Jay Copp 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Lions’ Environmental Work Has Been Transformative— On Many Levels They canceled Earth Day. That riled Lions and others in Gilroy, a small, tidy city in California with a dozen welltended parks, a creek preserve and such a high concentration of trees that city boosters describe the landscape as an “urban forest.” So Earth Day happened anyway. “We told the club just because the city canceled [citing lack of funds] doesn’t mean it has to be canceled. That was not acceptable,” says Marilyn Mitri of the Gilroy Lions Club. “We pulled together our talents and resources.” So three years ago, continuing to today, hundreds gather in April at Christmas Hill Park to hike through nature, gaze at a Lion’s vast insect collection and build bird houses with materials provided by Lions. In Prescott, Arizona, Lions have been saving trees since the late 1970s. Fourteen trailers and eight bins are parked at stores, the library and apartment complexes. People in Prescott, population 37,000, know what to do once they’ve finished reading the paper. “There’s a trailer at almost every grocery store. It’s ridiculous to throw a newspaper away,” says Lisa Fornara, a business owner. Recycling newspapers takes a lot of manpower but generates a lot of dough for charitable causes. The Prescott Noon Lions have collected 36,130 tons in the last 20 years and turned a profit of $2.5 million. Clear across the country, Bowie, Maryland, in the vanguard a half century ago when famed suburban developer William Levitt built vast tracts of homes here, once again leads a charge, this time one with a green hue. “Green Bowie,” the city’s wide-ranging environmental plan, includes stream cleanups, recycling, rain barrels, backyard habitats, tree plantings, alternative storm water management, a green expo and municipal LEED-certified buildings. Lions are in the thick of it. “I’d like to leave the planet greener and I’d like for people to be able to take care of it better than we are,” says Karl Taschenberger, 70, president of the Bowie Lions. In one sense, Lions are the original recyclers, refurbishing unneeded eyeglasses for the needy for decades, long before environmentalism entered the mainstream. But since 1972, when Lions Clubs International first officially encouraged Lions to care for the environment, Lions have been fully engaged in common environmental activities such as cleaning rivers, planting trees and sponsoring environmental contests at schools. Lions are a green machine. This year, working together globally, Lions have taken their green commitment to another level. International President Wing-Kun Tam asked Lions to plant 1 million trees. As of late February, Lions already had planted nearly 7 million trees. The decades of green projects amount to more than just an aggregation of completed projects. There has been a profound shift of thinking–as well as a wistful realization of the possibility of doing more. Lions who take part in environmental activities often take to heart the need for lifestyle changes. Unthinkingly wasting resources becomes unthinkable. Old ways are reconsidered. Hopelessness at the idea of what one person or what one club can do turns into hope. “Growing up I didn’t think of the environment. We burned trash in the backyard. We swept coal dust from our front porch every morning. I didn’t think much about it. It would be different today,” says Lion Bill Hensley, 77, who grew up in West Virginia near a steam engine plant. Hensley’s club, the Scott Depot Scott Teays Lions, does roadside cleanups and recycles ink jet cartridges and cell phones. Bins and old mailboxes, painted Lions yellow, fill up at the library, the Kroger grocery store, a bank, an optometrist’s office and at the motor vehicle office. Waiting for proper disposal at Hensley’s home are four egg container boxes stuffed with ink jet cartridges. (“My wife wants me to get rid of them!” he admits.) A small club with 22 members, the Scott Depot Lions do what they can to roll back waste. “Just think what it would be like if all clubs did this?” Hensley ponders. Recycling Royalty The first capital of the Arizona Territory, Prescott was part of the Old West. Men like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday hitched their horses here and frequented saloons on Whiskey Row. The city still retains a western and cowboy feel thanks to its restored buildings in its historic districts. Last year True West Magazine named Prescott as its top Western town. Prescott Noon Lions chartered their club in 1949. Their newspaper recycling is one of the oldest and most successful Lions’ environmental projects. It almost failed miserably. The club began collecting discarded newspapers in fits and starts in the 1970s. It was hard to find a buyer. The club even got stiffed by an unscrupulous business person. A transplant from Texas where he had worked in aircraft certification for