The organization was started by California State Commissioner of Schools Albert C. Olney, and vocational education teacher Frank C. Vincent, who together worked to establish the first Key Club at Sacramento High School in California, on May 7, 1925. Female students were first admitted in 1976, eleven years before women were admitted to the sponsoring organization, Kiwanis International.
In 2002, Key Club officially adopted caring, character building, inclusiveness, and leadership as the core values of the organization.
Key Club's focus is "Children: Their Future, Our Focus." The Major Emphasis Program is a way to direct the effort of Key Clubbers world wide towards this goal. There are three beneficiaries: Service Partners (UNICEF, March Of Dimes, and Children's Miracle Network), the Service Initiative (Live 2 Learn), and Serving Children.
The Service Initiative is a program encouraging hands on service to children aimed towards a common goal. It is changed every two years by the International Board of Trustees.
The 2004-2006 Service Initiative was Child Safety: Water, Bike and Car Safety where Key Clubbers participated in different educational events to try to spread safe habits to prevent accidental deaths.
The 2006-2008 Service Initiative was "High Five for Health." It is aimed at reducing childhood obesity and fighting a rising trend that appears to increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease. The 2008-2010 Service Initiative is "Live 2 Learn." It is focused on 5-9 year old youth, with the main goals of promoting education and building literary skills.
Today, Key Club exists on almost 5,000 high school campuses, primarily in the United States and Canada. It has grown internationally to the Caribbean nations, Central and South America, and most recently to Asia and Australia.
Key Club International is an organization of individual Key Clubs and is funded by nominal dues paid by every member. Its officers are high school leaders elected by the members at district and international conventions. Official colors Blue, Gold and White
Each color symbolized an aspect of the Key Club International objectives:
"Key Club is an international student-led organization which provides its members with opportunities to provide service, build character, and develop leadership."Vision "To develop competent, capable, and caring leaders through the vehicle of service."Core values The core values of Key Club International are "Leadership, Character Building, Caring, and Inclusiveness."Motto The motto of Key Club is "Caring—Our Way of Life," changed from the original "We Build" in 1978 to better convey members' reasons for helping others.Objectives The Objectives of Key Club are listed below. The sixfold sixth objective of Key Club incorporates the Six Permanent Objects of Kiwanis International as adopted in 1924:
The organization maintains strong partnerships with UNICEF, AYUSA Global Youth Exchange, the March of Dimes, and Children's Miracle Network Telethon. Through the partnership with UNICEF, a major initiative was launched in the summer of 2005 to address HIV/AIDS education and prevention in Kenya. Pledge
I pledge, on my honor,
to uphold the Objects of Key Club International;
to build my home, school and community;
to serve my nation and God;
and combat all forces which tend to undermine these institutions.
Two men in the Sacramento Kiwanis club, who were high school administrators, approached their club with the idea of a junior service club in the high school, to be patterned after Kiwanis to hold luncheon meetings. Through this group in the high school, the Kiwanis club hoped to provide vocational guidance, first to boys who had decided upon their future occupation, and then to the entire school. The plan was presented to the Board of Education, and following its approval, the first Key Club meeting was held early in May 1925.
The club held weekly luncheons in the school, where Kiwanians came to speak to the group on various vocations. Key Club members attended Kiwanis meetings as guests of the club to enhance further the value of Key Club membership by bringing high school students into constant contact with the business and professional men of the community. As the experience of the Key Club grew, a noticeable trend toward expanding the original purpose and activity was found possible, and the club was soon a complete service organization for the whole school. It also offered a social program to balance its service activities.
In 1939 the first plan for combining individual local Key Clubs into federated groups was developed in Florida. With Kiwanis counsel, a convention of existing clubs was held, a state association formed, and officers elected. The purpose of the State Association was to promote an exchange of ideas concerning the Key Club activity and to expand the number of Key Clubs. Conventions were held each succeeding year, and when the International Constitution and Bylaws were adopted in 1946, the Florida Association became the first Key Club district.
Florida was instrumental also in promoting the formation of an International Association of Key Clubs to perform for the entire country what the Florida Association had done for Key Clubs in that state. In 1943, at the invitation of the Florida boys, Key Clubbers from clubs in Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Tennessee were in attendance at the annual convention of the State Association held in Sanford, Florida. The representatives voted to form an International Association of Key Clubs and elected Malcolm Lewis of West Palm Beach, Florida, as first President.
Three formative years followed, during which the outlines of the present Key Club International organization were drawn. Lewis served one year and was followed in office by Eddie Richardson of Ft. Lauderdale, and Roger Keller of New Orleans. Keller presided over the third annual convention in New Orleans on April 27, 1946, at which time delegates from all parts of the country approved the Constitution and Bylaws, officially launching Key Club International.
The Key Club was early recognized as a local Kiwanis project, and no attempt was made to control its overall organization. In 1942 the Kiwanis International Board of Trustees recommended Key Club to all Kiwanis clubs. In 1944 a special Kiwanis International Committee on Sponsored Youth Organizations was formed to look after Key Club work. Finally, in 1946, a separate Key Club Department was created in the International Office of Kiwanis International to serve as a clearing house for Key Club information, to keep the records and handle correspondence of the organization, to provide effective liaison between Key Clubs and Kiwanis, and to conduct the annual International conventions. Now the Key Club Department also handles a monthly publication--KEYNOTER--which was first issued in May 1946. The Kiwanis International Committee on Key Clubs was formed on January 1, 1949.
The Florida District is the oldest district in Key Club International.
Kia Albertson-Rogers is currently the President of Key Club International.
In 2005, KCI added the Caribbean Atlantic District.
The Key Club at James Martin High School in Arlington, TX, with 677 members as of April 30, 2006, is the largest local chapter in the world.
The California-Nevada-Hawaii District Key Club International is the largest district as of May 2008.