Alaska’s Shining Star It was 11 years ago that District 49 Lions in Alaska tackled a new challenge. A presentation by Alpine Alternatives founder Lauren Lieberman served as the spark for creating Camp Abilities in Anchorage, one of 13 camps in and outside the United States. In the audience that evening was Spenard Lion Margaret Webber, who knew that her district could replicate a weeklong camp in Alaska for individuals with sensory impairments such as blindness or deafness or a combination of both. “It was an easy fit,” she says. “There is no other camp of this type in the state for blind and visually impaired youth. Before Camp Abilities, many children residing in Alaska rural villages thought they were alone. They were isolated from other children like themselves. These children have itinerant vision teachers who fly to villages a few times a year.” Webber, executive director of Camp Abilities, points out, “The land mass is vast, the terrain unpredictable. Remote villages depend on the land for survival. Doctors, vision teachers and necessities must be flown, driven, come by boat or a combination to reach their destinations.” Alaskan Lions raise $40,000 each year to make Camp Abilities possible for an average of 20 youths a year ranging in age from 9 to 19. Fundraisers are often unique to Alaska— a helicopter ride over the capital city of Juneau to view the panorama of Christmas lights is just one activity. Profits are used to cover campers’ housing for a week, food, facilities and transportation between venues—“absolutely everything and every need,” points out Webber. “One round trip from a rural Alaskan village just off the Bering Sea for one child is close to $900. It’s cheaper to fly to New York.” Campers stay in dorm rooms at the University of Alaska-Anchorage and use sports facilities around the city. The week is life-changing not only for campers, but for staff members as well, says Justin Haegele. A full-time adapted physical education teacher in New York City, he has spent most of July in Alaska working at Camp Abilities since 2008 and is a co-director. “Camp Abilities is my favorite week of the year. What this camp gives to the kids—the selfdetermination, the knowledge that they can participate in sports, the friendships, the passion—is the reason I entered the field of adapted physical education.” A typical day with the kids may involve beep baseball, track and field, goal ball, swimming or tandem biking. “We usually have a 20-minute break before a nighttime activity, which could be hiking, archery, a talent show or Lions Night, where Lions provide pizza and ice cream for the kids and interact with them,” Haegele says. Webber agrees that lives can be transformed in a single week. “What comes out of these efforts is magical: Children meeting other children who experience the same problems, children sharing what works best for them, children learning new sports. Camp Abilities teaches children ‘I Can’ and they do.” Butterflies and Beyond A butterfly garden on the grounds of a school in Ontario, Canada, had been tended by a teacher, a junior kindergarten class of four- and five-year-olds and second-graders, but had fallen into disrepair. Butterflies would be released into the garden by children to flit about the chrysalis and other plants designed to attract them. Walden Lion Diane Tait, who helps youngsters in a French immersion class learn to read, discovered that a member of the teacher’s family was ill and she had no time to tend the garden. Tait volunteered her help and other members of the Walden Lions Club pitched in to bring the butterflies back to the garden. Lions spent $100 for topsoil, fertilizer and new plants. Families of students donated perennial plants and the kids’ enthusiasm grew. “Members of the Walden Lions Club spent many days in their spare time weeding and preparing the soil for planting,” says Claire Hobden. “The children were so happy to be out there digging in the soil, laughing and getting dirty. We Lions loved every minute of it, helping and watching the children take pride in their work.” Playground Gets a Pickup Members of the Selfridge North Macomb Lions Club in Michigan not only think of others, they also put those thoughts into action. When they learned that a playground on the grounds of a community domestic violence shelter could use a major cleanup, Lions got busy. Lions took action, says Tammi Graber, “so children in crisis could have a safe, fun place to play. On the hottest night of the summer, the club came together to spruce up the overgrown area. With tools in hand, we weeded, edged, laid donated mulch, cleaned tables and raked the sand clean. We provided bikes and playground toys and games.” President Vikki Gray points out, “Our members are all unique and have favorite projects they’d like to be involved in, but this particular project was one that everyone was excited about. When you talk about helping children who have witnessed or experienced domestic violence, it just pulls at your heart.” Lion Cheryl Hauler agrees. “Not even a heat index in the 100s could stop us from serving,” she says.
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