the FAA, Billy Parker joined the Prescott Noon Lions in 1990. Club leaders put him in charge of recycling. He found a reputable broker. A plant in Snowflake would pay $25 a ton to recycle what the Lions collected as newsprint. The club had been getting a measly $5 a ton. “The first shipment was in 1991. We were on our way,” recalls Parker, a folksy, easygoing retiree. Prescott Lions have recycling down to a science. Twice a week two dozen or so Lions get behind the wheels of their pickups early in the morning to transport the trailers and the bins of newspapers to a city yard, where other Lions await. A Lion-traffic director guides the incoming rush of vehicles. Two Lions hop into the trucks (“guys without knee problems,” observes Parker) to load the papers onto a conveyor belt system that leads directly into a 53- foot trailer. A few years ago, when the Lions were younger and not wiser, they lifted the paper, armful after armful, from the trucks to trailers. Then they looked around and noticed Lion Adrian Langhus, a retired dairy farmer from Wisconsin who knew a thing or two about conveyors. The seven conveyors enable Lions to load the trailer in two to two-and-half hours. The whole operation is almost cost-free. The club leases the yard for $1 a year. The Lions don’t pay for the trailer nor for the trip to Snowflake. The newspaper recycling concept may be simple, but the execution requires careful planning and loads of volunteers. “The biggest challenge is making sure the trailers are scheduled for pickup,” says Parker. “We do this in all kinds of weather–ice, snow. The mailman has nothing on us.” The club has 103 members, and about 55 of them either work the yard or do a pickup. “We average 10,000 volunteer hours a year on this. I talk to other Lions at conventions and so on, and they can’t believe we do this– in a town of 37,000. But it takes manpower,” says Parker. The recycling has been around so long and the trailers are so conspicuous that it’s a given that people in Prescott know about it. Just to make sure, the club advertises twice a year in the local newspaper. (The ad was once free. But “times are tough now” for newspapers, concedes Parker.) The ad thanks the community for its support and reminds them that funds are returned to the community. Lisa Fornara is an avid–and valuable–supporter of the Lions’ recycling. She owns Brochure Works. She stocks 60 racks with brochures and magazines of hotels, restaurants, casinos and art galleries. When the materials are updated and replaced, she dumps the old publications in a Lions’ bin, even though she could use the city’s recycling program. “By dropping it off [with the Lions], I know folks are getting glasses,” she says. She also appreciates the responsiveness of Lions. She once told a friend, Angie McElfresh, that it was hard to maneuver her vehicle near the trailer she used. McElfresh happens to be Parker’s daughter. Parking was not an issue the next time Fornara drove up to the repositioned trailer. The decline of newspapers in the Internet age has hurt the club’s bottom line. In 2006, it recycled 5.4 million pounds and that dropped to 2.9 million in 2009. That’s still a lot of papers. “It’s a good fundraiser and helps the environment. We get paid for it and can give money to charities,” says Parker. Environmentalism may have entered the mainstream in the 1970s, but Parker and other older Lions can attest they actually learned the value of reducing and reusing in their boyhoods. “I was a Cub Scout during World War II. I got used papers, cans of grease, to help the war effort,” he says with a grin. 40 Years of Work Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a searing examination of the dangers of pollution, launched the modern environmental movement in 1962. Environmentalism took another huge leap forward with the first Earth Day in 1970. A broad spectrum of people began to become concerned about the degradation of the planet. Lions Clubs International jumped aboard the green movement 40 years ago. In October 1972 the International Board of Directors issued a policy statement that encouraged Lions to embrace environmental aims. The policy statement cited “the profound impact of man’s activity on the inter-relations of all components of the natural environment, particularly high-density urbanization, industrial expansion, resources exploitation and new and expanding technological advances.” LCI’s policy will be “to help create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony.” Subsequent to the statement, LCI published materials detailing the deterioration of the planet and suggested ways people and clubs can preserve the earth. Today, LCI continues to encourage clubs to protect the environment. Its website has links to Lions experts on cleanup projects and tree planting campaigns. Lions also can request “Green Team” kits that include tote bags, tip sheets, event flyers and press releases. Many clubs