Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2014

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Columnist Tom Gorman: Service organizations such as Key Clubs can unlock much potential happiness for youngsters across the land

Tom Gorman's column runs Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (702) 259-2310.

One of my strongest memories of going to high school in Laguna Beach, Calif., was driving a big Cadillac convertible in the town's President's Day Parade.

I was assigned to drive a dog from a Disney movie, but it was a no-show. I decided to keep my spot in the parade nonetheless, sans celebrity.

As I drove down Park Avenue, bewildered people waved at me. I waved back.

At the reviewing stand in front of City Hall, the announcer said, "And next is Tom Gorman driving ... himself." People applauded and I waved back.

We drivers were members of the school's Key Club, a service organization sponsored by the big service organization, Kiwanis International.

I loved being a member. I took pride in its service projects and enjoyed the fellowship over lunchtime meetings. I think I wore my first coat and tie at a Key Club function.

About 30 Key Clubs are flourishing around the Las Vegas Valley. I met some members the other day at a Kiwanis meeting. They were polite and confident. They engaged in banter with adults and made eye contact.

There is every reason to like Key Club kids.

The Kiwanis at the meeting suggested I write specifically about three Key Club members because they are among the leaders of the 1,600 Key Club members locally. Here they are:

Jen Rajchel is a 17-year-old junior at Liberty High School. She enjoys politics and English, and I think one day she will be a speech writer. She arrived in Las Vegas six years ago when her parents moved from East Chicago, Ind.

Was it difficult, transplanting to Las Vegas? "Every town has its difficulties, but as long as you have the right values, it shouldn't matter," she said. "My parents stressed what was important, and my teachers and classmates are good influences on me."

Those peers included Key Club members, she said, who stress "community values and giving back to the community."

Her projects have included tutoring children and helping organize an all-night walk-a-thon to raise money in May for the American Cancer Society.

"I'm shy," she said, "and Key Club gave me confidence to go out and say what I believe in, and to help different causes."

Barbara Lee, also 17, is a senior at Durango High School who likes journalism.

"I joined Key Club because I heard it would look good on college applications," she said. But then she genuinely bought into it.

"I was having fun, and I realized I was becoming more selfless. I had heard people talk about community service as something you do to help get into college, and now I'm realizing that it's something to do to help people. It's become part of my life."

Among her memories: singing Christmas carols at a retirement home.

Sixteen-year-old Jenni Liao, a junior at Advanced Technology Academy, would like to be an ambassador to Taiwan, where her parents lived before moving to Las Vegas 20 years ago.

"In school, you learn math, science and reading," she said. "But Key Club brings you to a different level, a better understanding of who you are and what you should do with your life, and it gives you the confidence to pursue it."

Of helping others, she says this: "Rich people and celebrities can donate money, but that's not personal. It feels good to personally help people, to help local residents."

Being in Key Club, she says, has brought her the confidence needed to seek donations for service projects by calling local companies.

I hope there's a parade where I can drive these three girls around in a big Cadillac convertible. Better yet, let's line up every big convertible in Las Vegas and drive all the Key Club kids down the Strip.

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