Nancy Shepherdson 0000-00-00 00:00:00
The younger women in clubs today are not your mother’s Lions, bringing youthful energy and fresh ideas to their clubs. Twenty-five years ago, something new was added to Lions: women members. The first typical female members were Lions’ wives, drawn by the family orientation that Lions Clubs have always encouraged. Increasingly, though, a whole new generation of women is discovering the satisfaction and fun of being Lions and are joining in growing numbers. Nearly a quarter of Lions are now female and almost two-thirds of clubs worldwide report that women are involved in leadership. Female Lions today, particularly those in their 20s, 30s and early 40s, embrace Lions’ ideals as never before, bring their clubs a renewed energy and unique service perspective, and often involve their young children in service. For these women, integrating service into a balanced work and family life allows them to become more engaged in creating and sustaining the fabric of their communities. Finding a New Family Aro Riley, 41, had never heard of Lions when she saw an article in the local Seal Beach, California, newspaper seeking drivers for St. Patrick’s Day. The many Irish pubs in town attract an enthusiastic crowd every year, of which Riley, living just a block away, was well aware. Bagpipers play, revelers dance in the streets and people wait in impossibly long lines for drinks. “That newspaper story resonated with me because I have a rule that I don’t drive after two drinks, and they said they would only take people home, not to another bar,” she laughs. Riley, a slim, tanned blonde with a ready laugh, became a Lion shortly after serving as a driver three years ago and has done so every year since. This year the club rented three vans, and Riley worked from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. with a male partner and helped give rides to 150 revelers. Since then she has also initiated a blood drive simply because she is unable to give blood herself. “The board will OK anything that is beneficial to the community. They gave me a lot of support, too, because our motto is ‘No Lion Fails.’” Almost every weekend, too, brings another project. “We do so much work but we have a lot of fun,” she says. Her two oldest children, Alex, 18, who is autistic, and Sarah, 16, often work right by her side as Leos, and her five-year-old, Liam, can’t wait to join. But her Lion life almost didn’t happen. A troubled marriage became more strained because her husband believed she should be paid for her volunteer work. They separated soon after she became a Lion but Riley found that she was hardly bereft. “With Lions, I found an amazing new family,” she says of the 174 members of the Seal Beach Lions. “During my divorce, they were so helpful. They would even drive me to court when I was having a hard time. And when I needed to move, all my Lions friends just showed up and helped me.” Riley, who gives motorcycle tours to European visitors part-time, aspires to club leadership someday. “I want to teach my children to give instead of receive and I want to inspire them,” she explains. And she does not expect any resistance to the idea. “Being a woman and younger isn’t something anybody notices in my club.” The Littlest Lion Kristina Stewart, 26, is the youngest member of the Upland Host Lions Club in California by a generation. She’s single, has no kids, studied education at college, and is part owner of her father’s restaurant where she works, Maniac Mike’s at the Cable Airport near Upland. The next youngest member of the Upland Host Club is her dad, who was the 2011- 12 president and joined a year before she did. Other members of the club, almost all of whom are retired, consider her the “baby of the club,” even though she joined four years ago. She’s taken to calling herself “the littlest Lion,” by which she means that she is completely committed to Lionism. “I started helping my dad with fundraisers and I immediately realized that this was what I wanted to do,” she says. Despite her age, the club has big plans for Stewart. She is now second vice president, a job that was created for her to give her experience and reduce her anxiety as she moves into leadership. In a small club like Upland, though, making changes has been harder than she expected. “When I signed up, everyone was welcoming because everyone thought that a new pair of eyes would be valuable,” she remembers. “But because the club is so old, changes can sound like suicide to some people, so we make gradual changes. I found that there is initially a wall around the old ways. We need to tear down the old ways and build new ones.” For instance, Stewart noticed that the club’s largest annual fundraiser, a fish fry and corn roast, had been experiencing dwindling attendance. She guessed it was because some people just don’t like fish. “So we added a five-ounce steak and sold more tickets