Chico Optimist Club
Imagine a diverse group of citizens—men and women, young and old, from every ethnic background and occupation—working together to create a stronger, more humane and more civilized community.
That’s the picture that Carl Ochsner, president of the newly chartered Chico Optimist Club, paints of the club he’s heading and the direction he would like it to go.
Optimist International is one of the major service organizations in the world. Founded in 1919, it currently has 150,000 members in 4,200 different clubs. The Oroville Optimist Club was chartered in 1997, and it sponsored the re-establishment of the Chico club earlier this year.
A former member of a service club in the Arcata area, Ochsner explained that when he moved to Chico he shopped around for a new club to join. He was put off by the large size of one of the other clubs in town, fearing he wouldn’t be able to play as big a role as he might like in a such a setting.
Ochsner was more or less resigned to the fact that he wouldn’t be joining a service club when Vernon Carter of the Oroville Optimist Club showed up on his doorstep and introduced him to the Optimists.
Ochsner’s own experiences raising three children made him realize the strong influence of the “youth subculture” and the difficult time parents have in countering it. The Optimist Club has historically focused on youth, and its slogan is “Friend to Youth.”
“Their motto years ago—it sounds kind of corny and archaic now—was ‘Friend to the Delinquent Boy.’ So they had already, way back in the 1920s and 1930s, identified social issues around youth as something that they wanted to be focused on,” Ochsner explained.
Each Optimist club is autonomous and can provide services and programs that will best enhance its local community. Although Ochsner is quick to point out that the club’s membership is “not a bunch of firebrands,” they do intend to be more “vital” than the average club member.
“Right away, we started out emphasizing the role that a youth-focused service club could play,” he said. “And not just doing community projects, but I think unlike a lot of service clubs we intend to take it a step further than that and actually do some advocacy.”
Ochsner said the Optimists hope to be a “catalyst” in a number of areas, including on the issue of completing Chico’s neighborhood parks. The group is also concerned that industrial arts and vocational education are slowly disappearing from our high schools, and it would like to bring together groups of people to consider ways to reactivate that curriculum.
One thing the Optimists won’t be doing is providing direct services to youth and families. However, representatives of many of the agencies who do provide such services have been invited to make presentations to the club so that it might learn how it can assist or what role it might play.
The Chico Optimists are actively recruiting a diverse membership of thoughtful, caring people. The Chico Optimist Club meets on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month at 7:30 a.m. at the International House of Pancakes. Dues are a modest $75 per year.
Ochsner believes that joining a “young” club that is still in the process of identifying all its projects is an excellent opportunity for involvement.
“Getting in on the ‘ground floor,' you can shape the club’s traditions and priorities in the direction you’d like it to go," he explained. "They’re going to get involved with us because they’ll see that it’s a way to multiply their own voice and their own effectiveness in influencing the way the community runs."