A Force for Good: Shawn Smith and the Sheraden Kiwanis

In 2015, Shawn “Spike” Smith moved back to Pittsburgh from Chicago and joined the Sheraden Kiwanis Club. While he claims, “I was volun-told,” by his father, Keith, he hasn’t regretted it. Instead, Smith jumped in with both feet.

The Kiwanis Club has deep roots in his family tree. His brother Kevin is a member, his parents, Keith and Tracy, are members of the Sheraden club, and his grandfather was also a member. Their lineage in Kiwanis continued when his niece Lucy joined the K-Kids division. She will be the fourth generation of the Smith family working to improve her local community.

Kiwanis clubs host nearly 150,000 service projects each year. It seems like the Kiwanis Club in Sheraden is doing most of them. Their Thursday night meeting agendas are packed with a plethora of projects. They are creating libraries, digging community gardens, hosting story hours, and much more.

Smith is a big advocate for Kiwanis, but he is also the only out gay man in his club of forty members – one of the largest Kiwanis clubs in Pennsylvania. He said, “I was at Pride in 2018, and I spoke to a young man who told me he was turned away from Kiwanis because he was gay.” That encounter lit a fire under Smith.

Learning that the young gay man was turned away from the Kiwanis caused Smith to become a champion for the LGBTQIA+ community inside the organization. Later in 2018, he led a presentation titled, “LGBTQ & You” at the Pennsylvania convention. Smith said, “It was very basic, we talked about the rainbow flag, it’s origin, and meaning. It was very much Gay 101.”

Several leaders of the organization were at the presentation and took an interest in Smith and his story. In 2019, he was asked to give the presentation at the Kiwanis International convention at Walt Disney World in Florida.

While the organization has been around since 1915, it wasn’t until 2008 that the Kiwanis Club members at the International convention in Orlando, Florida resolved to create a culture and club environment that develops and nurtures mutual respect for all and celebrates inclusiveness.  

In June 2019 the Kiwanis International organization added Article 8, Section 10 to their bylaws. The article states, “Kiwanis clubs shall not discriminate based upon race, color, creed, national origin, age or sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity, when considering membership or during any of their activities operations and shall conduct business in compliance with local nondiscrimination laws.”

While Smith was working with the past Kiwanis Pennsylvania Governor Sarah Zuluetta on diversity issues, she coined the term J.E.DI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion). Smith said, “It’s a cool name and I wanted to wear Jedi robes to a meeting.”

As the chairperson of the J.E.D.I. committee, he has been advocating for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion ever since.

Barb Byers, one of Smith’s colleagues in the Sheraden Kiwanis Club and J.E.D.I committee member joined because she believed it was the right thing to do. Byers said, “Treat people like people. It’s the right thing to do.”

Byers is an advocate of diversity and believes that the clubs should mirror the communities they are serving.

Recently, Byers led a video presentation on intersectionality, defining it with graphs and charts for the Kiwanis clubs.

Smith said, “At Kiwanis, we believe in the Golden Rule.”

The Golden Rule simply states, “Do unto to others what you would want them to do unto you.” Versions of this timeless adage can be found in both the old and new testament as well as in other religions.

You can find out more about the Kiwanis clubs and J.E.D.I right here.

All About Kiwanis

The organization, Kiwanis International, is a global community of clubs, members, and partners dedicated to improving the lives of children one community at a time. Today, the organization stands with more than 550,000 members worldwide. Kiwanis empowers members to pursue creative ways to serve the needs of children, such as fighting hunger, improving literacy and offering guidance.

Kiwanis International was founded in 1915 by a group of businessmen in Detroit, Michigan, United States. The organization was originally called the Supreme Lodge Benevolent Order of Brothers but changed its name to Kiwanis a year later.

The name “Kiwanis” was coined from an American Indian expression, “Nunc Kee-wanis,” which means, “We trade.” In 1920, the motto of Kiwanis became “We Build.” It remained the motto until 2005, when members voted to change it to “Serving the children of the world.”

In the early years, members focused on business networking but in 1919, the organization changed its focus to service — specifically service to children.

Kiwanis became an international organization with the founding of the Kiwanis Club of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, in 1916. Kiwanis clubs formed in communities across the United States and Canada until the 1960s, when worldwide expansion was approved. Today, Kiwanis clubs are helping children thrive, prosper and grow in nearly 80 nations and geographic locations.  

All people are welcome to participate in the Kiwanis movement of improving communities for children. In 1987, women were invited to join. In 2008, delegates approved a resolution that calls for Kiwanis clubs to celebrate and foster inclusiveness.

Sheraden Club President Andrea Cuda said, “The Sheraden Kiwanis Club services the West End community.” Cuda, who lives on Pittsburgh’s Northside fell in love with the Sheraden club. She joked, “When I was shopping around for a Kiwanis group to join, and I found this group of oddballs.” Turning serious, once more, she added, “While we work hard to give back to the community, I enjoy the social aspect of it, too.” 

Any civic-minded person of almost any age can be a member. The organization has the main Kiwanis club for adults and the Aktion Club for Adults with Disabilities, CKI (college and university students), Key Club (high school students, ages 14 -18), Builders Club (middle school students, ages 11 – 14) and K-Kids (elementary school students ages 6 -11).

Learn more about Kiwanis here.

Michael Buzzelli is a stand-up comedian and sit-down author. As a comedian, he has performed all around the country, most notably, the Ice House, the Comedy Store and the Improv in Los Angeles. As a writer, Michael Buzzelli has been published in a variety of websites, magazines and newspapers. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant,’ Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine. He is also a Moth Grand Slam storyteller and actor. His books, "Below Average Genius," a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column in the Observer-Reporter, and his romantic comedy,  “All I Want for Christmas," are on sale at Amazon.com. He is working on a LGBTQ romantic comedy called, “Why I Hate My Friends.” You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. (He / Him / His)