than ever.” Stewart also recommended that it be made more family-oriented and moved to a park with places for kids to play. Once more, attendance rose. The final suggestion was to partner with the local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, which didn’t pan out, although members of those clubs pledged to volunteer this year. “[Older club members] don’t always see my idea or how to implement it,” she says. “I’ve realized that sometimes I have to do it the old way, but we’re building good communications.” Another idea that has generated universal support is Stewart’s drive to start a Leo club. Two female club members, widows of Lions, have agreed to run the Leo club, which will target youths in surrounding communities without a Lions club. “I know I’ll lose Leos to college but I’ll be creating Lions for other places,” Stewart says. “Ideally, though, this could grow our pool of potential members.” And older members, she says, have become eager to see this new idea come to fruition. “They are already asking ‘When are the Leos going to start?’” she laughs. A Lions Family “My profession brought me to Lions,” says Lori Short, 43, a member of the North Liberty Lions Club in Iowa City, Iowa. Many Lions tell a similar story but Short means it literally. She was hired as director of Iowa KidSight in 2002 and two months later became a Lion. The funny thing was, being a Lion was not part of her job description. In fact, she was actively discouraged from becoming a Lion by her management at the time. But as she settled into her duties of promoting vision screening, she met Lions all over the state. “I immediately felt the responsibility to volunteer by observing Lions in action. I was in my early 30s at the time and felt a real sense of disappointment that I had missed out on more than a decade of being a Lion,” she says. Her daughter was also vision screened around that time and was found to have a cataract, although it turned out not to be a serious condition. One of Short’s first volunteer projects as a member of the now-dissolved University Hospital Lions was to deliver snacks to the intensive care waiting room of the hospital during the holidays. It confirmed her sense that Lionism was the right choice for her. “People were so grateful that we took the time to chat. We were able to make that horrible experience a little better,” she recalls. Short, a dynamic leader, went on to become the charter president of the new North Liberty Lions three years ago, joined by her husband, who is also a Lion. Her daughter now volunteers on many Lion projects, too, including vision screenings. “The family orientation of Lions was one of the things that motivated me to want to be a Lion,” she says. “I wanted to volunteer as a family so I wasn’t spending even more time away from them.” Short’s most memorable volunteer stint was, as a matter of fact, one in which her whole family became elves for a day along with almost every member of the club. “The North Liberty Community Center asked us to set up a breakfast with Santa,” she explains. “We decided to do it because we didn’t have a visible community activity at the time.” The breakfast was free for community members and the Lions cooked and served wearing elf hats. Even the guy in the Lion suit wore one. “I’m glad I could pass on the importance of volunteering to my daughter [with activities like that],” Short says. She proudly reports that her daughter recently organized a group of friends to do chores around town to raise money for Ronald McDonald House. Short says that the male/female balance of her new club with 31 members is about 50/50. “Our club is perfectly balanced and we even have five couples with children at home. [The club] has become a way to spend time together as families as well as pass on the ideal of volunteerism to our kids.” As for life balance, Short declares that she’d “rather be busy than bored. The more you volunteer, the fuller you feel.” And that’s a good feeling. Taking the Lead Looking back on how she became a Lion, Jennifer Long suspects her husband may have had a hidden agenda. She joined the Carlsbad Downtown Lions in New Mexico 10 years ago at age 20, shortly before her husband became club president. Shortly thereafter, she was named club treasurer. Long, now 30, was certainly qualified to handle the numbers for the club–she does computer simulations for Sandia National Laboratories, also in Carlsbad, predicting what might happen to stored nuclear waste over the next 10,000 years. She decided to throw herself enthusiastically into leadership with her husband. She has since been vice president, a two-term president, zone chair and district technology chair, as well as bringing the 84-year-old club into the 21st century with its first website, Facebook page and Twitter presence. The club recognized her contributions last year with a Melvin Jones Fellowship. Leadership of the club (and