by Marcia Napier, Grain Valley Historical Society
Over the years many organizations have found a home in Grain Valley. Early groups like the Royal Neighbors or America, the Order of Eastern Star, and the Modern Woodman were national organizations with community service as a goal. In the 1950s a group of men started the first Lions Club International in our town. The Lions tried a comeback in early 2000, but it was unfortunately short lived.
Currently, FOCUS (Finding Opportunities and Creating Unique Solutions) is the only community club of which I am aware. (Please contact me if I am wrong.) While there are organizations for specific group such as Youth Sports and the Grain Valley Assistance Council, I am unaware of any other general groups.
FOCUS was originally Optimist International. It was started in our town when the high school principal, Dan Jones, organized a group of 25 citizens to support the schools. With a motto, “Friends of Youth,” Mr. Jones became the first president in 1993.
By 1997, the group had doubled in numbers. The president that year was Chip Hall and his quote in The Examiner probably said it best. “What the optimist club is about is building character and community spirit in the people of this city, especially the youth.”
What Grain Valley child did not participate in an optimist event during the 1990s and early 2000s? The Optimist Club had at least one or two events monthly. Each year they sponsored the Easter Egg Hunt, the Santa House, the Grain Valley Basketball Little League, the Bike Safety Rodeos and car maintenance and safety clinics. They provided scholarships for up to three sophomores attending the Hugh O’Brian Youth Foundation, as well as two annual scholarships for graduating seniors. They also sponsored an oratorical contest, an essay contest and a poster contest for third graders with a theme to fight drugs.
In the community, they sponsored Respect for Law Day, took treats to the fire department, as provided volunteers and goods to the Grain Valley Assistance Council.
These activities were supported by chili suppers, pancake breakfast (with Santa) popcorn, candy and nut sales, trivia nights and booths and bingo at Grain Valley Fair Days.
A few years ago, the group decided to discontinue their affiliation with Optimist International. Dues to the state and national organization had greatly increased and attendance at their quarterly meetings was waning.
Locally, FOCUS has replaced the Optimists. A very small group of loyal supporters continues to “do good” for our community. Much of their work goes unnoticed by the citizens as they continue to be a friend to youth in a more private way. They currently support four programs. Originally called Pairing with Optimists, FOCUS provides $50 toward the purchase of shoes for nearly 100 students each year. The also maintain an emergency clothes closet in the elementary schools, buy eye glasses for needy students, and furnish the lice kits to all of the school health rooms.
Oh yes, let’s not forget the $1000 scholarships they award yearly to two graduating seniors! While Optimist International is HISTORY in Grain Valley, it’s not too late to join FOCUS.