have taken their cue from LCI and initiated debris removal, river and road cleanups and recycling of cell phones, medications and even shoes. Occasionally, in the last few decades, clubs or districts have undertaken large-scale or particularly noteworthy environmental projects. Two clubs in Uruguay spearheaded the planting of–this is not a misprint–50 million trees; Lions in Georgia and Florida donated pine seeds compatible with growing conditions there. Canadian clubs in Multiple District A compiled statistical data on the effects of noise pollution and shared their findings with clubs in other nations. Lions in Germany played a key role in improving a river’s ecosystem by altering its path. Lions have developed green technologies or advocated for change. The Eugene Bethel Lions in Oregon created an experimental solar unit to provide energy for their community recycling center. A French Lion, Michael Baury, helped build an electric traction car and then raced it in 1990 in a Grand Prix event. Lions in Italy developed an international court to preserve the Mediterranean Sea. Eventually, 18 member countries sat on the court, based in Rome. More commonly, clubs set their sights on incremental change within their own communities. Twice a year, Scott Depot Lions assemble other volunteers, obtain gloves, bags, safety vests and pickup tools from the state and rigorously clean a two-mile stretch of busy Poplar Ford Road. Residents let them know they are making a difference. “People roll down their windows to say thanks,” says Hensley. In Gilroy and nearby towns, 25 miles south of San Jose, green spaces are treasured. “We’ve been careful to maintain green areas. The towns aren’t running into each other,” says Mitri. For Earth Day, Lions pre-cut wood that children use to construct birdhouses, intended for smaller, more vulnerable species whose nesting sites are grabbed by larger birds. Saving a tiny bird is a small but vital step in saving the earth. “If we are not careful, we will lose everything,” says Mitri. Green Mind-Set In Bowie, Karl Taschenberger’s 55-gallon water barrel catches the rainwater from his downspouts. A five- or 10- minute rain is enough to fill the barrel, hooked up to his soaker hose. “I open the spigot and it takes 15 to 20 minutes to water the flower and garden,” he says approvingly. Just like that, Taschenberger has reduced his water use, helped put organic food on the table, and prevented pesticides and other contaminants from degrading nearby Chesapeake Bay, a linchpin of the regional economy. He’s saving the earth. But don’t call him a tree hugger. He’s a 70-year-old retired school principal. And a loyal Lion since 1969. The Bowie Lions made that barrel and 300 others they’ve sold in a partnership with the city. Lions also co-sponsor a Green Expo with the city and chamber of commerce and provide a cadre of volunteers for the city’s frequent cleanups of the 50 miles of streams in the city. Green Bowie is the city’s 12-part comprehensive plan to protect the city’s natural resources, and Bowie Lions provide an instrumental small army of volunteers supporting the ambitious plan. Bowie has one cloddish foot in the past–post-war suburbia and its environmental shortcomings–and one green foot in the future–a community committed to conserving resources. The prototypical suburban home builder, Levitt built about one third of Bowie’s homes, hardly paragons of insulation and utterly tied to the car culture. Yet, slightly ahead of his time, he dug detention basins. Flash forward to the present. The mammoth shopping complex Bowie Town Center relies on a retention pond, which gradually shakes loose pollutants from the water column. The prevailing mind-set is not yet as green as other, typically more affluent, regions in Maryland, according to Tiffany Wright, the city’s watershed manager. But the city is moving quickly ahead in that regard. The city has reached a 46 percent tree canopy coverage, topping its 40 percent goal, reduced landfill use per household by 24 percent and built a new 79,500-square-foot city hall/police department for which city officials applied for a LEED silver rating. Another sign of Bowie’s progressive bent is that it even has a watershed manager employee, a “not common at all” position, says Wright. Lions and other residents clean the city’s streams twice a year. Since April 2008, 1,775 volunteers have plucked 13,320 pounds of trash and 12,025 pounds of recyclable materials. The rain barrels help protect economically critical Chesapeake Bay, 20 miles from Bowie, from storm water runoff that invariably contains engine oils, pesticides and a host of noxious chemicals. Wright, along with the Lions selling barrels at farmer’s markets for $75 (they cost the Lions $35 to make), prudently emphasize the practical, personal benefits of the barrels. Rain water is superior to tap water for plants and flowers. And clean streams could mean healthier children. “We make the connection to people’s backyards. The Bay is so important to the economy, such a critical resource. But it’s a little hard for me to stand up at the mall and say ‘save the Bay.’ The streams go right behind your homes. It’s where your kids play. They make that connection,” says Wright. First held last year, the Green Expo is held at the Parks and Grounds facility, a LEED-certified building that features rooftop gardens. Last year close to 40 vendors hawked electric cars, solar panels, wind power systems, energy-efficient windows and siding, organic food and nontoxic household cleaning products. Did Bowie residents show interest? “I sent out the forms to the 39 vendors. Gave them two and half weeks to respond. They’re all coming back. Must have been worth their while,” says Taschenberger. The expo this year will feature a new vendor–goats that eat away hard to reach growth in yards. Wright is pleased with Lions’ green touch. “All I knew about Lions was they collected eyeglasses. I was amazed when I learned about all the other things they do for their communities,” she says. The synergy between Bowie Lions and Bowie officials shows how a spark of green can lead to a shower of green: over time and in fits and starts, people change, clubs change and cities change. One element influences another until a confluence of shared purpose builds and grows. And even an older principal can be taught new lessons. Growing up in the post-war era, Taschenberger was typical of his times. “Back then we turned on the spigot and let it run. Gas was 17 cents a gallon. We didn’t think about the cost or how far your drove,” he says. He didn’t become interested in green issues until he was in his late 40s. “The city was doing a lot and that got me interested,” he says. Last year Taschenberger installed 20 solar panels on his home. “One month’s kilowatt usage went from 1,032 to 668. I’m really looking forward to June, July and August,” he says. Next on his list of environmental projects may be solar panels on the Lions clubhouse. The club may be able to secure a state grant. Eventually, the club likely will be able to sell electricity back to the grid, a real savings and an apt symbol of how Lions, with green hands and hearts, can give back to the community. Making a Difference What can one person or one club do to help the environment? Plenty. That’s the well-informed opinion of Adil Najam, who directs Boston University’s Frederick Pardee Center for Study of the Longer-Range Future. Najam shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore for their work on climate change, and he was the keynote speaker at Lions’ 91st International Convention in Bangkok in 2008. “I think people can do a lot and people can do everything,” says Najam. “And what that means is that it is our everyday small decisions. And small inefficiencies that have landed us into this trouble of climate change. And the only way to solve it is for people to change their habits, not in ways that make them uncomfortable, but make their lives more efficient in terms of climate. That means how we drive. That means how we live. That means how we heat our houses. That means the clothes we wear. Everything we do has a small impact on the environment. And the good news is small actions can make big change.” Lions clubs are uniquely suited to tackle environmental problems. Says Najam, “Climate and environment are the quintessential global problems. And the Lions Clubs is really the quintessential global organization. It’s an organization that has members everywhere. The type of challenge that we face requires that type of global action which an organization like the Lions Clubs can pull together. It is this sort of network that can pull ideas in from all over the world and bring small change in each community, in each country, in each little club. That’s what’s required and that’s why Lions Clubs is such a great organization to think about this.” Trees Sprout Across the Globe Maybe worldwide sales of shovels and spades jumped a bit this year. Around the globe Lions planted trees, beautifying communities, cleansing the air and soil, and responding in overwhelming numbers to International President Wing-Kun Tam’s goal to plant 1 million trees. Lions in Liberia planted 200 trees, symbolizing each club member. Members of three Saipan Lions clubs in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands planted three dozen trees at the Lao Lao Bay, a valuable marine ecosystem endangered by erosion. Rededicating the Melvin Jones Memorial in Fort Thomas, Arizona, Lions improved the grounds with six saplings. Scarborough Lions in England planted a beautiful ornamental cherry tree to cheer patients and visiting families at Scarborough Hospital. Two of the most notable tree-planting efforts involved Lions in Kenya and India. Kenyan Lions are partnering with the Aga Khan Development Network to plant 1.5 million trees. In southern