A New Millennium: 2000
As people worldwide celebrated the dawn of the new millennium, Optimist International celebrated greater achievements in its service to youth. While respecting the organization’s traditions of the 20th century, Optimists forged into the new millennium with renewed enthusiasm and a fresh perspective on how best to serve youth in the 21st century.
One of the first things the Board of Directors did was place more importance on marketing the services and programs the organization offered. Adopting the slogan “Optimists … Bringing Out the Best in Kids,” the organization put specific emphasis on the mission of Optimist Clubs without de-emphasizing the standard bearer “Friend of Youth.”
On July 2, 2001, then International President Bob Garner was invited to the White House along with the leaders of other service club organizations to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush. The meeting of the “volunteering minds” was called so Bush could unveil his plan to recruit one million mentors for the nation’s youth. Garner and his fellow community service leaders met briefly with the President and First Lady for an open press conference before heading into the Oval Office for more discussions. The next day, Garner addressed the delegates at the International Convention in Orlando about his visit.
“Of great importance,” he told the gathering of Optimists, “is the fact that at no time in recent history, or possibly ever, had the presidents of the world’s four largest service organizations assembled with the president of the United States to commit their collective strength and energy behind a common effort. And, of great importance to Optimist International, is that it is an effort clearly designed and focused on ‘Bringing Out the Best in Kids.’
“President Bush asked the respective presidents if we could, collectively, directly touch the lives of one million kids in the next four years. We each pledged that this was not only possible, but also a clearly attainable goal.”
Just a few months later, the Board of Directors endorsed the Optimist Childhood Cancer Campaign as the organization’s focal point for serving youth in the years ahead. The Optimist Childhood Cancer Campaign (CCC) was designed to support young people with cancer, to support cancer patients’ families and caregivers, provide support to healthcare providers, and to help childhood cancer research. Optimists saw childhood cancer as the ultimate test, with the organization having both the manpower and the willpower to defeat this devastating disease. No other service organization had put its international resources on the line to rid the world of childhood cancer.
In just the first few months after kicking off the program, Optimist Clubs began responding. In the Midwestern and Southwestern Ontario districts Optimists committed to raising one million dollars for the new Children’s Hospital of Western Ontario. Optimists in the Pacific Northwest District volunteered more than 1,500 hours to serve more than 3,700 kids with cancer and their family members. And in South Carolina, the Greater Spartanburg Optimist Club teamed up with the Cherokee County Cancer Society to provide transportation and lodging for families who have children requiring oncology treatment who need to travel to pediatric care facilities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
To better meet the goal of defeating childhood cancer, the organization committed to raise nearly one million dollars to fund a research fellow at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, who would be devoted to finding a cure for childhood cancers. By the end of the decade, Optimists had reached the monetary goal. While donations continued to fund the fellowship, other donations to the CCC program allowed the organization to start a Club matching grants program for Clubs to run their own programs under the childhood cancer umbrella.