Kiwanis Key unlocks young potentialDebbie Griffin photo The Kiwanis Key club formed at the high school last year and picked up lots of momentum this year. Its partial membership is pictured here, sitting left to right: Alyssa Casey, Jaci Casey, Mary Butler, Maddy Durhman, Tara Frey, Kayla Swanson, Chloe Hansen, Tessa Coggio, Laura Anderson, Mara Dietrich, Katie Berndt, Ellen Clauss, Annissa Lesmeister and Adam Huppert. Left to right standing: Aaron Anderson, Dan Schraufnagel, Andy Yelken, Chris Scott, Brian Gregg, Tyler Slowiak, Jacob Anderson, Phil Peichel and Jordan Rowan.
The junior Kiwanis club began forming last year, born from the idea of creating some kind of service club at the high school. That idea evolved into the Kiwanis Key Club, where the momentum grows.
Officers of the club and seniors at the high school Tessa Coggio and Katie Berndt said they liked the idea of forming a club in which it would be easy for people to “just get in and serve.”
The girls say the school offers many opportunities, but some clubs are specialized or have an application or interview process.
Coggio likes that it’s easy to join.
“That’s what intrigued me about Key Club,” said Coggio.
She and Berndt say last year found the group organizing, spreading the word and recruiting members. Now the club has grown to 30 students and many activities.
Club members organized a gift-giving tree (pictured) -- from which students take an ornament and buy gifts for the needy family listed on it. Berndt and Coggio said none of the gifts cost more than $20 and most are for teens.
Berndt said, “The ornaments were made by the CATS.”
CATS stands for Connecting All Together Socially, a group focused on pairing special-needs students with others from the student body for social activities.
Kiwanis Key Club members will also work the concession stand during River Dazzle events after Thanksgiving. That way, they can raise money to buy more gifts for families in need.
Coggio and Berndt recall how much the club members enjoyed visiting the Kinnic Long Term Care nursing home last year and singing.
Even though most of them aren’t “good singers,” the nursing home residents seemed to enjoy their short concert.
The two club leaders say the group plans to take a bus -- made possible by a grant -- to the Twin Cities to package food for the Feed My Starving Children program.
They recall the club-sponsored Random Acts of Kindness Month. Key Club members set up a special box in which people could write down the random acts of kindness they’d seen or done or maybe wanted to do.
All the acts got pasted on the wall, and say Berndt and Coggio, some of them got shared over the loudspeaker.
The club also raised $200 with a bake sale to help a lady who runs Helping Hands for Pets, a program to assist economically challenged families keep their pets. Another of its projects found members chaperoning a sock hop for younger kids and working at an elementary school carnival.
The girls say the Key Club has done other activities like cleaning up trash from the highway roadside and going trick-or-treating for UNICEF.
Coggio said, “Anywhere in the community they need volunteers, we’re happy to help.”
Berndt and Coggio say they’ve now begun having officers-elect shadow current officers so that the student-led club has continuity from year to year.
The new organization finds benefit in having a large network of fellow members. Worldwide, the Kiwanis Key Club has 250,000 members in 5,000 clubs in 30 different nations.
Local members said they haven’t yet talked with members in other countries, but they have been in close contact with their “very active” counterpart in Eau Claire.
The overall club began in 1925 and evolved from a vocational-guidance program. Young members pay $15 in dues and are expected to give about 50 hours of service per year. It emphasizes student-led leadership, service, character and more. The local club leaders say they appreciate having the Kiwanis Club and its longevity behind them and are seeing interest in the junior club grow.
Berndt said, “We want to give a lot of opportunity for leadership.”
Coggio added, “It makes me feel good when people ask me, ‘So what is this Key Club all about?’”
The girls say the club: Meets during high school Focus period twice a month; has an advisor, Taryl Graetz, who helps a lot; is open to any students in high school; and welcomes anyone who’d like to join or begin shadowing to be a leader.
Susie Swenson serves as president of the 27-year-old local Kiwanis Club. The River Falls civic service club helped start the Key Club last year as well as the Greater Hudson Kiwanis Club this summer.
People will see Kiwanis out serving at community events like River Falls Days and River Dazzle; cleaning up area roadsides and ponds; holding a community garage sale; adopting families for the holidays; giving scholarships to high school seniors; and sharing funds for other community causes like the Free Clinic of Pierce and St. Croix Counties and River Falls Food Pantry.
In the past year, the 20 or so local Kiwanis have collectively raised and given away almost $12,500.