Rick McKernan has lived in Columbia since 1992. Encouraged by his good friend and fellow Optimist, along with his experience as a youth camp counselor in France during his college years, he joined the Downtown Optimist Club in 1998.
The Downtown Optimist Club employs many projects, such as their oratorical contest, essay contest, Bicycle Safety Class, Soap Box Derby, as well as providing financial support for local sports, food, and scholarship programs.
One particular project that Rick is especially proud of is Homes For Computers. “Before COVID-19, a substantial number of Columbia students did not have regular access to computers at home to help with school work. The Homes For Computers project was a great way to equalize educational opportunities by putting computers into the homes of kids who might otherwise not have that advantage,” Rick explained.
Through Homes for Computers, surplus computers from the City of Columbia are given to low income individuals and families identified by the Voluntary Action Center. The Downtown Optimist Club provides their building on Grand Avenue for the distribution and club members help clean, test, and assist recipients in loading their computers. The program started in 2003.
After Optimist International created an internet safety program to help kids safely navigate the web, Rick said the program was the “perfect marriage.”
Rick, now a 23 year member of the program, says “Volunteer Columbia, along with the Optimist Club, provide a small way for me to give back, to show my gratitude, and hopefully make a difference in the life of a child.”
Written by volunteer Courtney Risner