Alternate School Key Club

It was early morning, and I felt privileged to be able to accompany 17 St. Helens Key Club members and their faculty advisor.  They had packed lunches, water, pop, and snacks. One student brought a cooler for cold drinks. The students had elected to spend a day doing maintenance for the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp. 

I felt very pleased that the school and students allowed me to go with them. This Key club was the CCEC (Columbia County Education Campus) Key club. CCEC had the distinction of being the first alternative school Key Club to be organized in Oregon.

Some people do not know what a Key Club is. Key Clubs are part of Kiwanis International's family of clubs.  They are the oldest and largest high school service organization in the world. A Key Club is an international student-led organization which provides its members with opportunities to give service, build character, and develop leadership.  Their origin goes back to 1925. They were the brain child of two Sacramento Kiwanis members, who also happened to be educators.  One of the men was the California State Commissioner of Schools, Albert Olney; and the other was Frank Vincent a vocational education teacher. They started Key Club as a response to a growing number of high school fraternities. These educators (along with many other people) were concerned that fraternities often represented less than wholesome activities for high school youth.

Olney and Vincent approached their Kiwanis club with the idea of creating a high school club that would be patterned after Kiwanis. They suggested that this club would be a vehicle to provide service for both their school and their community.   Their first Key Club meeting was held May 7, 1925 in Sacramento High School.  Presently there are now Key Clubs in over 5000 high schools in the United States and Canada. Key clubs also exist in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Australia, and Asia. 

To quote the International Key Club web site ( "Evidence of the value of this group and program is found in the fact that the Sacramento High School Key Club is still flourishing today."

The students and I climbed on to a large yellow bus and I selected a less than adult sized seat to spend my next two hours.

"It's going to be hot" said a kid across from me. We had better open our windows.

"No air conditioning?" I asked

My question was met with laughter. 

Their faculty Advisor stood up and announced "If your seat is equipped with seat belts, you must fasten them."

None of the seats had seat belts.

The bus driver appeared to be a lady in her mid forties. She, evidently, enjoyed these particular kids.  She made it very clear that she specifically asked to be their driver.

The bus doors closed and our driver began her skillful piloting of our vehicle.   I expected the ride to be noisy, but this was not the case.  As soon as the vehicle started moving, rucksacks were opened, and I-pods, ear buds, and portable CD players appeared.  It seemed that most, instead of engaging in conversation, quickly became rhythmically in sync with their own recorded music.   

I didn't bring music with me and managed to rope a student into conversation. There are reasons why students attend the alternative school. These young people often have difficulty fitting into a traditional high school.  Some have attention deficit disorders (ADD); some suffer from hyperactivity or a combination of attention deficit and hyperactivity (ADHD). There are other students that have had problems with substance abuse.  One boy that I spoke with told me that he was a substance abuser.  He said that he has been one since he was 12.  He is a High School Senior now, and was pleased to say that he has been clean for 8 months.  He also bragged that, with the exception of Geometry, he was getting straight A's in all his subjects.  The Alternative school provides students with opportunities for credit recovery, to increase students success, and if possible to draw students back into the traditional school system. 

Our bus driver handled her vehicle with a great deal of skill. It was evident that she knew how to drive well.  One of the kids knew her, and said that she used to race stock cars at the Portland International Raceway. We made a quick "pit stop" at Wood village. Some had to use the rest room.  The bus seats were close together and all exited the bus for a few moments so that they could stretch their legs.   

Less than ten minutes elapsed and the bus was again on its way up to Mt. Hood.  We turned on Highway 26 and started our assent up the Cascades.  I noticed a sign for Suburban Auto Group by the road. 

"Hey," I said.  "Those are the people that made all those Internet Trunk Monkey Advertisements.  I want my wife to buy me a Trunk Monkey for Christmas." 

I was both pleased and amused to discover that most of the kids knew about "Trunk Monkeys."

We soon reached Rhododendron.  We turned left on Road 39 and quickly
found ourselves at the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp. 

The Camp was a gorgeous place. It had beautiful rustic cabins, a trout pond filled with fish, pools and trees and trails.   It is a unique camp insomuch as it caters to children and adults with disabilities.  No other facility exists in this part of Oregon or Washington that attempts to do what the Mt. Hood camp does.  They advertise that they offer disabled people the opportunity to leave behind their routine lives and taste the freedom of the outdoors - to go beyond limits that they, and others have set for them.  They assign one councilor for every camper. The councilors work "one-on-one", with the campers and what they give is often a "life-changing experience."
Activities include the challenge/ropes course, horseback riding, fishing, hiking, arts and crafts, swimming, and a dance and campfire program at the main camp as well as canoeing, swimming and fishing at Trillium Lake.  They provide for special needs: Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Diabetes, Downs's Syndrome, Epilepsy, Hearing Impairment, Mental Retardation, Limited Mobility, Speech/Communication Impairment, Spina Bifida, Visual Impairment as well as camping experience for people that are totally blind.  They have professionals in education and health services as well as a full-time nurse on staff.   

Our local Kiwanis Clubs provide Scholarships each year to send people to this Camp.

We were met by a young man in his 20's who greeted our bus.  We told him that we were there to work, and he gladly volunteered that he had work for us to do.   We split into two groups and spent a couple of hours clearing trails, picking up trash and totally enjoying ourselves.  My group worked on the Lake Trail.  We moved rocks and cut berries.  We worked fast, hard and finished early.  We then spent our remaining time feeding the fish in the Trout pond, while a few decided to work off more energy by playing basketball with our camp guide.

"Hey" I asked them. "Are you glad that you came up here today?"

"I am," answered one of the girls. "I really would love to be a counselor here. I would love to work with handicapped people."

"You might consider it" I replied. "We have a number of people from our town who spend their summers helping at this camp."

"I came up here to get out of a day in school." Commented one of the boys; "Instead I learned about helping disabled people, and doing something worth while, doing something that can make us feel good about ourselves."

"You know" thought I. "That is pretty much what Key Club is all about. To care for others, to provide service, and to try and make this world a better place to live in.  We do care, and by caring, we can help change this world for the better."

I was so very pleased to be able to spend a day with these kids, It made my day, and hopefully made a better day for others as well.


Bill loves letters, and you can write to him at,

Return to Main Page               More of Bill's Stories and Articles