India, in a mammoth one-day blitz in August, Lions in Multiple District 324 planted 3.4 million trees. As of late February, Lions had planted nearly 7 million trees. President Tam will reveal the final tally in June at the 95th International Convention in Busan, Korea. Lions then can breathe a little easier, knowing they fulfilled this service mission and because, well, it will be easier to breathe thanks to the trees’ oxygen production. A Greener Globe Lions worldwide are saving the earth in projects as wide as the sea and as small as a light bulb. Bright Idea Balla Balla Lions in Australia are replacing as many as 6,500 regular light bulbs in homes with energy-efficient ones. Waste Containment Trujillo El Boqueron Lions in Peru transform corroded metal containers into bright, shiny waste cans. Learn While Playing Mihama Lions in Japan name their event “Let’s Play in Lake Kukuji!” The schoolchildren do get to splash around in the lake, but the real purpose of the day is to teach them about the lake’s fragile ecosystem. The children attend an ecostudy workshop, catch clams, make soup and clean the lakeshore. They finish up by writing an essay on the environment. Flower Power Wyndham Way, the road that leads into Portishead, England, bursts into a ribbon of yellow each year thanks to Lions, who for 20 years have planted 250 pounds of daffodils. After a typically dreary wet winter, “Everyone enjoys seeing the daffodils in the spring,” says Lion Keith Fuell. Lions also visit schools to help children make birdboxes. Grease Release Restaurants, homes and schools in Thailand routinely and unthinkingly dump cooking grease in waterways, resulting in clogged pipes, unsightly conditions and unsafe water. Lions in District 310- B devised a simple, inexpensive method to trap the grease and collect it in a bin. The grease is then buried near trees as fertilizer or dried in the sun to become charcoal. Sea Savers Lions in Italy including the Agrigento Lions drew up a plan to save the Mediterranean Sea in accordance with United Nations’ guidelines. Lions sponsored lectures and seminars on safeguarding the sea from pollution and held fundraisers to support the plan. In a state-funded project in which a Lion played a key role, three 250-meter barriers, made from rock, were submerged in the sea near Realmonte to protect the coast from erosion. Giuseppe Vella, an architect and past president of the Agrigento Lions, helped lead the effort to preserve especially the area’s famous white coast. “To be a Lion surely helps him to be strong and conscientious about the environment. He brought his ‘Lions values’ to his work,” says Natalia, his wife. Earth Days Clubs Recycle, Reuse and Reduce in Myriad Ways Trash into Treasure Drive up Route 4 into the western mountains of Maine in August and on a hill in Strong, population 1,259, you’ll find a neat white ranch home with a yard full of secondhand goods and bargain hunters milling about. Mary and Steve White and other members of the Phillips Strong Lions Club collect leftover treasures and convert them into cash. The Whites’ lawn sales began a decade ago before they were Lions and the Whites asked around for donated items to sell to help friends whose son was seriously ill. Each year proceeds are for a specific good cause: a headstone for a young person who died, an animal shelter, a volunteer fire department, a park, an autism camp. Except for furniture and a few other items, most of the goods have no price tag. That adds to the sense that the whole enterprise is not a commercial transaction but about helping others. The Whites certainly don’t worry about the money: they’ve bought two large tents and constructed storage buildings for the annual project. Maybe the best part of the yard sale is that the recycling does not end when the sale does: what’s left is given to other groups for resale or reuse. A Case of Novel Thinking Lions are renowned for recycling eyeglasses. But has anyone ever thought to recycle eyeglass cases? Jo Hallum did. For several years his club, the Stayton Lions in Oregon, has made personal hygiene kits out of old eyeglass cases. Leos at Woodburn High School and students from Regis Catholic High School meticulously fill the cases with toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand sanitizers, Band-Aids and other necessities. Lions have distributed 5,000 cases to the homeless in Portland, Salem and other towns. Hallum learned the hard way to make sure the cases go to the hardcore homeless– people living on the streets and under bridges. The needy who had been receiving the cases at drop-in centers and soup kitchens sometimes discarded items they apparently could obtain elsewhere. A side benefit of the project is the lesson in volunteerism received by the Leos, most of whom are first-generation Hispanic-Americans. “They’re learning the local culture. It’s a great experience for them,” says Hallum. Tsk, Tsk: Disc upon Disc