Club becomes Key at Oak Harbor High School

Junior Mariah Ferguson smiles as a club officer reads a thank you letter for a Key Club projects at a meeting Monday. - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Junior Mariah Ferguson smiles as a club officer reads a thank you letter for a Key Club projects at a meeting Monday.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

In the days before public service was mandatory, the Oak Harbor High School launched its Key Club in the 1950s.

The club’s popularity was up-and-down, and it disappeared entirely for several years, adviser Pat Felger said, but it’s now making a major comeback.

“We have somehow become the club to join,” Felger said. “There’s a big push for community service in the school.”

Today, Key Club has more than 100 members, making it the school’s largest after-school program.

The club is an outgrowth of Kiwanis International, and service is the mission. Members work at local food banks, walk in Relay for Life, coordinate special events, and raise money for the Salvation Army.

“Community service is important because it gets you used to it, and you don’t think about it. It becomes second nature,” Adam Smith, club president, said.

Felger said membership in Key Club has grown annually, since she and librarian Lisa Smith relaunched the program in the late 1990s. It grew from 80 members last year to 117 in 2010.

She said the growth is likely the result of a combination of the attitude of young people and the encouragement of schools. Colleges have put a higher emphasis on community service hours, said Felger, and the high school requires 20 hours for graduation. What teens get out of it, is a sense of fulfillment from helping people hands-on.

“They will take what they’ve learned and stay involved with their communities throughout their lives,” Felger said. “The club is about educating them to become leaders.”

Senior Ver Starr, a district secretary, joined after he visited a Key Club booth his freshman year. He saw it as a chance to make a difference in his school and his community, and said it made him a better person.

“Before I didn’t have a care in the world. It’s taught me to see life more maturely,” Starr said.

Starr was elected lieutenant governor last year and met often with other governors in the Pacific Northwest District. The district spans Alaska to Northern California and includes 300 Key Clubs.

“I was able to tell my club that they were part of something bigger,” he said.

Locally, the clubs can collaborate on projects with other school districts. Anacortes and Oak Harbor teamed up one year to dispose of Christmas trees.

The club provides camaraderie, Smith said, and a place where people want to be.

“It’s a fun club. We make it fun,” he said.

Each year, the club collects canned foods for the North Whidbey Help House, and they collected a record 8,000 cans last year. In 2009, they picked up six awards from a Key Club state convention.

Kiwanis clubs have also expanded to the middle and elementary school levels in Oak Harbor, to introduce the concept of public service to younger ages.

So is community service more attractive to local teens these days? Maybe and maybe not, advisers said.

While they’re seeing a significant increase now, Felger said, “There will always be people in every generation who want to give back to their community.”

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