Lauren Williamson 2013-04-09 06:36:07
These three new clubs chartered with dozens of members, plenty of pep and promising projects. How did they do it? A thousand miles separate Wesley Chapel, Florida, and Tom’s River, New Jersey, described as a “war zone” after flooding caused by Superstorm Sandy. The Wesley Chapel Lions Club was chartered just last June. But within nine days of the storm’s landfall in October the Wesley Chapel Nissan car dealership overflowed with 200,000 boxes of cookies, 10,000 packages of cold and flu medicine, five tons of chocolate and bales upon bales of sweaters, jackets and hats. “It looked like a FEMA warehouse,” says Troy Stevenson, charter president. Stevenson works at Wesley Chapel Nissan, managed by Tom’s River native Glenn Gibson. Stevenson is no rookie regarding disaster relief. He began working part-time for FEMA after Hurricane Katrina walloped the Gulf Coast in 2005. He saw firsthand “what it’s like when people don’t have anything.” Superstorm Sandy was different for him. This time he had a new militia of volunteers to lead. In less than half a year the Wesley Chapel Lions had blossomed into a 60- member team, able and ready to serve. Stevenson took a no-nonsense attitude from the start toward building the club. “You guys got to keep up with my speed,” he recalled telling the 20 people who came to the first meeting after they elected him president. That meant spearheading service projects, inviting guest speakers to meetings and networking with public officials. But Stevenson doesn’t waste much time worrying about how to build membership. “Who knows, who cares?” he says. “We’re doing something right.” The club’s actions speak for themselves, he says. New members come to them, including two who asked to transfer from a nearby club. On average, 1,675 new Lions clubs charter each year worldwide. During our association’s last fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30, 205 clubs sprouted in the United States. But it takes people with a certain energy and spirit of generosity to take a club from a fledgling alliance to a trusted, reliable community institution. Tackling major projects right away, as the Wesley Chapel Lions have, is one key to success, says Tamara Ivetic, manager of membership and new club development for Lions Clubs International. “This will give members a sense of pride for assisting their community and validate why it is great to be a Lion,” she says. “Service projects can be unique and personal, and reflect anything that the members of the club are passionate about.” It also helps to have the mentorship of the two dedicated Guiding Lions, Ivetic says, which the Wesley Chapel Lions found in Claudette Henry and Cathy Walton of the neighboring Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Lions. Henry met Stevenson when she was going from storefront to storefront trying to recruit founding members for a new club. Stevenson admits he wasn’t immediately sold. “I said, ‘I’m running a business and you’re breaking my chops to join a club. I give you three minutes to sell me,’” he recalls. “Two hours later I became a full-blown Lion.” Twenty people came to the first meeting. Within six months, the group had tripled. Stevenson predicts that his club will grow by more than 100 members by the end of its first year. David Skillin, immediate past president of the neighboring Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Lions, attributes much of the Wesley Chapel Lions’ success to Stevenson’s charismatic leadership. “Troy is the kind of guy who throws an idea out there and asks who would like to get involved. ‘You run it as you see fit,’” Skillin says. “He doesn’t get in the middle of it. It’s all that much better for the community because there’s just 100 percent participation [in projects].” Club members range in age from 25 to 58. Many are active in the business community and were already friends before the club formed. Having the support of local businesspeople has been integral to the club’s success, Wesley Chapel Lion Tom Mavor says. The club has become a unifying group for people who want to both network and do charitable work in the community. Because many of the members are entrepreneurs, he said they understand the dynamic—and the importance— of working collaboratively on projects. Mavor and his wife, who is now the club’s Lion Tamer, joined with the goal of networking but also to help bring some light into peoples’ lives during this difficult economic time. “The last five or six years have been tough for everyone,” he says. “The group of us thinks if we don’t do something, who’s going to? That’s what’s driving us more than anything else.” The list of projects the Lions have tackled in their first few months of existence makes that drive clear. They adopted two-and-a-half miles of highway, now named in their honor after they spent an afternoon gathering 150 pounds of trash from its shoulders. They’ve also collected eyeglasses for children, helped feed the homeless and orchestrated a successful fall festival. The club recently demonstrated how Lions