Key Club: The Ultimate Guide

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Are you wondering what Key Club is and whether it would be a good use of time for you or your teen? In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about Key Club. 

What is Key Club?

Key Club is the largest and longest-running service program for high school students in the world. It is a self-governing, student-led organization focused on community service. Key Club members contribute twelve million service hours each year to community projects.

Key Club is a part of the Kiwanis family of organizations. Adult volunteers provide Key Club members with guidance and support. Students work with Kiwanis advisors, faculty advisors, and district administrators to better accomplish their goals.

There are clubs on every continent but Antarctica. Key Club is an international organization with clubs in every state in the U.S. and in 38 countries all around the world. They partner with and raise money for other programs such as UNICEF and the March of Dimes.

Members participate in a wide range of projects. Depending on what the larger community needs, students might participate in any number of community service projects. Possibilities include upcycling, participating in youth reading programs, volunteering at senior centers, tutoring other students, and coaching younger children on sports teams.

Who Can Join Key Club?

This organization is open to any high school student. They must be willing to provide at least fifty community service hours each year. It’s a great fit for students who care deeply about their community and want to make it a better place by helping the people around them. 

There are even clubs for homeschool students! The first homeschool Key Club was started in South Carolina in 2002, and since then communities in other states have followed suit. Here are just some of the projects that the first of these clubs has accomplished:

  • Renovated playground equipment for a community park
  • Held bike safety workshops for younger children
  • Created an educational walking trail for the U.S. Forest Service
  • Held a baby shower for women at the local crisis pregnancy center
  • Raised money to support people with juvenile diabetes
  • Put together activity kits for young patients at the children’s hospital
  • Helped with landscaping for a Habitat for Humanity house
  • Sorted shoeboxes for the Operation Christmas Child program
  • Visited children in hospitals to read to them
  • Packed gift bags for needy children as part of the local Country Santa program
  • Volunteered at a Special Olympics event

The primary difference between homeschool key clubs and high school key clubs is that the former has parent advisors in place of faculty advisors. Other than that, they’re much the same. Students must be in ninth, tenth, eleventh, or twelfth grade. Like all Key Club members, they must pay yearly dues and record their service hours. As with any other club under this umbrella, the members come together often to complete community service projects. 

The History of Key Club

Key Club has existed for nearly a century. The first Key Club was established in 1925 in Sacramento, California. It began with eleven charter members and was conceived by Albert Olney and Frank Vincent, two high school administrators who belonged to a Kiwanis Club. The idea was to create a junior service club modeled after Kiwanis International.

Female students were first admitted to Key Club in 1977, a full decade before Kiwanis Clubs began accepting women as members. Just two years after Key Clubs allowed women to join, three young women were elected to lead their local Key Clubs: Beth McClain in Kansas, Lynne Fletcher O’Brien in New Jersey, and Sue Petrisin in Michigan. In 1991, Michelle McMillen of the Missouri-Arkansas District became the first female member to be elected Key Club president.

In 2017, Key Club launched its first international service immersion program, Breakthrough.

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Kiwanis International

Kiwanis International is a global network of clubs that seek to improve the lives of children in their communities. Each year, its members organize 150,000 service projects and raise tens of millions of dollars that go to families in need. The teens who participate in Key Club are a vital part of this organization, providing over half of the community service hours that Kiwanis members dedicate to their communities each year.

The overarching goal of Kiwanis Clubs is to improve local communities to make them a safe, healthy environment for local children. Common projects include restocking local libraries, providing school supplies to children, and creating food pantries for families in need. Local projects are tailored to the needs of each community. 

Why Key Club?

There are many reasons for high school students to join their local Key Club. In addition to providing them with rewarding experiences and the opportunity to serve their communities, Key Club provides students with the chance to develop their teamwork and leadership skills as they work towards important, real-world goals.  

Key Club activities vary from one community to another, and students are encouraged to create new programs in order to meet unmet needs in their wider communities. Common activities include collecting and donating clothing, organizing park cleanups, and running food drives.

Students who participate in Key Club develop their leadership skills by planning projects and running meetings. Many members learn how to apply for service grants to fund their endeavors. Each individual Key Club elects members to hold a variety of leadership positions, including president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, editor, and director (one from each class).

