“We’ve had this day in our eye from the very beginning,” said Chillicothe Optimist Club President JB Culbertson Sunday afternoon at Illinois Valley Central High School.

“We’ve had this day in our eye from the very beginning,” said Chillicothe Optimist Club President JB Culbertson Sunday afternoon at Illinois Valley Central High School.

Around her various youth organizations waited at their respective tables for their own members or those in the community to drop off ticket stubs from movies they had watched since the club bought Town Theatre in December 2009. An Optimist member was stationed at each table to count the tickets, and those attending that day could sign-in for a chance at $250 if the organization had the most members in attendance.

With only a slight hesitation, Culbertson said, the club embarked on a big project – raising money for a down payment to buy Town Theatre, actually buying the business and its building in the downtown, renovating the building and turning a profit to be donated to approved youth organizations.

“We always knew we could make a profit if our community was motivated by sharing with the youth,” Culbertson said.

While each group waited for the announcement of its share of the $10,000 profit, the Optimists added to the movie theme with popcorn, soda and candy for those in attendance to enjoy free of charge.

Mayors from Chillicothe, Lacon and Henry all lent their support for the project, and even Optimist officials checked out the group’s endeavors.

“I am here to express my support for this club project and represent 1,200 members and 53 clubs in Illinois,” said Martin Schmidt, Illinois District Governor of the Optimist Club. Schmidt said he is making a point to visit every Optimist club in the state.

Chillicothe’s Town Theatre project was highlighted in its early stages in the club’s magazine. “This is what everyone worked for and I wanted to share in that,” said Schmidt.

He also said he remembered the Optimists working with Three Sisters Park for Spider Hill. “This club is noted for doing very substantial youth programs.”

Accompanying him were his wife, Sandi, of Silvis, and Governor Elect Barry Montague of Sterling.

Mayor Troy Childers Sr. told the Chillicothe City Council about the event at Monday night’s meeting.

“It was one of the most rewarding days I’ve seen in a long time,” said Childers.

The city assisted the club with purchasing new seats through its Tax Increment Financing funds.

Most groups involved are within the IVC school district, but Culbertson said the theatre has tracked ZIP codes of those attending, which include those north of Chillicothe. Two groups from Sparland and Henry were partners in the cause as well.

Once the time was 3 p.m., everyone sat down in the auditorium and waited for the announcement. Total ticket stubs gathered were 3,581. Dividing that number into $10,000, each ticket stub was worth $2.79.

Eighteen groups received funds, and the countdown began, working from the smallest donation to the largest.

Each group came to the stage for their giant check presentation. Halfway through the list, treasurer Irv Latta spoke about the importance of holding onto the ticket stubs and watching movies at Town Theatre. Out of 19,500 tickets sold last year, only 3,581 ticket stubs were returned, he said.

While the attendance at the movies was not bad, Latta said they need 22,000 to 23,000 tickets sold per year.

“It works because you go to the movies and save them,” Latta said about the program. “It would work better if more people went to the movies and saved them.”

He also noted that if only three more people a day attended the movies, the Optimists could give away $2,000 more next year. “It doesn’t take many more people,” said Latta.

“Your seat counts,” echoed emcee Christy Crothers.

Making their seats count the most were Chillicothe Christian Church, which received more than $3,300.

Youth pastor Rusty Richards told the audience how they did it — simply by planning eight or nine movie nights.

The group met at the church and then went to the theater. They tried to pick nights with children’s and teens’ films, so moviegoers could choose which movie they wanted to see.

Even though they called it “Pack the House Night,” Richards told others they did not have to pack it out, just simply get as many to come as they could. The keys he said he thought to the group’s 1,206 tickets collected was consistency and he happened to get started early.

Richards said he plans to use the money to reduce fees for students to go help a Christian children’s ranch in Missouri, a camping trip and a retreat for a weekend.

He challenged other groups to get together and see a movie.

Richards now is on the theater board with the Optimists, and he may have coined the theater’s new slogan: “It’s just as nice and half price.”

Even before this year’s profit was doled out, Culbertson said she was looking forward to next year.

Many Optimists echoed that sentiment, saying that once groups see how much money they could raise through seeing a movie and keeping the ticket stub, more will likely participate.

“I don’t think people have put all the pieces together,” said Culbertson. “Go to the show. Go often. Save your tickets and then show up today. We’re hoping that this ignites a fire for other groups.”

Those who participated this year only need to fill out a short renewal form to pre-qualify as a partner whereas new groups need to fill out the longer form. Forms are available at Town Theatre, Michael T. Mahoney Law Office, Latta Realty or online at www.chillicothetowntheatre.com.

Optimist Trish Connor summed up the project.

“It’s easy, effortless fundraising, and a good time will be had by all.”