Optimist club maintains diverse focus


photo by Trinity Turlington

JOOI members dance with the attendees at a Sunshine Dance.

Club sponsor Teresa Decio looks around the room during the weekly meeting to see members bent over desks drafting up letters for veterans and families of soldiers.

From volunteering at 5k’s to organizing dances and holding drives, the Junior Optimist Octagon International club fits as many volunteer events as possible within each month in an endeavor to make a difference while maintaining a variety of people helped.

As a JOOI club, the school’s chapter falls under Optimist International and is one part of a larger body that spans worldwide. To guarantee that as many people as possible are helped, this school’s JOOI works alongside other local divisions, including Oviedo High School’s chapter, local middle school JOOI clubs and the Oviedo-Winter Springs adult Optimist club for events throughout the year.

According to Optimist International’s website, the goal and mission of all Optimist clubs is for members to “work each day to make the future brighter by bringing out the best in children, in their communities and in themselves.”

One recent event includes the Sham Rock N’ Run on March 5 by Hope Helps to benefit Central Florida’s homeless. Another favorite is the Cheering for Caitlyn 5k in memoriam of Caitlyn Downing, a girl who passed away from brain cancer, with proceeds donated to The Children’s Brain Tumor Project through Children’s Brain Tumor Family Foundation.

“It’s beautiful to see everyone come together from the community in support of a special girl [as well as] raise money for a great cause,” president Madilyn Maschhoff said.

Aside from 5k’s, members also participate in the local community through events like the Taste of Oviedo on March 12. Members volunteered in a variety of locations including the Kids Area and the Celery Cook-off.

Another method of volunteering is writing letters to a plethora of people including soldiers and their families. Most recently, members wrote multiple personalized notes, each to be delivered for Valentine’s Day at various locations.

One constant event for JOOI volunteers is the Sunshine Dances, a series of monthly, Friday night dances for teens and adults who are physically or mentally challenged. Generally hosted at Riverside Park, these dances allow special needs kids a chance to have their own fun event, Decio says. Each dance has a different theme that can appeal to anyone within the large range of ages in attendance.

“Honestly, our favorite thing is that we can go there and know that they’re all going to have the best moods ever,” vice president Trinity Turlington said. “No matter how bad of a day you’ve had, they will all make you feel warm and loved [even if] you might not have even met any of them before.”

The upcoming dance is the highlight of the series with a Hollywood themed prom. The dance will be hosted on campus in the cafeteria at 5 p.m. on March 18 and, to make the upcoming dance more significant than previous dances, the dress code is formal. JOOI, in collaboration with other local chapter’s, formed a dress and tux drive five years ago at the Oviedo mall as a way to ensure that special needs kids do not have to buy a new dress or tux.

Looking toward the future, Decio hopes to see more work with the elderly through visits to their homes or handwritten letters.

“I feel that’s a major need in our society everywhere,” Decio said. “All places have a tendency to neglect elderly people and it’s really sad.”

Maschhoff would also like to see more involvement with the homeless community in Central Florida, while Turlington is interested in working with education through fundraising.

“They have such a generous spirit and they show up every week and they’re willing to just do any amount of work, no matter how much there is to it because they know it’s helping someone,” Decio said. “It’s really, really special to be part of that.”