ASHLAND — Inside the Ashland Optimists Club building on the south edge of town, the overhead fluorescent lights drain the room of color.
The only bright spots come from the bingo stampers: Highlighter-green, fluorescent pink and gold and sparkly colors.
This is how recreational sports in Ashland gets funded.
For almost 50 years, the Optimists Club has adopted the responsibilities of a parks and recreation department in a larger town. The club, a private organization, doesn’t receive any public funds — but it performs a crucial public function.
The Optimists run the festivals, the sports, the Scout troops and the community swimming pool out of their headquarters, one of the largest buildings in Ashland.
“I don’t want to gloat,” said Optimist Secretary Barrett Glascock, “but we’re envied in the district — for a small town like this to have this large a club and a building like this and the income.”
The club's projects are financed largely through Friday night bingo games, which have been held weekly for 27 years.
It was a blow five years ago when bingo attendance dropped from an average of 180 bingo players a week to 140. The smaller attendance paired with additional taxes imposed on bingo operators slowly chipped into the budget, the way other towns were hurt during the economic recession.
The Optimist Club may delay some projects, but it doesn’t plan on cutting any of the funding that helps organize and sustain programs for kids.
“We have little fundraisers if something comes up — we’ll have a barbecue and specifically put the money just for that,” Glascock said.
“We’ll struggle, we’ll do with what we got. We may have to cut back on some stuff one of these days, but you gotta either raise the price or have more fundraisers, but we’ll get by, we’ll do something."
Supervising editors are Jeanne Abbott and Judd Slivka.