Like an alien invasion, an estimated 4.3 million plastic discs, twice the diameter of a quarter, washed up last spring all along the Merrimack River and then on the beaches of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The culprit: a wastewater treatment plant in Hooksett, New Hampshire. The solution: Lions, who were among the many volunteers who picked up the unexpected beach litter. The white plastic discs with a screen mesh are used to encourage the growth of bacteria that helps process waste materials. Officials at the plant, located along the Merrimack River, said heavy rains let loose the disks and 300,000 gallons of raw sewage. The discs were not considered hazardous. Lions Serve Up Lionfish The unfortunately named lionfish, with no known predators, has ravaged whole reefs of native fish in parts of the Bahamas and Caribbean. Hopkins Lions in Minnesota held an “Eat for the Ecosystem,” serving $5 lionfish kebabs that included tomatoes, peppers and seasoning. An environmental lesson also was served: the club played a DVD for patrons that detailed how the invasive species, now ravaging South Florida waters as never before, threatens the environment, the livelihoods of indigenous fishermen and even the tourist industry. Patrons contributed to a good cause and enjoyed “a very tasty” fish that is “a cross between a snapper and crab,” says Lion Chuck Ryan, a co-owner of a fishing company that secures lionfish from spear-wielding fishermen from Mexico and Belize (spearing is the only way to catch the fish). The lionfish derives its name not for its ferocity but because of its mane-like appearance. Animal Havens From the spacious windows of her Virginia home Sally Kenavan and her mother, Millie Baden, watch in delight the wild animals that descend on their backyard. Turkey buzzards, Canadian geese, groundhogs, squirrels, mallards, herons, crows, blackbirds, cardinals and thrush come and go. The home is one of six belonging to members of the Aquia Evening Lions Club that have been recognized as Certified Wildlife Habitat sites by the National Wildlife Federation. To qualify, the properties must provide wildlife with food, water, cover and places to raise young. Thirty-five miles from Washington, D.C., Kenavan’s home sits on a creek off the Potomac River. “Wild geese walk past the side of the house to the front yard to the bird feeder. They waddle around. It’s entertaining,” she says. Certified habitats also must protect the environment, which Kenavan has taken to heart. “When I first got the home the yard was a mess. I got a fertilizer service. A neighbor said, ‘You can’t do that. It will get in the creek.’ So I stopped the service,” she says. The animals are not a nuisance: “I have an abundance of plants. The fact they nibble on some leaves is no big deal.” Operator Assistance A women’s shelter and a homeless shelter in Yankton County in South Dakota supply patrons with recycled cell phones. Officials program the phones so they can dial only 911. But first the phones have to be sorted and checked for problems after they are left for donation at a Yankton County building. Members of the Yankton Lions Club perform that chore. It’s busy work, a task the county is glad to “outsource” to Lions. The shelter officials are “so appreciative that the ones we checked can be used right away,” says Carol Becker, past club president. A Green Dream Home For nearly 60 years Edmonton Host Lions in Alberta, Canada, have sold a “Lions Club Dream Home.” Two years ago they once again commissioned a builder to construct a home for the fundraising lottery, but for the first time it was a green home. Valued at $850,000 (Canadian dollars), the fully furnished, 2,000-square-foot bungalow featured triple-glazed windows, an energy efficient heating system and appliances, abovestandard insulation, non-carbon-based siding and floors made with wood not in short supply. “We wanted to make a statement. We looked at what we put into the home and made it as reusable as we could,” says Terry Kozma, chair of the home committee. The icing on the cake was that the lottery winner “was thrilled. They wanted a green house,” says Kozma. Tree-mendous Focus Lions in densely wooded Oregon found a way to honor fallen soldiers and to beautify the earth: they planted 61,000 trees to memorialize U.S. soldiers who died in the Vietnam War. In the early 1990s Lions worked with Frank Lockyear and his ReTree International nonprofit to plant the trees on state forestry lands. Last May, the Oregon Lions/Vietnam Veterans Memorial Forest was rededicated in a ceremony attended by Lions, Lockyear’s daughter and veterans. Johnny Appleseed has nothing on Oregon Lions: last year they held their 22nd Annual Youth Tree Plant as 975 schoolchildren and Scouts planted nearly 3,700 firs, pines and cedars. For six years, Oregon Lions also have sponsored tree plantings in Tanzania.
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