How does Circle K International enrich members’ college years? In what ways does community service, fellowship and leadership development influence who you are—and who you become? We asked seven current and former members of Circle K to share thoughts, stories and insights.

Zachariah Lowe (second from right), University of Akron (alumnus)

As a freshman at The University of Akron in the fall of 2010, I thought I had it all together: My grades were good, I had many high school friends back home, and I was excited to be in college. I maintained the status quo for about two years. I continued to excel in academics and picked up a part-time job on campus, but something was still lacking. I simply did not feel a connection to the world that made me feel I was producing anything “good.”

I can thank Eric, my roommate, for introducing me to CKI at my first event: the Fall Rally in Toledo. In high school, I had seen service as a mandatory 10-hour graduation requirement, but shortly after my introduction to CKI I realized that service is the most fulfilling and enjoyable activity possible. Without realizing it, I began to set the rest of my life in motion at that event.

The organization motivated me to attend a spring-break service trip, where I met my future employer. By serving on the district board, I had an opportunity to lead while having fun and enjoying a very strong support network. I attended Leadership Academy as both a student and as a student facilitator; without a doubt, those experiences were the most touching and life-changing. I learned a lot about myself and discovered that I am loved, regardless of any differences I have.

Ultimately I took a leap that would again change my life; I decided to move from Ohio to South Carolina to begin my teaching career, made possible by a CKI scholarship that covered my moving costs. I now am a first-year teacher at school where 98% of the students live in poverty. If there is ever a situation that is too stressful, I have a huge network of Kiwanians to guide me through it. As a teacher, I feel more confident and successful because of my experience in CKI, and my students have made great progress in the past year.

Patrick Ewing, University of Victoria (alumnus)

More than two decades ago, I signed up for a number of clubs at the University of Victoria’s Clubs Day. But none changed my life the way Circle K did. That first club project, a scavenger hunt/beach cleanup, got me hooked. CKI gave me focus and something meaningful to do when most of my free time previously had been spent playing video games.

Confidence is one of the biggest gifts CKI has given me. I was painfully shy, and university was very challenging because I didn’t know anyone. CKI provided a safe environment and enabled me to make many friends in both Circle K and Kiwanis. This former wallflower now has friends throughout the world.

CKI also helped me discover things I’m good at and gave me a feeling of self-worth. I became positively outgoing and a person others looked to for leadership. My first chair position in CKI was as club newsletter editor. I served one year as district editor. Years later, I was able to put those skills to work by establishing a new, full-color, quarterly magazine for Pacific Northwest Kiwanians with a circulation of more than 10,000. A labor of love, that magazine is still being produced.

If not for CKI, I may never have had the drive and the opportunity to work with Kiwanis leaders from around the world. My failed bid to be elected CKI governor was disappointing, but it gave me extra drive to prove myself—a drive that led me to be elected a Kiwanis governor at 39 and international trustee at 43.

Today, I am married to a wonderful woman. Kristina and I share a birthday and grew up just a dozen miles apart, but on islands separated by an international border. I never would have met her if we hadn’t worked together on the PNW CKI District Board. We lost touch when she went to law school, but 11 years later we met again… at a Kiwanis district convention. CKI has changed my life for the better in so many ways.

Lia Michaels (on left), University of Washington

When choosing a college, my criteria included CKI. I was first in line to sign up my freshman year and threw myself into the organization because of my fabulous experience in Key Club. But CKI quickly became the highlight of my college career.

Growing up, I was never a really healthy child. In high school I was diagnosed with early-onset narcolepsy. It has been nearly six years since my initial diagnosis, and since then more related issues have arisen—some with very serious consequences.This summer, my health took a steep turn downward and I found myself in a place I had dreaded: the ICU. People couldn’t handle my condition. I thought I was losing not only my health, but everything important in my life, including many of my closest friends. I wasn’t in school, I wasn’t working, and I wasn’t volunteering with CKI. I remember sitting on the couch at home and feeling despondent. Then the doorbell rang.

I opened the door and was handed a package. Confused, I tried to give it back. I hadn’t ordered anything. It was a gift, they said. Opening it, I found the softest teddy bear I could imagine, with kind words written by our district administrator, Greg Wegrich. I started crying right there. I couldn’t believe he would take the time to send me a gift—a perfect gift. I quickly snuggled the bear in my arms and went to show my mom.

