Kiwanis celebrates century of helping others

In many ways, the local club is part of the fabric of Oak Bay

Oak Bay Kiwanis member Susan Wittmeier prepares to distribute this year’s Christmas cakes. Head to the Kiwanis Tea Room at Willows Beach from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday

As Kiwanis International celebrates its 100th anniversary, the local chapter continues to provide a vital service to the community of Oak Bay.

In many ways, the club is part of the fabric of this municipality, with the Kiwanis involved in everything from social housing to the iconic Willows Beach Tea Room to the annual Halloween bonfire that has entertained generations of Oak Bay residents.

“The Oak Bay club was founded in 1947,” said Leslie Johnston, president of Kiwanis Club of Oak Bay.

“The club tries to do as much as we can throughout the community,” she said.

Some examples of that work include community service and recreation programs and reading programs for kids.

“There’s a personal connection to a lot of the things we do,” she said.

For example, members of the club will cook casseroles for families staying at Janeece Place, a home away from home for parents whose children are undergoing treatment at Victoria General Hospital.

The work requires people to have “heart to heart” meetings and offer support during difficult times.

“It’s the satisfaction of giving back to the community,” Johnston said. “(Service club work) can’t all be done online.”

On Halloween, the club provided free hot chocolate and hot dogs at the community bonfire and sponsored a costume contest in which every child received a ribbon.

“I would say Kiwanis is more ‘hands on’ in the community,” Johnston said, explaining how the club differs from other service organizations. “We tend to be more localized in the community.”

In October, the club, whose motto is “Serving children of the world,” sponsored the annual pumpkin art exhibit at the Oak Bay municipal hall. The fundraiser featured 500 stylized pumpkins created by artist John Vickers.

Donations from the event helped fund CanAssist, an organization at the University of Victoria that works to improve life for people with disabilities.

“This year, we’ve been able to give Oak Bay’s new high school $42,000,” Johnston said, noting the money was used to help put seats in the school’s new theatre, help pay for the new scoreboard in the gym and a bus program.

Tea Room

The Oak Bay Kiwanis Club traces its roots to a candy kiosk at Willows Beach.

Eventually, the club expanded its offerings and the Kiwanis Tea Room now provides the bulk of the club’s funding.

The tea room is open daily from the end of April to the beginning of October.

Over the winter, the Oak Bay Kiwanis Pavilion Foundation uses the building to offer full breakfasts on Sundays, from 9 a.m. to noon. Proceeds go to the Kiwanis Pavilion, a 122-bed dementia centre on Cedar Hill Road.

Along with the tea room and the pavilion, the club also operates low-rental and independent seniors housing at Milton Manor and Rose Manor, respectively.

Thursday meetings

The club has about 45 members who meet from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays at Milton Manor.

“The door is always open for more,” Johnston said, adding that the only qualifications needed are “a good spirit and time to give.

“There is strength in numbers. The more people you can get out the better,” she said.

The next activity for the club is an annual Christmas cake fundraiser, which residents can expect to hear about soon.

It’s a long way from when Kiwanis International began as a place to network for businessmen in Detroit, Mich., back in 1915.

Over the years, the club evolved to meet the needs of its community, eventually becoming the service-focused organization it is today.

“Our club will be around for another 100,” Johnston said. “We’ve got too much at stake to ever think about it shutting down.”