Youth Programs


As an affiliate of Optimist International, the Downtown Optimist Club participates in a number of youth programs. Since 1936 the Downtown Club has donated more than $1,050,000 to help support local projects that directly serve the youth of our community.

Jr. World of Golf Tournament — In concert with Optimist International the Optimists of the East Missouri District host an annual golf tournament for young people. Winners are supported in attending the national competition in Florida. Volunteers prepare and mail invitations, staff the local tournament and host competitors to the national tournament. For more information about the local opportunities, please visit the East Missouri District Junior Golf website. Or, for more information about the national championships, visit the Optimist International Junior Golf website.

Essay Contest — An annual essay contest gives local students the chance to express their opinions and demonstrate their writing skills. Three winners are honored. Optimist International provides the annual theme, along with materials for local promotion. The competition extends to district and national levels where the first place winner receives a cash prize. There is no charge to students for entering this contest. Members promote participation, collect essays and arrange for local judging. For more information see the International Optimist website.

Bike Safety Program — Tots to teens test their abilities on bicycles they negotiate through a 9- step, skills course. T-shirts, name badges, bicycles and helmets are just a few of the prizes that are given to participants. Working with a number of co-sponsors, the Club hosts this annual 2-hour clinic in May. From securing the location and prizes to assembling and staffing the courses, club members make this project a reality for more than 200 young people in Columbia.

Safety Awareness Poster Contest The deadline for signing up for our annual Safety Awareness Poster Contest is April 7 of every year! Please stay tuned for more details!

Oratorical Contest – This annual contest gives high school students, up to age 16, the chance to speak publicly. First conducted in 1928, the contest provides the winning student at the club level with cash prizes and medallions. Zone winners receive a plaque, and district winners receive a plaque and a $1,500 scholarship. Members promote the program, arrange for speeches and select the judges.For more information visit the International Optimist website.

Mid-Missouri Soap Box Derby  – The local derby promotes fun, safe competition and enables contestants to qualify for the All American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio. The Columbia race dates back to 1938. Working with the Mid-Missouri Soap Box Derby Association, the Club co-sponsors the annual contest. Members arrange to inspect cars, advertise the Derby, accept applications and staff the race. The derby is held in June. 

Junior Optimist International (JOI)  — This volunteer organization of nearly 20,000 young people from all over North America is dedicated to helping others and changing the world. In Columbia, our Club helps sponsor two such groups. One club is at Jefferson Jr. High School and one is through the Cornerstone Group Home for Boys.

Respect for Law — Promoting respect for the law includes programs on local and national issues, provided by professionals. Past presenters have included district circuit judges, patrolmen, and the sheriff. Members arrange for speakers and report information regarding new issues or changes that may affect our community.

Scholarship Program — Each Spring the Club offers six scholarships of $1,000 each. Two are awarded to seniors at each of three high schools in Columbia.

Youth Appreciation — Annually, Optimists worldwide celebrate the contributions of young people during Youth Appreciation Week in November.