David McKay Wilson 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Young Men in Corrections Facility Form Club A secure corrections facility for young men locked up for crimes that range from murder and rape to aggravated assault and petty larceny might seem an odd location for a Leo club bake sale. But on a balmy afternoon a week before Thanksgiving, members of the Jamesburg Leo Club baked 500 cookies, decorated them in three distinctive designs and wrapped them up nicely for those wanting holiday sweets. The New Jersey Training School has a campus setting with cottages and a school. Yet there are guards, high fences around the perimeter and a locked gate. The Leos–all residents of the school–owe a debt to society. Yet they are still young, still full of promise, still perfectly willing to engage in something fanciful like baking gourmet holiday cookies. They made chocolate-chip cookies with Reese’s Peanut Butter cups resembling Pilgrims’ hats, chocolate-chip cookies with candy corn that look like turkeys and sugar cookies with “Give Thanks” written in frosting. The goal was not to just raise funds for charity (the sugar cookies were $2 each) but to touch a soft spot in their hearts. “It feels good to help,” says James, a 20-year-old Leo with closecropped brown hair, who is taking community college courses to become a personal trainer. “We’re waiting to see how it all goes. We may try to do a Christmas sale next.” The nearby Cranbury Lions Club chartered the Jamesburg Leo Club last May. “These kids are in trouble and we wanted to do what we could to help,” says Fay Kobland, an adviser to the Jamesburg Leo Club and the Leo Committee Chair for District 16 D, which has eight Leo clubs and 45 Lions clubs. “We hoped the Leos could learn that giving back was important and that they had things that they could give.” Three Cranbury Lions–Christine Thompson, Elaine Homoky and Frank Vesci–diligently baked the cookies alongside the Leos in the facility’s kitchen. The Lions say they felt safe–the Leos were respectful and staff was present–but the work was tiring. “It was grueling. We didn’t stop for four hours,” says Thompson. “It was so positive, working with these boys who were doing a good thing for everybody else. And it’s good for them to interact with ‘Joe Public,’ who just gives a damn.” The Leos donated the proceeds, expected to reach about $600, to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Club members learned of the charity from a school employee, whose grandchildren are fighting the disorder that attacks the body’s musculoskeletal system. Florinda Canale, the school employee whose grandchildren have muscular dystrophy, said she was stunned that the young men would think of her grandchildren. They’d seen pictures of the kids on her desk. “You pray that God will open doors for you,” says Canale, a secretary in the school’s business office. “It’s amazing how God opened up a door for these boys here.” The Leos’ bake sale marked its first fundraising effort. The Cranbury Lions Club is located in a township six miles west of the school. The charter ceremony drew Lions statewide. The Cranbury Lions Club dates from 1932. The club sticks to what works. It recently held its 64th annual pancake breakfast. The club’s involvement with the school extends back to 1933, when it was still called the Jamesburg School for Boys. In recent years, the club donated the computerized embroidery machine in the school’s print shop, which publishes the annual directory for the Lions of District 16 B. The chartering of the Leo club deepened the involvement of the Cranbury Lions with the facility. This spring Leos will provide saplings, as part of the Lions Green Team Tree Planting Project, on the sprawling campus through the school’s horticultural training program. Leos are designing a T-shirt for the Cranbury Lions’ 80th anniversary celebration. And Lions attended the annual graduation ceremony on the lawn in late spring. “It was a memorable experience for me,” says Kobland. “It was very uplifting.” School Superintendent Llionel Henderson, who arrived in Jamesburg this fall after many years running another state facility, says the involvement of the Lions provides a community connection that can pay real dividends. Giving back through the Leo club reconnects them with the community at large. “It puts a stamp of humanity on these kids,” says Henderson. “It brings a great deal of therapeutic value. They know that they have helped somebody. That’s a very holistic and deeply spiritual act. If these kids learn they can help someone else, you have made a difference in their lives.” New Jersey Lions statewide assist the school. Equipped by Lions, the school’s optical lab produces eyeglasses for residents there as well as employees and inmates throughout New Jersey’s corrections system. The lab has churned out nearly 3,000 pairs of glasses over the past several years. The residents learn how to grind lenses and fill specialty orders including bi-focals. These glasses are made under state contract, so quality control is high. “It’s the real deal,” says Henderson. “They make the lens, fit the frames. And it’s not just about the glasses. It’s about these boys getting trained in an industry that’s buoyed up by health insurance programs. There are jobs out there for these boys who get trained.” Becoming a Leo brings the Jamesburg residents into the Lions Club circle, that network of civicminded citizens across the region and country. One of the residents, due for release soon, says he has a contact with a local Lion in the town to which he will return. Establishing the Leo club at the Jamesburg facility took some effort. The teenagers can’t leave the grounds, so all activity must take place within the school’s confines. Lions who volunteer with the group need pre-approval to enter the facility. The transient nature of the school’s population, meanwhile, can create issues with continuity. Nevertheless, the first year of the Jamesburg Leo Club has gone smoothly and holds great promise for development. About 20 of the facility’s 280 residents are members. At first, membership was limited to residents assigned to the honors cottages–a privilege they earned through good behavior and performance on the jobs they do around the campus. But the club’s popularity, and its positive influence on those participating, has led the facility’s leadership to offer membership to a broader spectrum of Jamesburg residents. “Now we’d like to open it up,” says Mark Myers, the school’s education supervisor and adviser to the club. The Leos’ first project was sending greeting cards to residents at The Gardens at Monroe Nursing Home, five miles away in Monroe Township. It was a way for the young men to reach out to the broader world, which had been closed off to them since they entered the gates. “Everybody filled out two or three cards,” recalls Ryan, 19, who plans to return to his home community in January, after spending more than two years in Jamesburg. “We got to design the cards ourselves. I did mine for a lady in lots of different colors. I wrote, ‘Have a Wonderful Day!’ ” Deciding on their next project took more brainstorming. At first, they considered a car wash–a surefire fundraiser for other Leo clubs across the country. But such a fundraiser was deemed too difficult to pull off at Jamesburg. “It was going to be too hard to get the cars inside the fence to wash them,” recalls James, a Leo. Then they decided upon the bake sale. The facility’s social worker, Astrid Stevenson, dreamed up the cookie designs. Issues still remained. Leos had to decide where their profits would be sent. They also had to decide who would be involved in baking the cookies. They all wanted to do it. After baking, the Leos had to sell the cookies. They put up flyers across the sprawling campus. They also paid sales calls to offices around the school, selling to secretaries, grounds staff, teachers and administrators. “Once we had it all together, we really got the snowball rolling,” James says. “And once it got rolling, it didn’t stop.” Leo member Damien, who works in the school’s masonry shop, says the staff there placed orders. “They were all supportive,” he says. Superintendent Henderson bought a half-dozen. Members of the Cranbury Lions stepped up and did their part, ordering some cookies for their Thanksgiving celebration. “I bought six sugar cookies,” says Kobland. “Establishing this club has been great for the boys and very eyeopening for Lions members. I’m hoping our collaboration continues to grow.”
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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