Marsha Mercer 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Lions’ service often is big and dramatic. We save lives through the measles initiative, save sight through screenings and save youth through Lions Quest. But more often our service is smaller and quieter, almost unnoticed. Yet the impact is no less meaningful. Lions save a house and the precious memories of an elderly mother. Or Lions read books and open minds, plant flowers and open hearts, and hold a multicultural festival, building bridges between people otherwise separate and often wary. Here are a half-dozen wondrous ways clubs stepped into a gap and filled a hole that made lives richer and more complete. Stay-At-Home Mom Friends in Austin, Minnesota, helped Orin Sundal build the six-bedroom, tri-level home that he, his wife, Norene, and their four kids moved into in 1971. Forty years later, new friends–Lions clubs members–are helping Norene Sundal, 88 and a widow, stay in the home she loves. Three clubs in Austin, a town of 24,718 in southcentral Minnesota, joined together to spruce up the house with a fresh coat of cream-colored paint. “It looks real nice now that the Lions painted it for me,” says Sundal, a self-described perfectionist. “They even did the trim around the windows.” In 1969, Norene played violin in the community symphony orchestra she helped start, Orin worked in agricultural construction and the kids were in high school. They had outgrown their old house when they found a vacant lot on 19th Street. With house plans ordered from a magazine, Orin and his friends set to work. A lot happens in 40 years. The kids grew up, moved out and started their own families. Orin Sundal died in 1997, and daughter Karen moved home to help her mom. Norene Sundal has eight grandchildren and six greatgrandchildren. Through it all, one constant remained. “It’s home,” Mrs. Sundal says. “I’m going to live to be a hundred and stay right here.” The Austin Noon Lions Club asked the local senior center to choose someone who needed help to keep living independently. “People in a small town like this have more of a focus on the community,” says Charles Mills, president. A paint store donated nine gallons of paint, a donut shop provided breakfast and a deli chipped in sandwiches for lunch, says Jim Dunlop, zone chairman. Austin’s Morning and Evening Lions clubs joined the Noon Lions, and in just over a day, about 15 Lions caulked windows, repaired downspouts, scraped rust and painted. “We’re getting more and more people wanting to do things locally,” Dunlop says. Norene Sundal, who still works in her son’s print shop five days a week, sent the Lions a thank-you card she designed herself on the computer. It began: “Dear friendly Lions members! It’s time to dance and sing and say thank you for your wonderful gift of time and labor!” Book Buddies in Virginia Lion Bill Henderson, who is 80 and a grandfather, climbs the stairs to the third floor of New London Academy in Forest and takes a seat in a big, double rocking chair. A kindergartener crawls up, Henderson opens a picture book about an octopus, and Book Buddies begins. “Most of us don’t have children this young at home,” Henderson, immediate past president, later says. “They’re just learning their ABCs, and we point out small words like hat, cat, rat and bat. It’s a lot of fun.” About 10 Forest Lions Club members volunteer in this second year of the program in central Virginia. For about 40 minutes every week, a Lion reads to two pupils in kindergarten or first grade. Principal Tammy Parlier says the Lions are a blessing during these tough economic times. They’re the only organized group that volunteers at the public school, which has 378 students and no male teachers. A first-grade class ideally would have about 20 pupils, she says, but one first-grade class at New London ballooned last fall to 28. “When they’re one in 28, they have to wait their turn,” she says. “We just don’t have the time to do oneon- one.” George Mohrmann is president of Forest Lions. In his 21 years as an Army officer, Mohrmann saw young soldiers who were hampered by their lack of reading skills. Now he and his wife, Cindy, also a Lion, are helping children get off to a good reading start. “My motivation is that in today’s environment reading is essential,” he says. “A student’s ability to read is critical for their future.” Their young buddies’ personal stories sometimes tug at Lions’ heartstrings. Mohrmann recalls a boy he befriended last year who showed great promise. “Then in April his family moved from their home for economic reasons, and he had the difficult task of telling his classmates he wouldn’t be there for the rest of the year,” Mohrmann says. “The teachers were incredible. They tried to help the family stay, but it was too late. They moved