Last fall, the Claremont Optimist Club was in bad shape.
The group, locally known for providing recreational leagues and activities for kids, had struggled financially for years, resisted talking with city officials and made poor use of its facilities.
It was a “sinking ship” on the verge of capsizing.
But now, after a year of electing new leaders, getting finances in order and re-opening communication with city officials two weeks ago, Optimist leaders say they are ready to put their rough waters behind them and head toward smooth sailing.
Optimist has a new board in order and is talking with city officials after more than three years with minimal communication with Claremont, which has invested more than $200,000 in Optimist since 1996.
The group has new programs in the works, new children using its facilities and finally has its finances in order – something Optimist secretary and treasurer Stephanie Turner said has not been an easy task.
“When I came to the Optimist and was given the checkbook, there was $65 in the checking account,” said Turner, a new board member with Optimist.
“We had several thousand dollars in bills and unpaid invoices as well.”
Before taking over last year, Turner said the Optimist’s former leaders had financial struggles that traced back to 2008, when Claremont bailed the club out of a large debt.
“The city took the loan over for $56,000,” said Claremont City Manager Doug Barrick recently. “We said, ‘We will buy you out, and you guys should have to pay for the fielding of a team and insurance.’”
But even after the bailout, the club continued to struggle. After Claremont took over the loan payment in 2008, Optimist’s former leaders did not respond to inquiries from the city for nearly three years.
So, with no word from the club and thousands of dollars invested, Claremont sent Optimist a letter.
“We wanted to know who was in the organization, and who were the people we needed to contact?” Barrick said. “We asked them to tell us a little about your finances and your enrollment, because the impression from the outside seemed like nothing was happening.”
Barrick said some of the letter’s wording was “harsh” and involved “restructuring the lease agreement” or “creating a new lease.”
“We wanted a response, and some of the wording was kind of harsh,” Barrick said. “We wanted to make sure that land was being used for recreational activities and fully used and developed, but we didn’t know what was going on because there was no communication between the club and the city.”
Barrick and the city council got their response – in an “unexpected” way.
During Claremont’s September city council meeting, Turner and a line of 20-30 Optimist Club members marched into the council’s chambers just before the opening invocation. Boys wearing baseball uniforms and parents wearing ball caps stood along the back wall of the room.
When it was Optimist’s time to speak, Turner informed the council of what had transpired throughout the past three years. She said there is a new board now, one that is unconnected to the club’s troubling past and dedicated to providing the best for their registered children.
After a lengthy and heated discussion, Claremont and Optimist finally re-opened their lines of communication and agreed on terms for the future.
Now, with a new board and city officials supporting them, Optimist leaders say they have a plethora of new ideas for the club. Last week, the board met with a member of the national Optimist branch and Claremont officials.
“Though there have been difficulties, everything is new and everything is fresh,” Turner said. “We want people to be involved and we are proud of what we have accomplished already this year.”
This year, Optimist will have a booth at Claremont Day and participate in Claremont parade in December, Hovis said.
“We have a fundraiser coming up and are doing a yard sale on the second Saturday in October as well,” Turner said.
Optimist also plans to host an essay contest in the future for students.
The contest, which would be open to students in Catawba County schools, could yield a $2,500 scholarship.
“We are really excited about the essay contests, and it shows the children that we are not just an athletic organization,” Turner said.
“If we have the community support and have people that are interested, there is so much more that we can do.”