Former Riverfront Optimist Club President ready for next chapter

Published 8:00 am Friday, November 24, 2023

NILES — Josh Sitarz strives to look on the bright side. That mindset served him well as the former president of the Riverfest Optimist Club of Niles. 

After three years of serving in the role he took on at the age of 18, Sitarz recently made the decision to step down – with a wide-open path before him. 

“At some point, you just kind of have to walk away,” he said. “I felt like I’ve done a lot for the community for the club and with the festivals that I’ve kind of grown them to a point where I just felt like it’s time for a change… It’s very stressful and it’s not a paying job, and it’s pretty much a full-time job. So trying to navigate the club, work, my life outside of work, it was very difficult.”

The club is part of Optimist International, a service organization that emphasizes youth services. Riverfront Optimist Club seeks to provide family fun through its free music, and its carnival rides, vendors and games. It began with his father, TJ Martin, who brought Sitarz to the festival as he managed vendors for the club. This piqued the then-seventh grader’s interest in the service group. He began attending meetings.

Sitarz joined the club in 2015 and became the president in 2020 at the age of 18. For Sitarz, being the president of an organization as a high schooler was an unique experience.

“It was a good bragging thing to high school friends that I’m in charge of this nonprofit but it was very stressful,” he said. “I had to be in charge of the finances and oversee all of that. It was a lot of time. I was very glad to have Tom Majerek and my dad to help make sure I was doing everything right.”

On top of managing an organization at a young age, Sitarz became president at the onset of the pandemic. Despite those challenges, he was able to organize popular events such as the Niles Bluegrass Festival and Riverfest. For Sitarz, bringing the community together during troubling times is what he enjoyed the most.

“It was putting on all the great events for the City of Niles and being able to see that hard work truly does pay off,” he said. “But what I enjoyed most was seeing how much joy I could bring to families; seeing all their smiling faces.”

Sitarz is currently working as a resident care coordinator at Brentwood of Niles, where he began working shortly after becoming Optimist Club President. Similar to his days with the club, Sitarz enjoys engaging with the residents and making their days brighter.

“Anybody that gets into healthcare, they always say they don’t do it for the money – they do it for the residents,” he said. “There’s so many people here that have so many backstories that just remind me of either my dad or my grandpa and I just have a big soft spot for it. I get to learn everything about every individual in those buildings – their past and what they like. I never thought I’d get into healthcare. I don’t even remember why I started here but I’m very glad that I did.”

Sitarz looks back fondly on his days in Optimist Club leadership and hopes the organization continues on into the future.

“I really hope it does succeed,” he said.