by Autumn Evans
The Niagara County Peach Festival is now underway at Academy Park.
Festival organizers from the Kiwanis Club of Lewiston are once again hard at work to raise money to benefit numerous Kiwanis programs for the Niagara and Western New York community. While this festival is its biggest event, it is by no means the only activity Kiwanis is involved in.
Kiwanis is an international organization with members in 80 nations across the world. Collectively Kiwanis raises about $100 million and funds about 150,000 service projects every year.
The Kiwanis Club of Lewiston was founded in 1958 with 64 members. That same year, they put together the town's first Peach Festival.
Though the Peach Festival is its most well known event, the Lewiston Kiwanis club is involved in a number of smaller-scale community service operations year-round throughout the Lewiston and Niagara County communities. Those operations include the sponsoring of service leadership youth clubs such as K-Kids, Builders and Key clubs at local schools.
"That is the basis of Kiwanis activities - assisting children all over the world, but especially in Niagara County and especially in Lewiston," said Jerald Wolfgang, a Kiwanis member since 1971.
The youth clubs are run by advisers within the schools and Kiwanis liaisons. Tina Oddy has been the faculty adviser for the Lewiston-Porter Middle School's Builders Club for about nine years.
"Middle school is a tough time for kids, because they're trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in," Oddy said. "I find that Builders Club is a great avenue for them for self-discovery."
Students in the club volunteer at different events and fundraise around the community. In September, they will run the fishpond at the Peach Festival and table a water station in the Niagara Hospice Dash. Oddy said they also do food and coat drives, monthly story hours and Habitat for Humanity work, as well as additional projects depending on what the students are interested in.
"It teaches not only character-building traits but also leadership qualities," Oddy said. "I just think it's a wonderful program, and I'm so grateful Kiwanis sponsors a program like that."
At the end of the school year, each of the youth clubs reports what they've done that year for Kiwanis.
It was at last year's meeting that Oddy was invited to join Kiwanis. She and Joy Khatib, the adviser for K-Kids at the Lewiston-Porter elementary school, were sworn in last September. She said she felt honored at the invitation.
"They're constantly giving back to the community, both monetarily and through volunteer service," Oddy said of Kiwanis. She said they frequently have guest speakers from community service organizations at their weekly meetings, and often donate money to those groups afterward.
Kiwanis also runs an Aktion Club, which gives disabled adults the opportunity to participate in community service programs. The Lewiston Aktion Club was founded in 2007 and has 40 members, all of whom are adults with disabilities.
"The club will work on a whole range of causes over the year," said Jeff Sanderson, the Rivershore adviser for the Aktion Club. He said members fundraise, hold food drives, perform street cleanups and do other charitable work.
Sanderson said the club has meaning beyond giving disabled adults a way to get involved in their communities.
"I think it also serves the purpose of influencing attitudes about people with developmental disabilities," he said, adding that it was a chance to show others what adults with disabilities were able to do.
Of course, members of the parent Kiwanis Club are also involved in charity. The Peach Festival is its biggest fundraiser, having raised more than $1.5 million for the community since it began 56 years ago. But, Kiwanis also organizes street cleanups, smaller fundraisers and donations to charitable organizations.
"People in Lewiston know that they can count on members of Kiwanis to assist them in many of the activities of nonprofits," Wolfgang said. "And in being helpful to the community itself."