A Kiwanis kind of town: Alpine, California

How many lives can one Kiwanis club possibly touch? In Southern California, there’s a force of individuals keenly determined to find out.

Story by Nicholas Drake
Photos by Luis García

Maybe it’s the location. Or perhaps it’s the weather. Quite possibly it’s just the way they are. A force of nature unto themselves.

Thirty miles east of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California’s Cuyamaca Mountains, the town of Alpine, California, pops up along Interstate 8 in a balmy plateau 1,843 feet above sea level. It is here where you will find a force of individuals who know no bounds. They are driven, clever and kind. They think big. They get things done. They tell good stories. And sometimes stories are told about them.

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“Everyone in town looks up to them,” says Susan Hobbs, who has lived in Alpine for 38 of her 69 years. “Kids especially look up to them. They want to pass along a certain sense of community by way of example. They touch so many things in Alpine.”

Owner of the Alpine Village Bakery before retiring years ago, Hobbs is one of 16,000 or so Alpinians who populate 26 square miles of a diverse landscape that’s never really too hot and never quite too cold. This “they” she and others like to talk about are the members of the Kiwanis Club of Alpine. Made up of 128 service-minded volunteers, the club logs somewhere in the vicinity of 16,000 service hours a year—about one hour for every man, woman and child in Alpine.

“They support families and students and schools and all sorts of things,” Hobbs says. “Along with financial support, you’ll see 15 or 20 of them show up at different events around town to help out. They have strong values. They work hard.”

With 16,000 service hours, Alpine Kiwanians host close to 50 different projects per year. About 90 percent of the membership is active in club events. In the club’s 63-year history, no member has ever been elected president twice. Each year, members raise roughly US$100,000 to support their community. Everyone knows Kiwanis in Alpine. Brand awareness is not an issue.

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The Alpine Challenge
Jim Cate smiles and surveys the field of riders registering for the 13th Annual Alpine Challenge Bike Ride, which starts and finishes at Summers Past Farms in Flinn Springs, California, west of Alpine on Olde Highway 80. As president of the Alpine Kiwanis Club, Cate keeps a quick wit and close eye on the operation unfolding in front of him, fellow members and sponsored Granite Hill High School Key Clubbers. Some 500 cyclists have descended upon the area.

“People love this event and return year after year from all over,” Cate says with both wonderment and pride. “It’s one of the biggest in Southern California. Riders choose routes of 25, 50, 62 and 100 miles over hills, through canyons and into the Cleveland National Forest. We provide maps, SAG stops, roadside assistance, medals, T-shirts, food, drinks and even massages.”

Dick Brown, Corinne Lewis and Ed Paul head up organizing and executing the event. Cate says they’re the best in the business. They know how to manage projects and work with their fellow Kiwanians for success. Brown put a ton of time into ensuring the bike event succeeded.

“People in our club understand about service,” says Brown, who serves as secretary/treasurer of the Alpine Kiwanis Club Foundation. “We have a great reputation in the community. If anyone is in need, we can usually help out in some way.”

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Thirty-four miles northeast of Flinn Springs, Brian Stewart mans SAG (support and gear) Stop 5 in front of his home in Pine Valley, California. Nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, the stop is a welcome respite for riders of the 62- and 100-mile treks. An Alpine Kiwanian since 1989, Stewart offers riders water, energy drinks, fruit and snacks.

“What do you need?! What can I get you?!” Stewart asks as riders dismount their bikes out of breath. “Welcome to SAG Stop 5. Let me know how I can help you.”

Two riders from Chula Vista, California, sit on chairs Stewart has spread out near his driveway. Fred Capati, 44, and Joey Magsanoc, 51, have nothing but praise for the event.

“It’s an awesome ride,” says Capati of the Southbay Wheel Krankers. “The SAG support is great. You don’t get that everywhere.”

“People love this event and return year after year from all over. It’s one of the biggest in Southern California.”

Ed Paul co-founded the Alpine Challenge in 2000 after riding in a Poway, California, Kiwanis Club bike event. As an Alpine Kiwanian, Paul was good-naturedly fined by his club for participating in another club’s project. “A fellow Kiwanian said, ‘Hey, if you like riding so much, why not create an event for our club?’” he recalls.

Alpine Kiwanians Jim Mann and Tom Lewis introduced Paul to the idea that they could help high school students at risk of dropping out by funding scholarships as incentives for staying in school until graduation. Paul presented the idea of a cycling event to fellow riding enthusiast Wayne Hickey, CEO of San Diego’s Roel Construction Company. Hickey agreed to help out if half the funds raised went to Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, where his niece was once treated.

“The Alpine Kiwanis Club was already a supporter of the hospital, so of course we agreed,” says Paul, whose wife, Dawn, has been a key organizer since the project’s inception. “The first year, we only had 70 riders and barely broke even. Then Wayne was able to bring in corporate sponsors through his connections at Roel. Plus we charged entry fees to participate in the ride.”

For 2013, the club charged $45 for early registration. On the day of the event, single riders paid $60 and tandems paid $70.

“We ended up raising about $10,000 after expenses for the 2013 Alpine Challenge,” Brown says.

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The Youth Olympics
Corinne Lewis is a multitasker extraordinaire. Along with running rider registration for the Alpine Challenge, she heads up the Alpine Kiwanis Youth Olympics in January. There, she can be seen interacting and sharing a laugh with students, parents, friends and fellow Kiwanians.

“The Youth Olympics is such a great project,” says Lewis, who became an Alpine Kiwanian in 2003. “It’s a free event the club has sponsored for about 40 years. It’s pretty remarkable to see so many young people pushing themselves physically and feeling proud of their accomplishments.”

Boys and girls ages 4 to 13 compete in sports such as 20-, 40- and 60-meter races, long jump, soccer ball dribble, softball throw, basketball free throw, rope skipping and bicycle gymkhana. Parents cheer on their children while Kiwanians keep track of all the scores.

“My son’s first track competition was at the Kiwanis Youth Olympics,” says Shelly Coleman, whose children Willie and Carlita have attended the event for years. “My husband and I enjoy seeing them stretch themselves. Willie went on to place well in national track and field competitions. His inspiration started here.”

So what inspires these Kiwanians to stage nearly 50 projects a year and donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to their community?

“It’s the members,” Lewis says. “This club is amazing to me. If you want to do service, this is the club to join.”

President Jim Cate, who joined the club in 2001, credits the success to strong leaders and good projects.

“It becomes self-sustaining,” Cate says. “Once you get up to that level of energy, it takes on a momentum of its own.”

This article originally appeared in print in the August 2013 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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