By Emma Young | Photo by Delia Engstrom
“Being part of a ‘global organization of volunteers dedicated to improving the world, one child and one community at a time’ is important to me,” says Brian Bell, board of director member for the Woodbridge Kiwanis Club, quoting the defining statement of the governing organization. That global organization has tremendous impact. Annually, Kiwanis and its family of clubs raise more than $100 million and dedicate over 18 million volunteer hours.
Locally, three Kiwanis clubs—Manassas Battlefield Kiwanis, Manassas Bull Run Kiwanis and Woodbridge Kiwanis—and their associated service and leadership clubs for youth, such as Key Clubs at local high schools, are quietly serving every day and changing our county for the better.
Kiwanis: A History of Building a Better Prince William County
Kiwanis started in Prince William County in Manassas with the formation of the original club in 1924. That club eventually became known as the Manassas Battlefield Kiwanis Club and lent support for the later formation of the Woodbridge (1947) and Bull Run (1985) Kiwanis Clubs, said Harry Horning II, vice president of the Manassas Battlefield Kiwanis Club. “It is the oldest service organization in Manassas with a primary mission of strengthening communities and serving children,” Horning said.Over the years, “the club’s impact on the community has been significant,” added Bell.
Some notable collective achievements of local members and clubs include:
- Raising funds and volunteer efforts to construct, establish, and eventually expand both Potomac Hospital (now Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center) and Prince William Hospital;
- Procuring land and donating supplies to establish multiple Little Leagues;
- Donating land and funds to create and assist Boys and Girls Clubs;
- Building community playgrounds, parks and tot lots;
- Helping form rescue squads;
- Providing for the Woodbridge-Occoquan Sanitary District development;
- Building the Action in Community Through Service (ACTS) Food Pantry Annex;
- Sponsoring several scholarships over the years for universities, trade schools, and youth Key Club members to attend Kiwanis conventions;
- Providing significant support to other local nonprofits by volunteering time and funds to organizations as diverse as Special Olympics, Wreaths Across America, and CASA CIS (Court-Appointed Special Advocates); and
- Sponsoring service and leadership clubs for middle schoolers (such as the Builders Club at Woodbridge Middle School), high schoolers (such as the Key Club at Patriot High School), and college students (such as the CKI Club at NOVA Community College, Woodbridge Campus).
Key Club: Student-Led Leadership and Service
“We had over 400 students sign up at the beginning of the school year,” said Zachary Estess, president of the Patriot High School Key Club in Nokesville. Sponsored by the Manassas Bull Run Kiwanis Club, these Key Club students learn leadership through serving others. “Key Club enables us to developcertain leadership skills that are hard to find in other leadership settings,” he said.
The students plan meetings, organize projects and form their own committees for executing programs, such as fundraising and volunteer efforts. “We participate in many projects throughout the year,” Estess said. “One of our biggest undertakings is the ELIMINATE Project, an international effort to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus.”
Locally, club members volunteer for organizations such as BARN, a transitional housing program based in Bristow for families in need, or SERVE, the Manassas campus of Northern Virginia Family Service. In addition, club members volunteer at local elementary schools that feed into Patriot High School, often by assisting teachers or tutoring students.
Forming Enduring Friendships
“We’re a very welcoming club,” said Dave Stinson, president of the Manassas Battlefield Kiwanis Club. “It’s multi-functional. It’s social. It’s business networking with a diverse group of professionals. It’s giving back to the community.”
Every December, Kiwanis Club members and other volunteers lay wreaths on grave sites at military cemeteries through the Wreaths Across America program.
“Our meetings are extraordinarily short,” said Steve Nelson,President of the Bull Run Kiwanis. “It’s camaraderie. We have breakfast together and can be in the office by 8 a.m.”
Bell, who just recently completed a term as governor of the Capital District Kiwanis, which includes clubs in Virginia,
Maryland, Delaware and D.C., said, “I enjoy attending district and international conventions and forming lasting relationships with like-minded servant leaders.”
These friendships help further community causes. “Many of the members serve on other nonprofit organizational boards,” said Nelson. This allows the diverse membership to learn and respond quickly to direct and local community needs. “It provides opportunities for fun and fellowship while providing meaningful community service,” said Bell.
Rendering Altruistic Service
“We’re very grateful for the Bull Run Kiwanis’ support,” said Pam Boyle, community drives and events specialist for
Northern Virginia Family Service. Pam Ryan, director of Anti-Hunger Programs for Northern Virginia Family Service/SERVE, described 40 years of uninterrupted support from the clubs who provide “generous quarterly financial support to the SERVE campus, allowing us to provide critical programming to
low-income families and individuals within the Prince William community.”
Kathleen Ambrose, site manager with the Woodbridge Senior Center, described the “strong presence of community” the Woodbridge Kiwanis Club gives to the center and its adult day care attendees. Each year, for example, the club provides a Thanksgiving meal. “They take their time to serve the meal accompanied with a warm smile and kind words to the participants. Their support encourages others to ‘pay it forward’ by volunteering their services at the centers,” said Ambrose. Each year the Woodbridge Kiwanis Club spends a significant amount of time as Salvation Army bell ringers. ”It’s very rewarding to see what the citizens are willing to contribute to help,” said Bell.
Wreaths Across America is “our major service project for the year,” said Horning. Manassas Battlefield Kiwanis volunteers raise money and place wreaths on each of the graves at Quantico National Cemetery in December each year. The public can sponsor a wreath by contacting the local club. “The event not only helps raise resources for youth leadership programs, but it’s also an opportunity to honor those who served our country,” said Horning. “It’s overwhelming when you see the wreaths across the cemetery,” added Stinson, who invited the public to the wreath-laying last month.
A High Rating
The Kiwanis International Foundation has received the highest ranking as a four-star charity through Charity Navigator.
Only one out of every four charities receives this ranking which demonstrates rigor, responsibility and a commitment to openness. Kiwanis received a 100 percent score for accountability and transparency.
“It’s a tremendous legacy,” said Stinson. “A great organization,” said Bell. “A way to connect to the community,” said Nelson. And Prince William County is all the better for it.
Emma Young (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer, stay-at-home mother, resident of Montclair, and a grateful admirer of the Kiwanis organization.