David D. Koohy's introduction to Kiwanis International came two decades ago when he volunteered to flip burgers and pour beers at the Kiwanis Club of Newport's food concession stand at the Newport Yachting Center.
The club members were so impressed with his enthusiasm, they invited him back to help out at the next waterfront festival.
"At that point I'd become a familiar face and one of the guys came up to me and asked why I wasn't a member," Koohy said. "So, I thought, 'Why not?' It's a great group of people doing great things in the community. I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to be a part of."
That was in 1991.
Today, Koohy of Middletown, is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Aquidneck Island and a past governor (2009-2010) of the New England District of Kiwanis, which comprises 26 divisions, including Division 18 - home to Rhode Island's four Kiwanis Clubs in Woonsocket, North Smithfield, Aquidneck Island and Newport and the Kiwanis Club of Seekonk in Massachusetts.
As far as Koohy is concerned, when it comes to service and giving back to the community, no one does it better than Kiwanians.
"I really believe that Kiwanis is the best at what it does," says Koohy, a Lt. Governor for Division 18 from 2004-2006 and district Treasuer in 2007. "The work that is being done by Kiwanis around the world - often behind the scenes - is tremendous. Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world one child and one community at a time."
97 Years of Service
Kiwanis International is an international, coeducational service club founded in 1915 in Detroit, Michigan. It is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana. Current membership is 240,000 members in 7,700 clubs in 80 nations.
In the early years, members focused on business networking. In 1916, Kiwanis became an international organization with the creation of the Kiwanis Club of Hamilton, Ontario. In 1919, the organization changed its focus to service. By 1962, worldwide expansion was approved. In 1987, women officially were allowed into the membership.
The name “Kiwanis” was coined from an Otchipew American Indian expression, "Nunc Kee-wanis", variously translated as "we trade," "we share our talents," "we make a noise," or "we meet." The organization's founders translated it as "We build," which became the original motto of Kiwanis. In 2005, during the 90th anniversary of Kiwanis, delegates to the International Convention voted to adopt a new motto, “Serving the Children of the World,” to emphasize the primary focus of Kiwanis service over those nine decades.
Kiwanis International is headed by a board of trustees, an international president and other officers. These officers are elected at the annual convention of Kiwanis International. There are 53 administrative districts, each headed by a governor, and the districts are further divided into service areas called divisions, comprising 12 to 20 clubs and headed by a lieutenant governor. Every club has a president and board of directors.
The six permanent Objects of Kiwanis International were approved by Kiwanis club delegates at the 1924 International Convention in Denver, Colorado. Through the decades, they have remained unchanged:
*To give primacy to the human and spiritual rather than to the material values of life.
*To encourage the daily living of the Golden Rule in all human relationships.
*To promote the adoption and the application of higher social, business, and professional standards.
*To develop, by precept and example, a more intelligent, aggressive, and serviceable citizenship.
*To provide, through Kiwanis clubs, a practical means to form enduring friendships, to render altruistic service, and to build better communities.
*To cooperate in creating and maintaining that sound public opinion and high idealism which make possible the increase of righteousness, justice, patriotism, and goodwill.
A Long History of Service
The original purpose of Kiwanis was to exchange business between members and to serve the poor. The debate as to whether to focus on networking or service was resolved in 1919, when Kiwanis adopted a service-focused mission.
Each year, clubs sponsor nearly 150,000 service projects and raise more than $107 million. As a global project in coordination with UNICEF, members and clubs have contributed more than $80 million toward the global elimination of iodine deficiency disorders. Beginning in 2010 Kiwanis International joined with the World Health Organization to launch a new worldwide health initiative, Project EliMiNaTe, dedicated to wiping out maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT), which kills more than 100,000 babies worldwide each year.
Kiwanis tries to serve children and youth using two approaches. One attempts to improve the quality of life directly through activities promoting health and education, while the other tries to encourage leadership and service among youth. In pursuit of the latter goal, Kiwanis sponsors about 7,000 youth service clubs with nearly 320,000 youth members.
In 2007, the charitable financial arm, Kiwanis International Foundation, was awarded the top rating by an independent evaluator.
In communities across the world, Kiwanis members help shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, mentor the disadvantaged, and care for the sick. They have done everything from build playgrounds to raise funds for pediatric research.
Kiwanis also provides leadership and service opportunities for youth through its service leadership programs, including Key Club, Circle K, Builders Clubs and K-Kids, which are all sponsored by local Kiwanis clubs and receive funding and professional guidance from Kiwanis.
Kiwanis in Rhode Island
There used to be upwards of 10 Kiwanis club in Division 18, but those have dwindled to just four - Woonsocket, North Smithfield, New Port and Aquidneck Island, which just formed about a year ago. There was a club in Pawtucket, but it disbanded in 2008.
Between the four clubs in Rhode Island, as well as the Kiwanis Club of Seekonk, there are roughly 150 to 160 members in Division 18, which is being led this year by Lt. Governor Linda Ferreira.
There is a strong Key Club at Shea High School, and several Builders Clubs - the largest service organization for middle school students (ages 12 to 14) - in middle schools across the state.
Circle K, the collegiate version of Kiwanis, can be found at Providence College and Salve Regina University.
Even though it has only five clubs, the New England District of Kiwanis' Division 18 raises well over $100,000 a year.
"We actually raise more money with less people than we did 20 years ago when we had more people," Koohy says. "Also, 100 percent of the money we raise stays in the communities we serve."
The Woonsocket club, for example, which is more than 50 years old, holds an annual televised auction that raised between $30,000 and $50,000 a year. The North Smithfield club holds car washes and other fundraising events to help veterans. Seekonk raises upwards of $50,000 with its annual Taste of the Town event, and Aquidneck Island raises money through Christmas tree and yard sales. The Newport club's annual concession stand at waterfront festivals typically raises $60,000 to $100,000 a year.
The Kiwanis Foundation of New England, Inc. is the non-profit charitable Fund-raising arm of the New England District of Kiwanis International. The mission of the Foundation is to work in partnership with the New England District of Kiwanis and others to effect programs for the betterment of communities in New England and beyond, with special focus given to programs which affect young children.
Each year, the district awards scholarships raging from $2,000 to $5,000 to students at Providence College, Salve Regina University and Johnson & Wales University.
"Kiwanis is all about kids," says Koohy. "Children make up 19 percent of our population, but are 100 percent of our future."
Koohy, CEO of Coastal Financial Group and Island Tax, has also been a member of the Easter Seals Rhode Island Board of Directors since October 2010 and is a member of the Advisory Board at the Salvation Army as well as at Lucy Hearth. He is also president of Newport Babe Ruth.
But his heart is with Kiwanis.
"If someone out there is looking to join a service club to give back to their community they won't find anything better than Kiwanis," Koohy says. "There's no rules or regulations. No secret handshakes or anything like that. All you need is a desire to help and to give of your time working with some of the best people in the world."