The Franklin County Optimist Club’s main mission is to engage youth in the community.

“It is all about working with young people,” said Richard Jackson, club president. “Providing opportunities to them. Give them the opportunity to go places.”

The club's purpose includes the following statement: “To aid and encourage the development of youth, in belief that the giving of one’s self in service to others will advance the well-being of humankind, community life and the world.”

The local club adds events for area youth on a recurring basis. Two new events are set to kick off this month. The first Saturday of each month the club will sponsor a free movie at the Plaza Cinema in downtown Ottawa. The doors will open at 9:30 a.m. with the movie starting at 10 a.m. Today’s movie is the “Lion King,” the 2019 version. The movie is for all third- through fifth-grade children in the county.

The other new event is free bowling. On the third Sunday of each month, from 2-4 p.m., all children (high school and under) may bowl for free at Fusion Alley. Jackson said the club sponsored youth bowling in the past. He said Ottawa University bowling coach Geoff Poston and Plaza Cinema owner Scott Zaremba are the catalysts behind the new programs.

“You have people that see the importance of (providing those opportunities),” Jackson said. “They have been very supportive.”

The Optimist Club has been involved with oratorical contests, Boy Scouts, the Veteran’s Day Parade, Salvation Army, the Jr. Golf program, ECKAN lunch program, DARE Camp, American Legion Boys State, duck race, the Unsung Heroes program, childhood cancer and many others.

“We are involved with a little bit of everything to help youth,” Jackson said. “We work with the school reading programs. We work a lot with childhood cancer. A lot of our funds we raise goes to (fight) childhood cancer. Unsung Heroes is (rewarding) students that may have overcome an adversity. That is a good program. We feel scouting is important. The Jr. Golf program, we have a lot of kids involved in that.”

Jackson said it is a good feeling for Optimist Club members to see the children’s smiles and sense of accomplishment after being involved in activities. Jackson added the Optimist Club activities expose children to activities they might not otherwise experience.

The local club has 53 members and is looking to grow.

“As the club grows — we get more members — we can do more for the youth,” Jackson said. “We have people with a passion and want to make a difference in the community.”

The Optimist Club has three different groups. The morning club meets at 6:30 a.m. on Thursdays at AdventHealth Ottawa. There is also a noon meeting in Ottawa. The Wellsville group meets in the evening. Jackson said there are plans to start other groups throughout the county.

Jackson, a former Ottawa mayor, said past Optimist Club members include mayors and historical figures from Franklin County’s past.