Summit County Optimists: Providing kids with opportunity |

Summit County Optimists: Providing kids with opportunity

by Kathryn Corazzelli
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

Promise yourself to look at the sunny side of things. Be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own. Be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. These mantras are part of the creed of the Summit- Lake Dillon Optimists Club: a group that initiates programs for children in all fields of interest.

The local branch of Optimist International, the Summit-Lake Dillon Optimist Club was formed over 27 years ago. Mike Smith, owner of Dillon Ridge Liquors, was one of the founding members. The club has started programs – ranging from athletics and arts to scholastic endeavors – for youth in elementary, middle and high school. The clubs programs are free to any child who wants to join.

“Our mission is for every kid who wants to participate to participate,” said Ed Casias, president of the club.

Casias said the group provides programs so “the local youth can develop athletically, academically and intellectually.” He said the group teaches life lessons to children and encourages free thinking so kids can go on to lead successful lives.

Right now, the club sponsors elementary basketball, chess and volleyball. They also run oratorical and essay contests, provide recognition for outstanding students and give scholarships to high school seniors. The Optimists coordinate all activities and provide the equipment and uniforms.

Funding for the club is provided through bi-yearly fundraisers: a ski pass raffle and a summer solstice golf tournament. Passes for the raffle are donated by Vail Resorts, Arapahoe Basin, Copper and Loveland and fund the high school seniors’ scholarship. Casias estimates the club gives out $5,000 in scholarships a year. Tournament proceeds provide funding for optimist’s programs and activities.

This year, the program has 327 basketball players, 132 chess players, 75 volleyball players and 123 oratorical and essay participants. Casias estimates that a good portion of Summit County’s children participate in the program.

“There’s a good chance (optimists club) is touching eight out of every 10 kids in Summit County,” he said.

Encouraging local talent

In the Optimist’s membership luncheon on Wednesday, Casias talked to the group about the club’s benefits and the children’s “amazing talents.” He said he’s seen second and third graders present amazing stage presence during the oratorical and essay contests. He said he’s witnessed a room full of 100 children be “deadly quiet” during chess tournaments. He also noted the sportsmanship of the Optimist’s participants.

“I’ve never seen a kid come out crying,” he said. “It’s OK when they lose.”

He said the clubs makes children better students and better people.

Casias said a good portion of the current activities benefit elementary school children. He hopes to expand current programs within the middle and high schools.

“We need ideas as to what programs would be beneficial,” he said. “We also need help in getting them prepared and staffed to present a good product.”

One of the current programs active in the high school is the Octagon Club – an extension of the optimist club run by high school students. The Octagon Club coordinates and mans a volleyball program for fifth grade girls.

Casias said he has two children in the program. He also coaches basketball for the club.

Casias said his is thankful for the people in the community who volunteer their time, and allow the club to provide its services.

“Without them, we probably couldn’t do it,” he said.

He said the club is always looking for more volunteers so the club can expand on its current activities and programs.

“We hope to be able to continue to provide the high quality programs we already do, and we would love to provide more programs than what we already have,” he said. “Ideas are always welcome.”

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