Lake Norman & Mooresville

Optimist members give back

The East Lincoln Optimist Club, a charter club of Optimist International, exemplifies the organization's motto, "A friend of youth."

The local club offers hundreds of local youth the chance to participate in various sports. The organization is among many in the Charlotte area that work to help others. The Charlotte Observer's annual Giving Guide highlights many of those groups who help others.

Lincoln County provides a grant of $10,000-$15,000 a year to support the club. The programs in turn are run by volunteers, many of them parents of the youth who are playing.

Pete Capece, 34, a lawyer at the Jonas Law Firm, is one of those volunteers. Although he has no children, he has served as Commissioner of Football/Cheerleading since 2004, as well as coaching the 9-10 year old football squad.

Growing up in Vero Beach, Fla., he began playing football at the age of 7. He played football and wrestled in high school, and he was an offensive lineman at Catawba College.

Although he is proud of his 33-game winning streak with his 11-12 year old football squad, Capece says his motivation as coach and commissioner comes from seeing kids he coached play football in high school. "If I gave them a little bit of inspiration to continue with a sport, then I know that I made a difference in their lives," said Capece.

Capece says he doesn't find it unusual becoming involved in helping other people's children.

"I already played my football. I won my championships. Now it's my turn to pay it forward, to take what I've learned from my coaches and pass it along to these youth who may, in turn, some day pay it forward themselves."

Kellee Denis, 37, volunteers as a cheerleading coach. Active in cheerleading since she was 6 in Danbury, Conn., she cheered for her elementary school basketball squad, middle school football, and high school football. She eventually coached cheerleading for the Pop Warner squad on which she cheered as a young girl in Connecticut.

A secretary at the Jonas Law Firm, Kellee has two children and both are students at St. James Elementary. Son Tyler, 9, plays football on the White Mighty Mites squad, while daughter McKenzie, 7, is a cheerleader on Kellee's White Mighty Mites squad. McKenzie, who is in competition dance as well, cheers at all of her brother Tyler's football games.

The success of the programs is evident from the numbers of youth involved. In the last several years, the football program grew from two teams, with a total of 45 players, to eight teams and more than 200 players, ranging in age from 7 to 12. The baseball program, beginning at the T-ball level, enrolls some 600 kids, while 300 are involved in basketball.

The cheerleading program, which has separate squads for each level in the football program, went from 20 girls in 2004 to more than 100 today. Kellee says the growth in the program may be due, in part, to the cost of the cheer uniforms declining from $250 to $150. Some scholarships, provided by local churches and Optimist Club fundraisers, are also available.

Capece says there are not enough volunteers to coach and provide services. "Parental support of the program is strong, but additional support is always a plus. I have some fantastic people, parents and others, who help with the program, but we can always use more help," he adds.

Interested persons should go to the East Lincoln Optimist Club website, where they can leave contact information. Volunteers do not have to be members of the Optimist Club, although new members are welcome.

Membership is open to men and women, and meetings are once a month at the East Lincoln Community Center on Optimist Club Road in Denver.