Individual Key Clubs fall into one of 33 districts, each led by its own governor. Districts are then divided into divisions with their own lieutenant governors, who provide support to individual clubs. These student officers are elected each year, giving Key Club members the opportunity to hold elected leadership positions at the club, district, and international levels. 

Core Key Club Values


Key Club members understand that true leadership is grounded in humility and service. Leaders listen to their communities and empower those around them.

Character Building

A person’s character is built through teamwork and relationships within their communities and strengthened by everyday acts of kindness and integrity. 


Compassion for others is central to everything that the Key Club stands for.


The present-day Key Club welcomes people of all backgrounds, inviting everyone to come together to make a difference in their communities and in the world. 

Key Club Objectives

Key Club works with school principals and teachers to create opportunities for high school students. Members are encouraged to show initiative and develop leadership skills, spearheading community projects and meeting the needs of those around them. The stated objectives of the Key Club are as follows.

  • To promote the adoption and application of higher standards in scholarship, sportsmanship and social contacts.
  • To encourage the daily living of the Golden Rule in all human relationships.
  • To give primacy to the human and spiritual, rather than to the material values of life.
  • To cooperate in creating and maintaining that sound public opinion and high idealism which makes possible the increase of righteousness, justice, patriotism and good will.
  • To provide a practical means to form enduring friendships, to render unselfish service and to build better communities.
  • To develop, by precept and example, a more intelligent, aggressive and serviceable citizenship.

Reasons to Join

Leadership Skills

As detailed above, Key Club provides countless opportunities for high school students to learn how to work with other students and spearhead their own projects within the community. From networking with other organizations to leading regional divisions, students will have plentiful opportunities to develop their leadership skills.


Key Club is a wonderful place to connect with other driven, caring students. Teens will make friends with similar passions and goals, and those friendships often last a lifetime. It also gives teams the opportunity to work closely with school faculty and community leaders, which may lead to outstanding letters of reference down the road.

Academic Achievement

While this club centers around its work as a nonprofit, members are also encouraged to maintain high academic standards. Each club is required to submit an annual achievement report, and members will help each other excel. 

Resume Builder

Whether it’s a paid job, exciting internship, or college application, Key Club is an impressive addition to any resume. Students can detail the projects that they’ve led and the positions they’ve held within their local club in order to really stand out from the competition.

College Essays

The experiences that teens will have through Key Club provides excellent fodder for college application essays. Students who focus only on academics may find that they have little to say when it comes time to apply to college and nothing to distinguish them from other students with high GPAs. Key Club members are able to write truly outstanding essays about how they made a difference in their community and what they learned in the process. 

How to Start a New Key Club

If there isn’t a club in your area, you could always start your own. 

The first thing that you’ll need to do is contact the nearest Kiwanis Club chapter. If there’s none nearby, it’s possible for another community service organization to sponsor your club. You’ll also need a faculty or staff advisor – or in the case of homeschool groups, a parent willing to serve that role. Ideally, you’ll find an advisor who is already deeply involved in local community service projects or was a Key Club or Circle K member themselves. 

Before you can charter a new club, you’ll need to recruit other people who are interested in joining; you’ll need at least fifteen prospective members to begin. Experienced Key Club leaders like to say that “people join people, not organizations” so don’t worry that it’s not already an established club. Have a list of potential projects ready, and invite friends to come up with their own. 

Once you have enough people, you’ll need to collect a few hundred dollars for the charter fee. If finances are an issue, your local Kiwanis Club may be willing to help. Or you can simply embrace the challenge and create your first fundraiser!

Key Club Scholarships

Scholarships from the Kiwanis Children’s Fund are available to graduating members of Key Club International. The Kiwanis Children’s Fund Scholarship awards two Key Club members with a minimum award amount of $2,500 each. The Linda Canaday Memorial Scholarship awards Key Club members in Indiana with a minimum of $3,500. 

There are also Circle K International scholarships available to participating college students. 

Key Club After High School

Kiwanis International also had a branch dedicated to college students. Circle K International is the largest student-led collegiate service organization in the world. It gives college students the opportunity to develop real-life skills so that they can network with their peers and advocate for children in need. Their Global Leadership Certificate Program helps students stand out and become stronger leaders.

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