Splashjack 2013 Chairwoman Jennifer Oswald, left, and fellow Foothills Optimist member Nova Sipes meet with Breakers Water Park general manager Steve Miklosi to prepare for Saturday's Splashjack 2013, a blackjack tournament and fundraiser for adults age 21 and over.


You may think that water parks are just for kids, but don't bet on it.

Adults age 21 and older can hit the man-made beach at Breakers Water Park in Marana starting at 8 p.m. Saturday for Splashjack 2013, an evening of casino games, food, music and fun complete with a blackjack tournament - all to benefit local kids.

"I enjoy going to casinos, but it can be really expensive," said Jennifer Oswald, chairwoman of the fund-raiser for the Foothills Optimist Club. "You can spend a lot more money than you are expecting. We wanted to bring the idea of a casino for a reasonable price and let people play casino games all night long, and on top of that, they will have the opportunity to use the Breakers wave pool at night. It will be so much fun. We are really excited,"

The 20-member service organization funnels about $10,000 into youth-related programs in communities throughout northern Pima County each year.

Oswald, a teacher, is especially passionate since proceeds from the event will support a Junior Optimist Club to facilitate youth volunteerism. It also will help fund the Marana Summer Pool Pass program, which provides summer pool passes for children who otherwise couldn't afford them, and MCAT High School, an alternative school for Marana School District students.

Oswald, who works with Skills for Success at Walter Douglas Elementary School in the Flowing Wells Unified School District and will serve as the facilitator for the Junior Optimist Club, said her students spearheaded the idea for the fundraiser.

"The kids were sitting around one day talking about how they wanted to volunteer at an animal shelter or children's hospital. Many of the children's families are financially stressed, and often parents don't have the time, money or ability to get kids to these places to volunteer. We started digging around and found out about Junior Optimist Clubs, which could help with that," she said.

The native Tucsonan said her own volunteerism began at Flowing Wells High School and continued at the University of Arizona with Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots program, followed later by experiences with the United Way and other nonprofits. She said these opportunities were a driving force in helping her understand the importance of teaching empathy from a young age.

"I think empathy is one of the best things we can teach young people, and, unfortunately, it is lacking in many people. When we have empathy, whether we believe the same things or different things, we can still understand each other, so it makes us communicate better and become better people in general," she said.

Building better communities by bringing out the best in kids is the mission of Optimist Clubs, according to Foothills Optimist Club President Wally Smith.

Since its inception in 2001, the club has supported a wide range of youth-oriented causes that fill unique niches "often different from those that other clubs support," Smith said.

She said that many small projects - such as an undertaking that supplies free hair care products and free shampoos and haircuts for children, and Little Hooves & Big Hearts, which provides therapy to special-needs children with specially trained miniature horses - are brought to the club's attention by members through colleagues, friends, family and acquaintances.

The club also offers ongoing support to various causes, including breakfast programs, school supplies and toiletries at local schools; support of children in homeless shelters; and the Hats For Kids program at the Ronald McDonald House of Southern Arizona, which provides hats, scarves and beanies for children undergoing cancer treatment and their siblings.

The club's long-term support of the Marana Summer Pool Pass program (more than $15,000 over the past eight years) has been so helpful in keeping kids healthy, happy and active that the club expanded support to the Catalina Summer Pool Pass program two years ago, Smith said.

"It is interesting. On all of these projects, the people we are involved with or partner with give so much time and money and energy," she said. "We really feel that we are helping them to help young people, and we see them supporting us in our efforts by making their programs work."

If You Go

• What: Splashjack 2013.

• When: 8 p.m. Saturday.

• Where: Breakers Water Park, 8555 W. Tangerine Road.

• Cost: $40 per person by Friday; $50 at the door - for adults age 21 and older only

• Etc.: Admission to Splashjack includes all-you-can eat hot dogs and two drink tickets (alcohol will be served); a souvenir cup; entertainment with a DJ; swimming in the Wave Pool at Breakers Bay; casino games such as blackjack, roulette, slot machines and craps with opportunities to win raffle prizes for the winners; and entry into the blackjack tournament featuring prizes for the top six winners.

• To donate or for more info: The Foothills Optimist Club welcomes donations of prizes to include in the raffle at the event. For more information or to buy tickets or make an online donation, go to foothillsoptimistcluboftucson.com or call 906-1908.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net