After graduating from college in the mid 1990s, Jeffrey Wolff couldn’t find a Kiwanis club that was right for him. His solution was to help create one.
As a former Circle K International club member, Jeffrey benefited from staying in touch with other former members. After graduation, he was involved with CKI alumni in the Capital District—and those connections led to a group of young professionals chartering their own club in 1998.
“We built the Kiwanis club we were looking for,” Jeffrey says. “We were one of the first young-professionals clubs in the organization. And one of the first things I did was get involved with CKI.”
The mentality to serve
Clearly, Jeffrey still had the can-do spirit that’s such a hallmark of the Kiwanis family’s Service Leadership Programs. As an alumnus both of Circle K and Key Club, he was seeking the kind of vitality among Kiwanians that he had enjoyed in high school and college.
“Age wasn’t so much the issue as mentality,” Jeffrey says. “We wanted it to be less about meetings and more about projects. We were looking for connection.”
They got it. To this day, he says, the Kiwanis Club of Tysons Corner/McLean, Virginia, has one of the highest service-per-hour rates of any club. For Jeffrey, service has been a defining aspect of the Kiwanis family from the beginning.
In 10th grade, a friend invited him to join the Key Club of East Meadow High School in New York. “I loved it,” he says. “I hadn’t done much community service until then. It was a big club, about 200 members, and I found that I wanted to be part of that energy.”
Influence and impact
Another continuing inspiration is Marilyn Martin, his Key Club’s faculty advisor. In fact, Jeffrey credits his Kiwanis-club membership today to her work with Key Club members.
“It was just something about her style,” Jeffrey says. “Some advisors are very hands-on, and some are too hands-off. Mrs. Martin gave you as much space as you wanted, but she could jump in to correct things without seeming to take over. Before people talked about coaching versus teaching, she was doing it.”
George Martin, her husband, was a member of the Kiwanis club of East Meadow, which sponsored the Key Club. Together the Martins were examples and inspirations for Jeffrey even as he left high school and continued beyond Key Club.
By the autumn of his freshman year at Hofstra University, Jeffrey and two other students had started a Circle K club (thanks in part to the CKI lieutenant governor, who had brought them together during the summer). When he transferred to George Mason University in Virginia, he joined the Circle K club there—and got his first taste of leadership beyond the club level, serving as a lieutenant governor and eventually as a Trustee of the International Board.
Through it all, Jeffrey benefited from the guidance of adult mentors. And he has remembered their example. He’s a Key Club advisor himself now—he was also a CKI administrator for 10 years—and as a Kiwanian he worked to re-charter a Circle K club for George Mason. That’s in addition to his leadership at the Kiwanis club, division and district levels, which includes his term as 2011–12 Distinguished Governor of the Capital District.
“I got so much from my advisors in Key Club and Circle K,” he says. “I want to have that impact. It’s about being a good mentor and influence. That’s the point of Kiwanis, for me.”
A new perspective on passion
Jeffrey continues to make an impact—and serve Kiwanis’ SLPs—through The Eliminate Project. He is the campaign’s SLP vice chairman.
The desire to be a part of the effort started right away, when The Eliminate Project was announced at the 2010 Kiwanis International convention. His first child was just two months old, and the personal connection was obvious. But his work with members of the youth programs has broadened his perspective on the inspiration the campaign can bring them—and vice versa.
“I think we’ve helped build a philanthropic mentality in students that may not have been there before,” Jeffrey says. “They enjoy service, and they see its benefits already—it’s what they do. But this helps show them what being part of a global fundraising effort can accomplish. What better way is there to engage young people than in a worldwide effort to prevent babies from dying needlessly of a completely preventable disease?”
“I never had to sell the SLPs on The Eliminate Project,” he adds. “I can’t do justice to their passion. It’s a fire we need to harness.”
For Jeffrey, it’s another perspective on the youthful passion that helps drive him as a Kiwanis club member and as a mentor. The Tysons Corner/McLean Kiwanis Club has continued to be ideal for time-pressed young professionals, he says, bringing in one or two guests every meeting. He credits the club’s constant recruiting efforts and the ease with which people find information about the club through an online tools for community-minded individuals such as MeetUp.
Encountering potential members who have specific needs and expectations—while sharing an interest in service and fellowship—has emphasized for Jeffrey the importance of making sure the Kiwanis experience is personally fulfilling.
“My advice?” he says. “If you don’t find a club that meets your needs, build one.”