- » Schaumburg native finds meaning in Kenya
- » Reporter gets crack at 'Spelling Bee'
- » Girl raises funds for brain tumor clinic
- » You're never too old for nature
- » Children and horses: It's a natural
- » Harper College director studies abroad with Fulbright
- » Gardeners get back to DuPage Co. roots
- » Mt. Prospect cyclist raises $17,000 for charity
- » Congregation starts garden to help others
- » Kids teach South Elgin patients chess
- » Astronaut Sally Ride promotes math, science
- » Itasca Giving Garden having best year yet
- » Lacking work, firm tackles service projects
- » Anonymous gift spurs children's drive
- » Teacher's methods draw national attention
- More from Eileen O. Daday
True to their name, members of the Des Plaines Optimist Club deliver good news wherever they go.
Its 55 "optimists" who live or work in Des Plaines make it their mission to bring out the best in kids. Their slogan is "friend of youth."
Take this summer, when club members partnered with the Des Plaines Park District to host five movies in the park. They started with the baseball classic, "Sandlot," and built up to "Wizard of Oz" last month, that drew more than 200 people.
Their most recent project wrapped up at the end of August. After launching a first "school backpack campaign," members filled a sport utility vehicle with a brand new school supplies.
They included boxes of pens, pencils, colored pencils, markers, glue sticks, rulers, scissors, notebook paper, spiral notebooks, assignment notebooks, three-ring binders, pencil cases and backpacks.
They delivered their supplies to Plainfield Elementary School in Des Plaines, where they have a unique mentoring relationship already established.
"Supply lists get longer every year, and families are asked to contribute more and more," says Optimist Ruth Del Re of Palatine. "In this economy, it's difficult for parents to afford new supplies for all their children. We thought everyone deserves to get off to the right start with the right supplies."
Besides their own members, the club also received a generous donation from Runco Office Supply, a privately owned company in Elk Grove Village.
Principal Rene Carranza was thrilled with the donations and now makes them available to students as needed.
"The supplies were distributed first by teachers who identified a need in the first couple of weeks," Carranza says, "to students who were missing supplies, or had torn or no backpacks. Students also can approach me or their teacher with their needs. We have told them through our TV studio announcements to let us know about any needs they may have."
At Plainfield School, more than half of its students come from low income families, yet according to state education officials, more than 60 percent met or exceeded reading and mathematics standards last year.
Based on their academic performance, Plainfield School was named an Illinois Spotlight School last year by the Illinois Board of Education.
Turns out, the Optimist Club played a low-profile roll in heightening their academic skills.
Every year, students from the school compete in the Optimist International Oratorical Contest, which Carranza encourages.
He and the Optimists meet with students on Friday nights during the months leading up to the March contest to help them hone their speeches, while helping them relax and shore up their delivery.
"When some of the students start, they can barely look us in the eye," Del Re says. "Then, the weeks of practicing and memorizing start to pay off as students become more assured and confident."
The contest dates back to 1928 within the international organization and nearly 2,000 clubs participate in it annually. It was designed, club members say, to give children a chance to speak to the world.
This year's topic? "If I were leader of the Free World, the first issue I would address would be - "