Derek Owens Keeps A Lid on The Hat Club

A new 501(c)(3) nonprofit has quietly moved through the community, offering access to unique community service and charity. It also has an intriguing name, The Hat Club.

Derek Owens, an architect out of WER Architects, knows how the nonprofit came about because he was there, one night at a friend’s grandparents’ lakehouse in Hot Springs. “My friend’s grandparents were avid hat collectors,” he remembered. “We began trying on different, very stylish hats, and the next thing we knew, everyone at the house was wearing hats.

“A couple of us guys kept talking about how we wanted to start wearing hats like our grandfathers used to and why that is not a custom like it used to be. We would see each other out on the town, and the topic kept coming up about how we should start a hat club where we meet once a month and wear hats.

“We quickly realized that we needed a purpose for our club besides wearing a hat once a month,” he continued. “We organized our first meeting. There were 12 members, mostly guys who were at the lakehouse and a couple of others who had expressed their interest in sporting vintage hats once a month!

“It was a hands-down, unanimous vote that we wanted to reach out to different organizations and help them raise money, volunteer, organize donations, etc. Our first volunteer day we organized a potluck breakfast and went down under the Broadway Bridge and fed the homeless,” Owens said.

Established in 2010, the 12 founding members of The Hat Club are Owens, Matt Abbott, Matt Selig, Drew Allbritton, Drew Selig, John Allbritton, Turner Coleman, Barry Capps, Jeb Steen, Jeb Neel, Mathew Lewis and Ryan Dennis. Most of these young men graduated from high school in Little Rock or met in college. “Some of the new members are young professionals that moved to Little Rock after college and have shown interest in becoming a member,” Owens said. “When we branched out to get more members after our first couple of meetings, we tried to get guys that weren’t necessarily in the same circle of friends. We really wanted to push networking as one of the great benefits of being a member of The Hat Club.” Now the membership has grown to 63.

“As a whole,” Owens said, “we try to get out in the community at least once a month to help any organization with whatever they need.”

Besides feeding the homeless, since May 2010 The Hat Club has raised $7,000 for Danny’s Scholarship Foundation in honor of Danny Scherry, a soldier who was killed in action in Iraq and served under one of the club members. In October 2010, a 40-team wiffle-ball tournament at Dickey-Stephens Park to benefit Miracle League of Arkansas raised $10,000 to build a new field in northwest Arkansas.

More recently, this April The Hat Club put on its 2nd annual crawfish boil to salute David Johnson II, a close friend to many of the club members who died in a car accident in Fayetteville 6 years ago. Johnson’s family was asked to select the charity to which $10,000 would be donated in his name, and they chose Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas.

Owens’ current position in the club is new charity chairman. “It is my job to be the primary contact between The Hat Club and any charitable organization we work with,” he said. “I also am responsible for reaching out to different organizations to see if they have a need we can fill, whether it be hosting an event, attending an event or sending five guys out to help with manual labor.”

He continued, “At the last Miracle Wiff event, our moms, dads, wives and girlfriends were called to help volunteer.” Naturally, The Hat Club members may ask their employers to pitch in as well. WER was a team sponsor in the Miracle Wiff and encouraged employees to get out and support the cause.

“The Hat Club has been a great way for me and I am sure many of our members to get out in the community and really get involved with these different organizations,” Owens said. “I have spoken with many of our members, and a lot of them have been looking for an organization like this for some time—something where they can volunteer, network, fellowship and really feel like they are involved, but at the same time we make sure we have fun with it.”


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