My mom had wanted me to quit CKI and focus on my health. As I showed her my gift I said, “This is why I love CKI: the people.” She was in awe, but still unsure—until the next doorbell.

Two days later, a flower delivery arrived from PNW District Governor Emma Betz.

Five days after that, another flower delivery arrived, this one from Circle K International President Kathy Le.

Being reminded of the people who still had hope and belief in me made me think, “I owe it to them and to myself to keep trying, to show the world that I can come back from this again and again, and that true friends have hearts as big as these CKI members.”

I am trying every treatment option under the sun to fight to get better and live my life to the fullest. And I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for the outpouring of love and support I felt from CKI. Thank you, CKI, for being there, for giving me a reason to believe in myself, and for giving me a reason to live—for saving my life.

Keyla Reeder, Colegio E.P.I., Aruba

When I first started out as a Circle K member—the first time I got to know what Kiwanis was all about—I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. My grades were not that high and I did not have much to look forward to. With each meeting I have learned so much from CKI. I realized that as an individual I could make a change in the world and in my community. Little by little, I became more organized and involved, which resulted in developing a better relationship with both my professors and my family.

Thanks to Kiwanis, last year I was nominated as Student of the Year in the Hospitality and Tourism division of the Aruba Shoco Awards of Excellence. I won a scholarship, for which I am very thankful. I always tell my club and my peers that Kiwanis has inspired me and changed my life for the better, just as it can for them. When you show your K in every way, you unconsciously motivate others to have things to look forward to: to save a life, to help a community, to create happiness and to build dreams.

I am graduating this year with an associate’s degree in hospitality management and will continue my studies in human resources management. If it weren’t for Kiwanis, I’m not sure where I would be right now. Kiwanis gave me so many opportunities to grow, to develop and to know the true meaning of giving and not expecting anything in return.

Gina Rossi, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

Ever since I lost my older brother to congestive heart failure when I was 14, the trivial matters of adolescence were the least of my concerns. I had to learn how to resume my life without an important frame of reference. I no longer felt I could relate to people my own age. I struggled with my self-image and couldn’t seem to feel accepted, even though I pretended to be a normal high school student. I participated in counseling before I started college, but some of my feelings persisted.

This, of course, is where Circle K comes in. I went to my first Circle K meeting on a whim—just following a classmate into the room—but I hardly ever missed a meeting after that. I’m not sure if I can explain it adequately, but there’s something about Circle K that made me really feel like I belonged. I think a lot of it has to do with the perspectives of every member I’ve encountered. People don’t join Circle K just to have a good time; they also join to live the tenets of fellowship, leadership and service. An organization with these values means that the people who participate know what’s important in life.

Being a part of Circle K has helped my personal journey tremendously, from giving me a place to feel comfortable, to teaching me how to be a leader, to introducing me to people I will hold dear for the rest of my life.

Matthew Johnson (center), Virginia Tech University

When I first came to Virginia Tech, I knew that I wanted to join Circle K because I had been in Key Club in high school and found it incredibly rewarding. However, at first Circle K didn’t really seem like the right place for me. After about a month of doing as little as possible with the club, I wound up going to Fall Membership Rally with club members, including a majority of the officers.

The opportunity to see people from other clubs in the district and get to know my own club members made me much more interested. I became significantly more involved and was recognized as Best New Member during our fall induction ceremony.

One of my great friends was the lieutenant governor of our division, and she inspired me to run for that position at our district convention. I won and became her successor. I finally felt I had found something that made me feel like an important member of a larger community. During my term, I grew into a contributing member of the district board and won a district and international award for my work as lieutenant governor.

Being surrounded by people who support me and find joy in my accomplishments has pushed me to do more—not only in Circle K, but in all other aspects of my life.

Michael Novang, Sacramento State University

Circle K is one of my main forms of motivation. I’ve never been a very active person; before I became a member I was content to laze about and partake in my simple hobbies. Joining the organization and gaining the small leadership position of spirit/social chair has pushed me to get more out of my college years. The position also is teaching me to break away from attachments. It’s about paying it forward and serving your fellow man and woman.

I feel good doing service and am slowly learning to not worry about thanks. It’s a better reward to see others enjoy the work we have done. It’s about knowing I’ve made a difference and helped someone. I strive to be a better person everyday, thanks to Circle K.