When a Contra Costa police officer is shot and killed or a fireman dies in the collapse of a flaming building the families of the fallen heroes are not forgotten. Last September, for example, Kenyon Youngstrom, a CHP police officer, was fatally wounded during a traffic stop, leaving behind his wife, Karen, and four children. The hearts of most people are deeply touched by this kind of tragedy and many people wish they could do more than to simply say prayers for the grieving family. The members of the Contra Costa One Hundred Club are committed to actually doing more for the families of these fallen heroes. Much more! We leap in to provide the family with both immediate and ongoing support.
The One Hundred Club is a nation-wide organization that was begun in 1950 in Detroit, Michigan by a man named William Packer, who owned the country’s largest Pontiac dealership. Packer was moved to do something when a police-officer friend of his, Sergeant Andreas Mellert, was killed in the line of duty. He left behind a pregnant wife, who gave birth to their child only six weeks after Mellert’s death. In response to the tragedy, Packer and his fellow organizers enlisted 100 members into a club, each of whom contributed 100 dollars into a fund to support the officer’s widow. They deposited $7,000 into the family checking account, paid off the mortgage on her house as well as paying all the debts that the young family had accrued. The team of supporters also set up an educational fund for the unborn child.
The One Hundred Club vision grew into a national organization that carries on Packer’s passion for supporting families left behind by the death of police officers and firefighters. There are currently more than 120 active One Hundred Clubs throughout the nation, with membership rolls that are far larger then the original goal of 100. The largest clubs, in fact, have more than 20,000 members.
In 1984, the Contra Costa County Sheriff, Richard Rainey, came up with the idea of starting a One Hundred Club in our county. Donald Schliesser helped Sheriff Rainey form the new club with the assistance of Ken Behring, Ken Hoffmann, Joe Vrankovich, Lee Shaklee, Bob Thayer, and Gerry Fitzpatrick. Each of them provided an initial donation of $1,000 in seed money. The core group quickly attracted other willing supporters.
The membership roll has now grown to more than 700. Surrounding counties including Alameda, San Mateo, and Santa Clara each have their own club.
I became involved seven years ago, when our neighbor, Don Theile, who was the club president at the time, invited my wife, Susan, and me to join. As soon as we learned of the club’s mission we signed up as lifetime members and are heavily involved in club activities. Susan is in charge of member registration. I became a member of the Finance Committee almost as soon as I joined. Before long I became club treasurer. The position opened up when our former treasurer resigned. His own son, an Oakland police officer, was killed in the line of duty and the man simply lost heart for the work.
I am involved in a number of projects for the organization. Besides handling the money, I publish the club newsletter including creating content and managing production. I also manage the organizational database and publish an annual membership directory. We continually try to improve the club’s image. We recently completed a newsletter makeover, for example, and last year began to include candid pictures in the directory.
It is great being part of the One Hundred Club! We enjoy working with the other members; each of the board members has a hands-on attitude towards organizational activities. They show up and work diligently at various club events.
GIVING TIMELY AND EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE
When a police officer or firefighter falls in the line of duty, the One Hundred Club immediately presents the family with a check for $15,000 in order to meet current financial burdens. The money is often a welcome windfall providing a financial bridge spanning the time between the tragedy and when insurance payments and other benefits finally begin to arrive. The One Hundred Club also provides extended assistance by depositing money into a designated 529 College Funding Plan every Christmas until the children reach 18 years of age.
When they go to college we give them the money and provide additional support, as needed. The money can be used for any educational or training purpose. If a child never goes to college, the funds can be passed to a relative.
The One Hundred Club becomes personally involved in the lives of the people we are helping. One of the board members hand-delivers the initial assistance check to the left-behind family and explains why the family is receiving the help and that The One Hundred Club will provide ongoing support. The family learns that we’ll help fill the gap that was created by the death of their spouse and parent, and that we will provide a personal response in assisting them to cope with the tragedy. The board member personally monitors the family’s status throughout the first year, staying in touch with them and ensuring that everything is going smoothly. The board member’s ongoing contact with the family serves to give our assistance a human face. The family learns that we will be there to support them. Every Christmas, until the last child turns 18, the board member personally delivers that year’s check for the college funding deposit.
Twenty-five leading county residents including some very successful business people and upper level executives from some of the area public safety organizations oversee the business of the One Hundred Club. I am the board treasurer.
Seven years ago, when I took the position, there were 275 members, which is considerably fewer than half of our current membership, plus revenues at that time were a quarter of our current income.
Like all One Hundred Clubs, our chapter is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation. It has no paid employees or overhead so every penny of every dollar goes directly to the recipients.
Membership fees are $100 annually. A $1,000 Lifetime Membership is also available. The club secures other donations through annual fundraisers including a February crab feed and a June BBQ, during which members of the county Sheriff Posse serve as grill men. Both events are popular and usually sell out. We have an annual meeting each October, which this year will be held at the Concord Hilton.
One family who received our assistance has become staunch supporters of The One Hundred Club. Christina Giacomelli’s father, a Pittsburg Police Officer, was killed April 15, 2003. Christina was only 15 and had never heard of The One Hundred Club until our no-strings-attached check was delivered to her family only hours following the tragedy. Thanks to The One Hundred Club’s educational fund, Christina was recently able to graduate from St. Mary’s College in Moraga. She, with the help of her sister, Jessica, and her mother, Maria, have been paying back to the club for the help they received by putting on several successful fundraising golf events.
Other non-members provide extraordinary support. For example, Michelle Guerra, owner of Guerra Graphics, has served as design specialist, helping with the club’s newsletter and designing our new One Hundred Club logo.
We are glad to be of service to our public safety professionals because we understand that these people are continually putting their lives on the line. Every time they kiss their spouse and children goodbye and walk out the door, they never know for sure if they will ever return to their families. When the tragedy they fear comes to pass, the One Hundred Club shows up with support. We ensure the left-behind family members that they are not alone. Seven hundred of us are standing with them.
As a final note: The One Hundred Club sponsors an Annual club dinner each October. This year our guest speaker will be Captain Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger, III, the renowned pilot of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 that on January 15, 2009 safely landed in New York’s Hudson River sparing the lives of all 155 souls who were aboard the aircraft. “Sully” will be speaking at the Concord Hilton, October 24, 5:00 p.m. It will be a proud evening for the One Hundred Club of Contra Costa County to play host to such an authentic American hero.