As a long-time member of Kiwanis International, Martha Vaguener knows the value the organization can bring to a community.
That’s why she has helped start the Kiwanis Club of Wesley Chapel and serves as its treasurer, after serving as the president at the Zephyrhills Kiwanis Club for nine years, before it closed several years ago.
She says the Wesley Chapel club officially chartered in April 2020 and has the support of a sponsoring club in Carrollwood, but says that making a go of a service organization during a pandemic — where opportunities for service have looked very different — has been challenging.
However, it is happening.
“The whole point of Kiwanis is to change the world one child and one community at a time,” says Martha.
Kiwanis International is a service organization with more than 550,000 members in 80 countries and geographic areas, including members of all ages, from K-Kids Clubs to high school Key Clubs to Kiwanis Clubs. It was founded in 1915 in Detroit, Michigan, as the Supreme Lodge Benevolent Order of Brothers, and changed its name to Kiwanis a year later. The name “Kiwanis” comes from an American Indian expression, “Nunc Kee-wanis,” which means, “We trade.” While it originally focused on business networking, it became focused on service in 1919.
Kiwanis clubs globally host nearly 150,000 service projects each year.
Kiwanis has clubs for kids of all ages, including Key Clubs for high school students. Wiregrass Ranch High (WRH) has a Key Club with more than 100 members.
For the holidays, both the Wesley Chapel Kiwanis Club and WRH Key Club adopted families from the underprivileged Lacoochee Elementary in Dade City.
Key Club sponsor JoLynn Warner says her students were inspired by Martha’s stories of how the Zephyrhills Kiwanis Club’s past charitable efforts have helped the school, such as how attendance increased drastically in winter months one year because the club provided shoes for the children, allowing them to get to school in colder weather.
“My students can’t even imagine not being able to go to school because they don’t have shoes to wear,” JoLynn explains, “so they’re excited to help.”
While JoLynn oversaw the collection of toys, clothes and other items from students to benefit the families the WRH Key Club adopted, Martha, who serves as a Key Club advisor, took a group of Key Club members shopping to help her choose the items that would go to the families the Kiwanis Club adopted.
“It helps to develop community awareness, develop citizenship and do good in the community,” Martha explains.
The partnership benefits both groups, as adults in Kiwanis Club support the students’ efforts — such as in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, which will be coming up in early 2022 — and the students support the causes of the adult club as they grow into people who value giving back to their community.
“When we improve the lives of kids,” Martha explains, “we improve the lives of families, as well.” Martha says the Wesley Chapel Kiwanis Club currently has about 10 members and wants to grow. The Kiwanis Club of Wesley Chapel meets the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the Seven Oaks clubhouse, although the club will not meet on Dec. 28.
To learn more about getting involved in Wesley Chapel Kiwanis Club, email Martha Vaguener at email@example.com or call her at (813) 362-5799.