligible to write an essay on the topic “Can Society Function without Respect?”
The Optimist Club of Sussex County received 57 entrants, and awarded medallions and scholarship money to the top three students, plus a chance for the first-place winner to advance to the district competition. The winners were honored at a membership dinner in February.
The Optimist International Youth Appreciation Day was held on April 24 in Georgetow, and high school students interested in the field of political science, government and law were invited to participate.
Students from Indian River, Laurel, Milford, Seaford and Sussex Central high schools attended the event. The students met with attorneys, the county administrator and a council member, attended a county council meeting and toured the administration center. After a lunch at the Brick Hotel, the students spent the rest of their day watching a trial in the Court of Common Pleas.
Promoting awareness of civic affairs, government, the law and patriotism was celebrated on April 16, when the Optimist Club of Sussex County presented Delaware State Police trooper and Cape Henlopen High School Resource Officer Cpl. Timothy Wolansky with the club’s Respect for Law Enforcement award. Wolansky was able to share important aspects of his job while working with children and his dedication to the betterment of all youth.
In May, Cape Henlopen High School launched Sussex County’s first Junior Optimist Club, which is a youth component of Optimist International. Sponsored by the Optimist Club of Sussex County, the Junior Club has more than 50 student members.
Cape’s Junior Optimists will concentrate on enhancing school morale as their first project and plan to develop a community outreach program to benefit the area’s homeless population.
Fundraising is a necessary component for any Optimist Club, and local restaurants, such at Nicola’s and the Greene Turtle, have allowed the club to use their locations for raising funds. The Optimist Club has also participated in the Ocean City Boat Show, sponsored by the Ocean City/Berlin Optimist Club, and local businesses, including the Rehoboth Car Wash and Waves Car Wash, have supported the organization.
The club has been working to provide opportunities to help promote optimism and bring out the best in youth, its communities and its members. To determine areas of need and to put their plans for youth into action, the group is continuing to seek out new members.
All Sussex County residents who would like to promote optimism and help children develop to their full potential are being invited to join the Optimist Club of Sussex County. Their first meeting this year will occur on Sept. 17, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., at J.D. Shuckers in Georgetown.
Future meetings will be held on the first and third Mondays of each month, starting in October. For more information, email Sussexoptimist@gmail.com or visit the Optimist International Website at www.optimist.org.