zone), once mostly male, has become more balanced, Long says. “A club our age has a lot of older Lions, but they really like that we’re younger and have a lot of energy,” she says, talking a mile a minute. “My husband and I have tried to get even more young people involved. We have lots of younger and women members now. Our youngest is just 19 years old.” Club members support a wide variety of activities, including placing flags nine times a year at 350 local businesses and homes. But Long’s main focus and motivator is the club’s Operation KidSight, in which children three to six years old are evaluated for vision problems using the club’s new digital equipment known as Pediavision. “It’s my favorite thing we do; it is really why I am a Lion,” says Long. “Since about 15 percent fail the test, I know we’ve helped hundreds of kids see better and we’ve actually saved the sight of a couple of kids.” One of those kids was a grade schooler who had failed a school sight exam. He also failed the Lions’ evaluation. But his dad was still reluctant to take him to the eye doctor until the school nurse, bolstered by the screening results, persuaded him. It turned out that the boy had neurological problems that were affecting his sight. In another case, the club discovered that a child who had been in a car accident but showed no symptoms of injury actually had a detached retina. Quick medical intervention saved his sight. Long, a friendly, outgoing person, is grateful to her club for encouraging her to take on challenges that she might not have otherwise. She was unaccustomed to speaking to groups, but her leadership positions meant that she was often promoting Lion events around town. (She was even the dealer in the tension-packed Final Six round at the club’s Texas Hold ‘Em tournament, which raises money for KidSight.) Long’s aim is to “keep members busy. As long as members feel involved, they feel happier.” Long’s two children also work right alongside Mom and Dad on many projects, when they are not involved in raising and training animals (with her guidance) for 4-H. Of course, that leaves Long with the “challenge of keeping everything straight.” So far, a calendar programmed with an alarm and multiple lists have done the job. Will they continue to? Long doesn’t know. “It’s my own fault if I can’t. I just don’t know how to say ‘no’ to people.” The Rutgers Lady Lions Creating a majority-female club was not Melanie Krutzel’s goal when she was asked to start a Lions club on the campus of Rutgers University. It just happened that way. The Rutgers Visionary Campus Club in New Brunswick, New Jersey, was chartered with 24 members just this past January by the nearby Edison Visionary Club. Leaders at Edison had reached out to the dean of Rutgers’ international social work program to find out if any young people were interested in doing volunteer work under the Lions banner. The dean turned to Krutzel, who had already started another campus organization, the Undergrad Social Work Organization, and so she knew how to get it going. “When I visited them, I was very impressed with Edison Visionary,” says Krutzel, 21. “They were really nice and I could see they were doing good things for people.” In fact, she was inspired. So in just few short months after being chartered, her club had a blood drive, collected glasses for the Eyeglass Recycling Center and raised money for OrphanAid in Africa by having a bake sale and selling candy bags for Valentine’s Day. Assembled at a rollicking group meeting, the bags were sold for $5 about a week before the big day on campus. “We sold them in class and to friends and family,” says Krutzel, who is quietly amazed that they were able to send $500 to Africa with only a week’s work. Many of the club’s members were seniors in the charter year, including Krutzel, but she is confident that the club will continue and thrive. Krutzel, an intensely driven young woman who wears glasses herself, says that new members are easy to recruit on campus and that club members do so regularly. “We tell women that if they have a cause they care about, we can work on it. People like that it’s such an expansive international organization. There are potentially people all over the world who would support what you are doing.” No class credit is given for the club, which costs students just $20 per year to join, although Krutzel admits community service looks good on a student’s resume and is a selling point for the club. Personally, Krutzel believes she has benefited by being able to talk to older Lions about careers and jobs she might pursue as well as gaining insights from people who share her values, especially her deep commitment to help people in her planned vocation as a social worker. “I am a Lion for life,” declares Krutzel. And you just know she means it.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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