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The Point Loma Optimist Club’s Golden Grand Fundraiser

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

By Ava Mulno and Ian Sturak

Back for another year, the Point Loma Optimist Club’s Golden Grand Fundraiser was a wonderful success. Helmed by Colin Clifford, who took on the mantle after previously serving on the planning committee for the event, the annual auction took place in May of 2023 and constitutes a major fundraising source for the Optimist Club, a philanthropic organization dedicated to supporting the local youth of San Diego’s Peninsula community. Despite last-minute issues that could have, for any other organization, derailed the event, the Optimist Club thrived, most especially due to the unique community fostered by their members, who now will decide the best possible use of the funds raised.

The event itself was hosted at the Bali Hai, a restaurant well known throughout the Point Loma community for its enduring hospitality; rarely is a sports banquet held, an award delivered, or academic event held elsewhere on the peninsula. The owners, Susie and Lary Baumann, reminisced over their years involved with the Optimists, as Mr. Baumann joined the club in 1977. To Baumann, being an Optimist is primarily about being a “friend of youth” in every way that he can. It’s a way to rest one’s hopes for humanity in a new generation and endow them with the tools to succeed in every way that they can.

This mentality is one of the most consistent reasons that each member of the Point Loma Optimist Club joined the organization. Despite differences in age, religion, and general viewpoints, each is dedicated to using their time to better the lives of the people who will one day stand in their shoes. Whether it is John Litrell, a new member of the Optimists, or Bob Silides, a past president of the club, they both see it as a way to give back to the community.

Additionally, it extends beyond mere actions undertaken by the Optimists as a group. Adam Zack, a co-owner of Jensen’s, a supermarket in Point Loma, discussed the importance of hiring local youth, following the theme of community-based action. He talked about how it has become the company’s goal to support youth through employment. The Baumanns mirrored his sentiment, discussing their own employment of minors as a way to foster an environment that prioritizes providing local youth with opportunities.

It was perhaps Steve Doyle who phrased it the best while talking about the Optimist tradition of putting flags up along the main road of Rosecrans Street on Sundays and on holidays. This has become a favorite activity amongst the vast majority of the club members we spoke to throughout the night. Doyle also mentioned something that he thought needed attention - namely that, in addition to other occasions, flags are also put up when a submarine is returning to base. He described the purpose as giving military children a chance to feel the presence of a community dedicated to honoring their family - to know that, “there were people there who cared about them.” Doyle talked about the prevalence of military-dependent families in poverty due to low minimum wages, especially with the costs of living associated with San Diego. To him, it was personally important that “the Optimists do all that they can to make sure financial support goes to the youth of Peninsula” and their families in a community so stricken with wealth inequality.

The scholarships given out by the Optimist Club were, for many members, the most important thing that they do together. Among these individuals was the current President of the Optimist Club, James Card, who explained the parameters of the scholarships. Point Loma High School seniors apply and, unlike most such opportunities, get results back when they’ve already been accepted into colleges. Their location of university- in or out of state, along with their academic merit and application essays all factor into the division of the total amount of money given away. Each year, there is a total of twelve thousand dollars divided up between the winners. The allocation of money often changes each year. Their scholarship program is a reflection of how the Optimists strive to individually weigh what each individual truly needs. They also stressed that it was a truly holistic application, meaning that academics were not the sole decision to determine all merit. Instead, it is an opportunity for the Optimists to benefit those who they believe will best benefit from the aid. Card wanted to emphasize the importance of simply applying, stating that, “Every kid has a shot, and they [the Optimists] want every chance to give back to the community that they can.”

William Bramley, a former president of the organization, stressed the importance of “doing our best to give [to] youth programs,” discussing the Optimist’s especially generous donations to local elementary schools. Principal Tanya McMillin, the principal of one of the receiving beneficiary institutes, Dewey Elementary, was also in attendance at the event. With dwindling education budgets, she discussed how the Optimists had been able to help provide her with funds for a computer program including a student science lab, a library, 3D-printers, and student lessons for visual and performing arts in Liberty Station. Colleen Veltz and Peggy Fischbeck, also in attendance at the event, both worked with youth at those programs. Principal McMillin additionally discussed a continual need for private funding to substitute lacking public funding, saying that swim lessons for children were one of her administration’s next priorities, and one that they would be hoping the Optimist club would be able to assist them with.

Marco Drapeau, principal of Ocean Beach Elementary, discussed how his school had benefited from Optimist funding. For his administration, it was “reading gardens” that were built, part of an ongoing effort by him with a focus on the beautification of O.B. Elementary. Amidst budget cuts and bills endangering the future of public schools, the Optimist Club has allowed each school to have a source of funding for improving the lives of the local youth - something Principal Drapeau stressed that he couldn’t be more thankful for.

Principals, business-owners, director chairs—the event was jovial for the fact that nearly every person there was in some way a benefactor or a beneficiary. Even a portion of the staff were recipients; the Point Loma varsity golf team were assisting at the event in thanks for jackets and golf balls that had generously been donated by the Optimist Club, which authentically seemed to internalize the spirit of Board of Directors member Vernon Lee’s established mission statement of “dedicating money to youth activity.”

Near the end of the night, Gayle and Rod Eales, both alumni of Point Loma High School, talked about their experience preparing for the event. The couple was responsible for decorating the night’s venue to fit the Hawaiian theme. However, they soon found themselves short on the paradise flowers and Hawaiian tablecloths needed to properly realize their vision. In a manner fitting an Optimist Club event, Ms. Eale recounted how her neighbors and the community at large responded to last-minute requests, donating flowers and letting their tablecloths be cut up neatly to fit the round event tables. She recalled that, no matter how cliche it may be, the process of the event truly reflected the old wisdom that “it takes a village.” From what was seen at the night of the Golden Grand, the Optimist Club continues to be a rare organization that does not merely preach what may otherwise be an overly naive paradigm of universal altruism, but actually serves to do all that it can to realize it in the surrounding community.


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