away.” Book Buddies are so popular that all the kids want to spend time with them, reading specialist Mandy Simpson says, adding, “It’s something special.” Flower Power for Seniors Jane Braxton took care of her husband and seven children, her house and her job as a custodian for the District of Columbia government. Gardening was not on her to-do list. At 87, though, widowed, retired and living in a nursing home in the Washington suburbs, she discovered a new passion. “I’m a flower lover. It doesn’t matter what kind,” she says. A resident of the Charles County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Braxton is a beneficiary of the Enabling Gardens project of the La Plata Lions Club. Last spring, Lions built two raised garden beds–one for flowers and one for vegetables–in the center’s courtyard. Each white cedar box is 12-foot by 4-foot, lined with rubber pool material and filled with rich topsoil. Most important, each box stands 3 feet high. “They can’t get down on their knees anymore,” says Lion Ed McKenzie, the driving force behind the gardens. “This is dirt they can get to.” McKenzie, 73, was visiting a friend in New Harmony, Indiana, when he saw an Enabling Garden at a nursing home. He was touched by the happy faces of the residents who lined up after lunch, eager to put their hands in the dirt. “I watched the enthusiasm of the patients there, and I thought it would be a wonderful thing for us to try,” he says. “It really struck my heart, and I wanted people in my own community to experience the same thing.” The topsoil was donated by Marie’s Diner, where the La Plata Lions meet. The Lions provided the plants, and residents and staff dug, planted, watered and harvested. They enjoyed the colorful flowers and gave away the bounty of vegetables, as only food purchased from vendors can be served. Cynthia E. Parker, vice president of marketing at the center, says nursing homes today strive to create a home-like atmosphere, and gardening helps. “It’s about the experience of growing,” she says. McKenzie, a volunteer fireman who helped Hurricane Katrina victims rebuild, says the gardens were his most rewarding volunteer project, and he wants to build more. “People smiled ear to ear and just loved it,” he says. “They were so happy.” Jane Braxton can’t wait to garden again. To see her through the winter, she put a new vase of red, yellow and white plastic flowers in her nursing home window. Mentors in Modesto The fourth-grade boy in Modesto, California, was bright but withdrawn. In class, he’d put his jacket over his head and lay his head on his desk. “He doesn’t speak,” the other kids said. Rocio Flores-Solorio, instructional coach at Shackelford Elementary, paired the boy with a team of mentors from the Modesto 500 Lions Club. Twice a week at lunchtime, a Lion met one-on-one with the boy for about 30 minutes to read, look at maps or math problems, or just talk. Modesto Lions are in their fourth year of volunteering with the Stanislaus County Employee Mentors Program. The club has adopted Shackelford, one of the district’s lowest achieving schools. Its 600 students are mostly Hispanic English learners who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. “The attention gives the students self-esteem. It encourages them to do their studies,” says Lion and mentor Carol Shipley, a county assistant district attorney. Shipley knows well what can happen to a youngster who gets off on the wrong track in school. Modesto leads the nation in car theft, has gangs and is called the Meth Capital of the World. “I do think [mentoring] helps,” she says. “Any time you can give a kid an option in life, he’ll usually choose the right one. If he doesn’t know the option is out there, he’ll go with his peers.” Lions provided Shackelford with $700 in school clothes–white shirts and blue pants–and school supplies last fall. They give nearly 80 thirdgraders brand-new, hardback dictionaries every year and adopt families during the holidays. “These are very busy people, and they make a sacrifice in coming,” says principal Cecilia Franco-Ball. “At the end of the year, we have a celebration tea and always give them the data on how their students’ scores have improved. They really do make a difference.” Keith Boggs, deputy executive officer for Stanislaus County, started the mentoring program in 1998. “The number one statistic of improvement that we have seen over the years is attendance,” he says. “Kids who are truant and struggling with structure start coming to school. That’s half the battle.” And the fourth grader? He gradually came out of his shell. “He’s smiling. He’s having friends,” Flores-Solorio reports. “He’s not a social bumblebee, but he is playing on the playground.” Seashells on the Seashore Once More Post-polio syndrome kept Joan Richardson