By Christopher Roman, Kiwanis International

Being a member of Key Club International and Circle K International can mean different things for different people. For some, it’s something to do after school or classes. It can mean completing your volunteering requirements for the year. It can mean showing colleges and universities or potential employers that you care about your communityMaybe it’s just a resume filler. To others, it can mean building friendships and memories. It can mean leadership and making an impact for causes you care aboutWhatever the meaning, one thing remains constant: You’re part of something bigger than yourself.  

But what does that even mean? It means you are a part of a network of organizations working to make the world a better place. The Kiwanis family, no matter your age, has a place for you.  

Jose Leoncio, Circle K International trustee of the Capital Districtjoined the Kiwanis family as a high school sophomore when his Key Club was chartered at TERRA Environmental Research Institute in Miami, Florida“One of my friends, being the club president, said ‘Oh do you want to come to this event … to this conference we’re having in the fall to learn more about Key Club and maybe you want joinThat’d be really cool. Or even join the boardthat’d be even better,’  Leoncio recalled them saying. 

A common story for most Key Clubbers, Leoncio agreed to go and was hookedHe served as secretary before being elected lieutenant governor. “That’s when the whole experience really kicked off because it opened the door for more opportunities and more networking and just seeing another eye for Key Club,” he said. Leoncio went on to become the district secretary and even attended the Kiwanis convention in Indianapolis for its 100th anniversary 

He joined Key Club after seeing students his age lead, talk and present at district events. He told himself, “It’d be really cool to be like them one day.”  

Now a 22yearold graduate of American University in Washington D.C. with a bachelor’s degree in international affairsLeoncio said Key Club prepared him for college in ways he didn’t realize. “My time on the district board for two years, we went through extensive leadership and communications training where we learned how to write proper emails, how to communicate through newsletters, how to follow up with student leaders and adults, and how to work well with each other including people across the state and out-of-state, he said. When it came time to plan the district convention for 2,000 people, Leoncio felt prepared to work with over 50 board members to put on a great event. 

During his senior year of high school, he thought about his next steps. After working with leaders across the Kiwanis family, he sought advice from a Kiwanian who’d been his Key Club advisor. At first, Leoncio wasn’t set on joining Circle K International because American University didn’t have a chartered clubHe thought he would just join the local Kiwanis club where the average age was 33. But by March of his freshman year of college, him and five others started the first CKI at American University with support of the CKI district board and the local Kiwanis club.  

“At first, I felt like I had reached the mountain tops with Key Club and that I had already accomplished a lot and wanted to take a step back to be a member of the organizationbut I felt I owed it to the organization and wanted to break the stigma that Key Club members don’t join CKI,” said Leoncio.  

He shared this advice to Key Club seniors thinking of joining Circle K International: “Go to the first meeting. Check it out and see how it is. If you see things that you don’t like, then go with it and see how you can change that in your role as a member and develop within CKI.” He said it only takes one member to change the culture and navigate the club and ultimately, Key Clubbers can continue to make a difference in communities through CKI. Leoncio added, Yes, CKI is different. Yes, it’s not the same as Key Club. But you can make it whatever you want it to be when you’re in CKI.” 

Leoncio went on to be the district governor and used his skills and experience from Key Club to make an impact in CKI. He became a Circle K International trustee and interacted with people from across the country. “My most memorable moment with CKI was being district governor. I thought I reached the mountain tops with Key Club, but that pushed me over the top.”  

Thinking about the future, Leoncio plans to stay in Miami, Florida, where he is working on a Senate campaign until November, but he isn’t done serving in the Kiwanis family just yet. He plans to join Key Club as an adult advisor in Florida. His goal is to join Kiwanis and launch a young professional network in Southern Florida where many young Key Club and CKI alumni live and are looking to make a difference.  

The options are endless when it comes to the Kiwanis family. When asked about his advice for graduating Key Clubbers, Leoncio said, Don’t let yourself hold you back… while there’s so many organizations out there that do serviceno other organizations do it like the Kiwanis family where you develop your leadership skills through service.