Nearly a decade has passed since Kiwanis had a presence in the vicinity of Gulfport. But even then, Gulfport never had a chapter to call its own. A global community of clubs, members, and partners, according to its website Kiwanis is dedicated to improving the lives of children one community at a time. And as of October 2019, that vast network of helpers got a little bigger when the Gulfport Kiwanis Club was officially chartered.
“Over the 10 or so years since the demise of Boca Ciega Kiwanis – which was never solely focused on the needs of children in Gulfport but a broader area – area Kiwanians have thought that the City of Gulfport had the right community identity and residents that would get involved,” says Allen Yergovich, Governor of the Florida District of Kiwanis and a Gulfport Kiwanis member. “Further investigation showed that there were enough areas of childhood needs and potential for betterment in the area.”
Doubts about whether the Gulfport community was ready to support its own club were promptly quelled.
“Since our charter, we have conducted an MLK Day of Service Gulfport Community Clean Up, fundraised and donated 500 pounds of food to the Kind Mouse Project and adopted two children for Christmas giving through Guardian Ad Litem,” says Marissa Stewart-Dix, Secretary/Treasurer of the Gulfport Kiwanis Club and incoming 2020-2021 President.
Like so many other non-profits and businesses, the pandemic put a drag on the young club’s momentum, but members continued to serve the community during at a time when children and community members were most in need.
“One member stocked all three Gulfport Little Food Pantries,” says Stewart-Dix. “Two others made a large donation of snacks to an agency that feeds Pinellas County School children, and another two members made a personal donation for prepaid advertising to a Gulfport restaurant via the ‘Bring Back the Gabber’ campaign. Our members are so enthusiastic and have such great ideas for service.”
Future projects include the formation of a Bringing Up Grades club and the restart of a Key Club, allowing for the induction of local high-schoolers into the largest student-led Service and Leadership organization in the world, with over 22,000 students in the Florida District completing over 300,000 service hours annually to school and community.
“Although we miss meeting face to face over dinner,” Stewart-Dix says, “the club has continued to meet virtually to reassess our goals and projects for the upcoming year in light of the pandemic.”
Under the leadership of current President Shannon Turner, the club has increased membership from six founding members to 22, meeting every first and third Thursday of the month at 6 p.m. via Zoom.
“If anyone would like to join,” adds Stewart-Dix, “membership dues are currently waived until October 2020.”
The Gulfport Kiwanis Club has already elected its first woman president, Shannon Turner, and for 2020-2021 Stewart-Dix will be installed as its first Black woman president. The presiding Governor of the Florida District of Kiwanis, Yergovich, is a married gay man. With a diverse leadership and membership and its enthusiasm for service to children and communities, Gulfport Kiwanis reflects the spirit of Gulfport without regard for race, sex, religion, age, political affiliation or sexual orientation.
“There’s no stipulation on a person’s heart for service to others,” Stewart-Dix says. “Any and all are welcomed to join! We’re a microcosm for the bigger change we all want to see in this community and this world.”
For membership information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Gulfport Kiwanis on Facebook.