of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, off beaches for upwards of 15 years– until last winter. “I love the beach and the water,” says Richardson, 66, but the sand had been too much for her crutches. Richardson’s day at the beach came last March while she was visiting an old friend, Lion Eleanor Callon, in Ormond Beach, Florida. Richardson got to the ocean’s edge and even stuck her toes in the surf and sand, thanks to an all-terrain wheelchair donated by the Ormond Beach Lions Club to the Volusia County Beach Patrol. “I enjoyed myself,” says Richardson, who collected seashells for the first time in years on that mild, sunny afternoon. “It was a beautiful day.” Marget Toth was president of Ormond Beach Lions in 2010 when she learned about “surf chairs” during a local run in support of those with disabilities. A lifeguard told Toth about the need for the all-terrain wheelchairs and the local man who manufactured them. Ormond Beach Lions usually focus on vision and hearing projects, but Toth embraced the “surf chair” as a club project. “It was a good thing to do for our community,” she says, noting that disabled “snow birds” appreciate being able to get on the beach. The wheelchair is made of PVC pipe with 23-inch rubber tires that are 6-inches wide so they move easily on the sand. The club paid $1,200 for the chair, which has gold seat cushions and the Lions’ emblem on the seat back and umbrella. Donated in September 2010, the chair is housed at Cardinal Lifeguard Station in Ormond Beach, where those with disabilities can check it out free, year-round, first-come, first-served, says Capt. Tamra Marris of the Volusia County Beach Patrol. Sixty-three people checked out the Lions chair from Dec. 1, 2010, to Dec. 1, 2011, says Marris, who loves seeing disabled children using it. “It’s really nice that the Lions donated the chair,” she says. “Handicapped children who can’t normally get down through the sand to the water get really excited.” Kids aren’t the only ones who get excited. Joan Richardson says she hopes to go back to the beach when she visits Ormond Beach again. Hello Friend, Goodbye Hate Someone they knew wanted to check out the Pelham Lions Club Multicultural Festival, so John and Alejandra Ocampo went along. The Ocampos, naturalized American citizens originally from Colombia, sometimes feel like outsiders in Birmingham, Alabama. Their son has been bullied, and a stranger at a department store once demanded that Alejandra stop speaking Spanish on her cell phone. The couple felt harassed by police in a neighboring town. But Ocampo, a retired U.S. Army captain who works as a family counselor, and his wife, a social worker, were happily surprised that Sunday afternoon two years ago. People from various countries wore traditional dress, played folk instruments, danced, talked about their home countries and shared favorite foods. The Ocampos met Pelham Lions President Dianna Murphree and her husband, Melvin, Alabama natives eager to talk about Lions and the festival, which was Dianna’s idea. While Melvin was district governor in 2008, Dianna, Ms. Senior Alabama 2006 and no stranger to pageants, read a mailing that encouraged clubs to sponsor an international fair. “We used to have an international festival in Birmingham that spotlighted a different country every year,” she says. “It was so nice, because when you get to know people from different cultures, you get a wonderful understanding.” To jumpstart the festival in 2009, Dianna Murphree reached out to her church’s ministries for Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Spanish congregations. The festival has grown each year, and the Murphrees are looking for a larger venue for 2012. The festival did more than warm the Ocampos one afternoon. In November 2010, the Birmingham Hispanic Lions Club, the first Hispanic Lions club in Alabama, was chartered, with John Ocampo, president, and Alejandra Ocampo, first vice president. Among the 15 countries represented at last year’s festival were Guatemala, Colombia, Mexico and Cuba, with tables manned by Hispanic Lions. Wearing native dress, the Ocampos talked about Colombian culture, and the couple passed out coffee and rice pudding. Alabama’s new immigration law has cost the Hispanic club members, says John Ocampo. Half have either resigned or moved out of state. The festival this spring may help with recruitment. Says Melvin Murphree: “You can’t hate someone when you’re learning about their culture. The festival is a great thing for relations in our community.” “A student’s ability to read is critical for their future.” “Any time you can give a kid an option in life, he’ll usually choose the right one.”
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/Small+Acts+of+Kindness/1009942/105015/article.html.