Kiwanis Club comes to the Tri Parishes

Published 3:25 pm Friday, February 11, 2022

LAPLACE — With more than 100 years of history and 600,000 members across the globe, Kiwanis clubs host nearly 150,000 service projects a year to improve the lives of children one community at a time.

A new club, Kiwanis Club of Tri Parishes, was formed this week in LaPlace to shape the future of children in St. John the Baptist, St. James and St. Charles parishes.

Region IV Trustee Marcel Lashover of the Dawn Busters Kiwanis Club in Metairie was inspired to bring a Kiwanis Club to LaPlace to expand the organization’s reach across the River Parishes. When members of surrounding Kiwanis Clubs served food in LaPlace in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, they were introduced to St. John Parish Superintendent Dr. Lynett Hookfin.

Hookfin was immediately on board with bringing Kiwanis to the tri-parishes, and she has a personal goal to help the new club exceed the Dawn Busters’ membership count of 170.

“I know we can beat 170 members because there are more than 170 people in this great community who want to be part of an organization that helps our kids thrive,” Hookfin said.

Kiwanis Club of Tri Parishes charter members have the opportunity to paint a blank canvas. The following members have already stepped up to the challenge by volunteering to serve as officers.

  • Dayna James – President
  • Sandi Lambert – President-Elect
  • Melynie Wright – Vice President
  • Trina Brown – Treasurer
  • Marchelle Washington – Secretary
  • Lynett Hookfin – Membership Chair
  • Semi Wadhwa – Board member
  • Robert Tamplain – Board member
  • Ronnie Fiest – Board member
  • Monique McGee-Duronslet – Board member
  • Katie Long – Board member

Members of established Kiwanis Clubs across the region came to Lake Pontchartrain Elementary this week to help establish the new club. Among them was Regional Trustee Rogena Mitchell from Pascagoula, Mississippi.

“Our goal is to utilize this adult club to formulate clubs throughout our school district, whether it’s public, private, parochial or home school,” Mitchell said. “We want our kids to be servant leaders, and we have to teach them how to give back.”

According to Mitchell, the Kiwanis family welcomes individuals of any age or ability. Elementary schools have K Kids and middle schools have Builder’s Club, while high schools have Key Club and colleges have Circle K. The Kiwanis family also offers Action Club, geared toward adults with special needs. While the names vary, all clubs share the same goal to serve and uplift the community.

The Kiwanis Club can also partner with existing community organizations for service projects to achieve greater impact.

“Kiwanis means opportunity to me. As a junior in high school, our local Kiwanis Club in Pascagoula, Mississippi afforded me a scholarship to go to college. Because of that scholarship, I’m here today,” Mitchell said.

Hookfin said establishing clubs at local schools will prepare students for the future.

“When I complete reference forms, they are not only asking for GPAs anymore. They are asking what service projects students are involved with and if they volunteer in their community,” she said. “Being a well-rounded person, the opportunity to be a global citizen and compete with others for scholarships and next steps in life is not just about your GPA anymore. If we don’t have organizations for our scholars to thrive in, then who are we?”

Service opportunities are also essential to rebuilding the River Parishes in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, according to Hookfin.

“We may see things that look different, but the heart and the healing of people has to take place as well. You don’t get to heal until you serve and help others,” she said. “That is all part of the healing process for kids. The social and emotional aspect of a child understanding that they had an opportunity to help rebuild their community – that’s the work that we want to do.”

Lashover told new members that he has been part of Kiwanis for nine years because he has a heart for helping the community.

“We raise a lot of money, but what we bring in goes back out. It’s not about writing checks; we raise money for service work. That’s what Kiwanis is about,” Lashover said. “I’m here because I like helping people. If you’ve got a servant heart, Kiwanis is where you want to be. Everybody comes from different walks of life, but at the end of the day, we’re all helping the kids.”

During this week’s initial meeting in LaPlace, Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Kelly-White said Kiwanis Clubs decide what service projects are best suited for their own community, whether it involves sprucing up a campus garden, painting schools, reading books to children or building free little libraries.

Kiwanis also offers programs such as Terrific Kids and Bringing Up Grades, using positive reinforcement and prizes to reward students for learning. Other programs address social needs. One example is the Backpacks for Kids program, which loads up bags with snacks and drinks to get children through the weekend and breaks when they do not have access to school lunches.

The next Kiwanis Club of Tri Parishes meeting is tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, February 22 at Belle Terre Country Club, and the cost to join is $10 per month.