Elkhorn Optimist Club provides kids a way to give back
Photos by Christopher Tierney
To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.
To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.
The first three lines of the Optimist International creed embodies what optimist clubs around the world set out to achieve, which is to bring out the best in children, their communities, and in themselves. Just a year ago, two West Omaha residents, Andrea Abrahamson and Jason Gustafson, revitalized the mission in Elkhorn, starting the Elkhorn Optimist Club.
Andrea and Jason were approached by members of other local Optimist chapters, and even though they weren’t familiar with the organization, they both quickly agreed to come on board. “I’m very youth oriented, and I wanted to create volunteer opportunities right in Elkhorn that my kids could do so they could feel like they’re helping take care of their community,” Andrea said.
Having grown up in a small town, Jason wanted to also create opportunities for kids to have community-wide sports events. “We were in a unique position to really make this organization what we thought would best benefit the Elkhorn community,” he said. The two recruited friends and colleagues to join the new chapter and started considering the first projects to implement. Their goal is to be a group of “working hands” that allow the community to excel in kindness and community. “If we can fundraise to help someone’s idea come to life, or bring opportunities for families to come together in service of our community, that is what we are all about,” Andrea said.
One of the first ones they brought was a punt, pass, kick event, which are held by chapters across the country. More than 120 kids participated locally, and one of the contestants, a 12-year-old girl, made it to both the state and regional competitions. Volunteers scored each contestant’s punt, pass, and kick, then turned them in for a ranking. “All of the Nebraska Optimist chapters are going to participate across the state this year,” Jason added. This year’s event will be held in September at Elkhorn High School.
The organization’s most recent project has been raising money to purchase a Buddy Bench for each Elkhorn elementary school. Buddy Benches have received national attention as a way to encourage kids to show caring and compassion for others. Last year, an Elkhorn family purchased one for Fire Ridge Elementary when their autistic son often found himself alone at recess. “We heard their story and decided we wanted to place one at all of the Elkhorn elementary schools,” Andrea said. “It’s not about placing a bench on a playground; it’s about providing a tangible tool that can teach kids about inclusion, kindness, and community responsibility.”
With buy-in from the Elkhorn Schools Foundation, Student Services, and school principals, the Elkhorn Optimist chapter started fundraising for the $5000 needed to buy the 11 Buddy Benches. They sold poinsettias at Christmas, had fundraiser nights with local restaurants, asked local businesses to donate, and held a breakfast the Elkhorn Eagles Club, where Grace Hanson (see Our Youth feature) sold her homemade cupcakes and donated all proceeds toward the Buddy Benches.
Other programs they’ve started include a partnership with the Christian Outreach Program of Elkhorn (COPE) to give kids and families volunteer opportunities at its food pantry. They also have honored students of the month in which local schools identify kids who may not be recognized for typical achievements or have difficulties due to health or family issues, but whose spirits never waiver. They are recognized with an optimist creed plaque and awarded a free pizza from Sam & Louie’s.
The Elkhorn Optimist Club currently has 14 members and is actively looking for more members. They are also always looking for ideas for their next project. “Our vision for the chapter is to have representatives from all school-aged families, with everyone working together to make passion projects comes to life,” Andrea said. “Elkhorn is a strong community, and if we teach each other to prioritize to take care of each other, it will lead to a more