Some people volunteer to fill their time. David Pudles of Winter Park volunteers to spread joy. As a volunteer currently with the Special Olympics and the local Chamber of Commerce, he gets his greatest joy from volunteering with the Oviedo-Winter Springs Optimist’s Club, an organization that mentors children. Pudles, who serves as vice president, has been working with the non-profit for more than 25 years.
“Someone asked me to one of the club’s meetings. I went, liked what they were doing, and have been there ever since,” Pudles says.
The idea for the Optimist’s Club began in 1919 in upstate New York by some gentlemen who wanted to help the community. The club now offers scholarships, kid’ s dances, camps and even breakfast with Santa during the holidays. There is one club at Oviedo High School and another is in the works at a nearby high school.
“Each club can do whatever activities or projects they want. We do dances for the special needs kids and every Saturday have bowling. Sometimes we’ll have a pool party at the aquatics center,” Pudles says. “At times, we get more out of it than the kids do.”
The Optimist’s Club offers an oratorical scholarship for the deaf and hard of hearing where they can win $2,500. Students can also earn scholarship money by participating in an essay competition. Its 10th anniversary ‘Cops ‘ n Cars for Kids’ car show, in which 25 percent of funds raised is donated to Morse Hospital in Lake Nona, is next January.
With clubs all over the world and a mission to bring out the best in kids, the club brings out the best in everyone involved. “Through them I discovered community service is one of my biggest passions. I have been able to get scholarships that award students who have done community service,” Maria LoPorto, says. LoPorto graduated from Lyman High School and is now in the television field at the University of Central Florida. “Dave has really been a role model. I’d love to leave a legacy like him,” she says.
One student, who lost her father to a drug overdose and her mother to prison, went on to become president of a local Optimist’ s Club. In an effort to differentiate herself from her parents, ensuring she wouldn’t end up in the same position, she furthered her education by earning a scholarship to Rollins College. “Sometimes, we are the only positive role models these kids have,” Pudles says.
“My mom and I attended the Optimist Club and asked for support for our Cheering For Caitlin 5k. Mr. Pudles was the first to offer support,”Katie Chandler, Miss Winter Park Outstanding Teen 2013-2014, says. “On the day of the race, he was out there bright and early. He is focused on making a difference in the community.”
By making a difference in local student’ s lives, it’ s easy for Pudles to stay optimistic about the club’ s future in the community.