It is the Christmas Season and one of the annual traditions in Laurinburg is in full force – the Laurinburg Optimist Club Christmas Tree sale. Currently located on the lot right beside Clinton Inn and across from Taco Bell, the Optimist tree lot provides over 650 trees ranging in size up to 12 feet and costing between $44 and $114.
Just as a Christmas tree symbolizes much of the spirit of Christmas (use of an evergreen to represent the immortality of the resurrected Christ, lights (replacing candles) that provide light and warmth so that we might find our path), so too is the sale of these trees symbolic of the Optimist organization and the outreach and good it provides Laurinburg/Scotland County.
At the core of the Optimist creed is, “to aid and encourage the development of youth in the belief that the giving of one’s self in service to others will advance the well-being of humankind, community life and the world.” This in essence is to provide the evergreen growth of a community by preparing the youth to grow, foster goodwill, and be leaders. It is this focus on the “next generation” that is the mission of the Optimist Club. “Our mission is to develop young people who grow up and positively impact the community,” says Bear Hughes, one of the current leaders of the Laurinburg Optimist. “We have each made a commitment to provide guidance to our youth and to create an atmosphere and environment for their growth.”
While the most visible fundraising for the organization is the sale of Christmas Trees, the most visible outreach is the baseball and softball programs they provide boys and girls in Scotland County. Playing softball or baseball in the Optimist program is free of charge for all players. Participation is open to anyone from Scotland County. Everyone makes a team; no player gets cut. The emphasis is on teaching the game, learning how to excel on and off the field, and having fun. Teams begin at the 5-6 year-old level with tee ball, and extend to 12-year-olds participating in Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken, Jr. leagues.
The ball teams have always been the foundation of the organization, but have never been more popular than they are today. “We had over 43 teams and 500 kids playing last year,” says Hughes. Not surprising, the program takes the full attention of the 65+ members and countless volunteers. “What is wonderful, is we have teenagers and young adults, many of whom came up through the Optimist ball program who now volunteer their time to help this younger generation.”
One such volunteer is Chuck Witmore, a recent winner of the “Optimist of the Year” award and a second generation Optimist member. (Chuck’s father – CL Witmore – was an active member of the club for years!) Like other members, Witmore points to the focus on helping children as the club’s core benefit. “It is about the kids – about providing opportunities for the children.” He cites parts of the Optimist Creed (a pledge delivered before each baseball and softball game), that includes a focus on “how you play the game” and “always respecting others,” as a simple, small message that captures the essence of the club’s heart.
Just as the Christmas Tree lot is only part of the Optimist program, the baseball and softball effort is only part of the programs the Optimist provide area youths. In addition to the
baseball and softball programs, there is a junior golf championship that is open for competition. But their reach extends beyond the playing field.
There is an annual essay contest as well as an oratorical contest – both of which can lead to higher education scholarships. The oratorical contest has a separate category for the hearing impaired. A Childhood Cancer Campaign focuses on bringing awareness and support both within the community and beyond. The Optimists also take part in a Respect for Law/Day of Non-Violence program with Optimist International. This effort is focused on promoting peace and harmony within our community by honoring law enforcement and first responders.
It is this constant interest in outreach that attracted Kirk McBride to join the Optimist Club. A native of Harper’s Ferry, WV, when Kirk moved to Laurinburg members of his church introduced him to Optimist. “The name immediately connected with me. It is how I look at life, the glass always being half-full rather than half-empty,” says McBride. “Plus their focus on helping the children resonated with me and reminded me of my father. He was always there with me growing up, and always looking to help others. I see the Optimist as an opportunity to follow in his footsteps and set a positive path for others.”
Valuable words during this season of giving, and a good summation on how the Optimist Club helps lead Laurinburg/Scotland County to a better tomorrow.
Cory Hughes, executive director of the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority, wrote this week’s Focus on Scotland, an effort by community leaders on making Laurinburg/Scotland County a better place to work, live, and play.