respond to a pressing need, however rare or unfortunate. On the last day of February a sinkhole in nearby Seffner swallowed up a 34-year-old man while he slept in his bedroom. Lion Jeff Powell of Thunderbay Sinkhole Specialists agreed to give the man’s family a furnished home for “as long as they need it,” he told a newspaper. Next up for the club is helping to construct a park for children with disabilities. But the ambitious agenda, from Stevenson’s perspective, should be a given. “This is what we do: We serve,” he says. “So let’s serve and step up to the plate.” As Stevenson prepared his team to drive trucks of hurricane relief supplies to New Jersey, he was confident that the club is only going to get bigger and better from here. “You know ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ by Frank Sinatra?” Stevenson says. “That’s the limit.” The Tripp County Lions The rolling hills of Winner, South Dakota, are famous for the influx of pheasant hunters who ripple through the fields each autumn. But now the Tripp County Lions are working to bring a different kind of fame to this peaceful ranch town. Chartered a year ago, the club quickly blossomed to roughly 35 members, with about 25 who are regularly active, Secretary Dori Docken says. The club’s diverse membership includes both young and older members, as well as a few people with special needs. This inclusiveness is one of the Tripp County Lions’ strengths, says President Genevieve DeMent. “I’m looking forward to seeing how we mold together with the younger generation moving forward,” she says. So far, the youngest members—two high school seniors—are taking very active roles. One serves as the club’s treasurer and the other as Lion Tamer. The neighboring Gregory Lions sponsored the club and have been an invaluable resource as the club grows, Docken says. A few members come to nearly every Tripp County meeting. In less than a year, the Tripp County Lions have already painted a house for a senior citizen, held a fundraiser at a car show and sponsored a pie-throwing contest with Winner’s mayor—a Lion himself— as the target. “It makes me feel good that we can be helpful to other people and get something done for people that they wouldn’t be able to do on their own,” Docken says. “It’s a great thing to see all we can do for other people.” The Pike Road Lions Pike Road, a small country town on the outskirts of Montgomery, Alabama, is only 15 years old. So the Pike Road Lions Club finds itself in a special position: As the suburb’s first civic club, the Lions bear responsibility for shaping the spirit of service for all who come after. And if the progress the club has made so far is any indication, that shape is going to be a good one. Chartered last March, the club already has 41 members. “The town itself has a lot of momentum, and people wanted to be involved in what’s going on here,” says President Bill Cornwell. The club’s first member was Pike Road Mayor Gordon Stone, who sees the Lions’ development as parallel to that of the town, which blossomed from a population of 350 in 1997 to around 6,000 residents today. “The Lions club is going to continue to be there and look for ways to support the endeavors of the community,” he says. In the months since the club formed, the Lions have laid grass for a veterans memorial, held a pancake breakfast and sponsored a 4th of July barbecue that Secretary Ray Hawthorne hopes will become a signature event. The barbecue team manned the grills from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. to prepare the feast—a testament, he says, to the Lions’ commitment to community. That level of dedication extends to all corners of Pike Road, Cornwell said. “We’ve become the workforce for the town,” he says. That kind of pervasive service is one of the keys to growing a strong club, says Ivetic of LCI. “Always highlight what service you have already conducted and ask [prospective members] if they can think of any needs in the community that aren’t met,” she says. “If the prospective member comes up with an idea for a service project, they may be interested in joining to see this project happen.” Advice for New Clubs Since teamwork is at the root of all successful clubs, we asked Lions Clubs International Manager of Membership and New Club Development Tamara Ivetic for her tips for building new clubs. • Dream big: While a prospective club must have 20 members to charter, Ivetic says the success rate jumps to 70 percent if it can launch with 25 or even more. It’s also important to set goals right from the start. Deadlines and action plans will help keep new clubs on track, she says. • Speak up: “Be proud to be a Lion and don’t forget to ask,” Ivetic says. “It is the number one reason why people don’t join Lions. Someone had to ask you to join—extend the same courtesy for other individuals to provide service.” This goes for friends, co-workers, local government officials and even family members. Projects will be even more fun if you’re doing them with people with whom you enjoy spending time, Ivetic said. • Let service shine: Lions’ core purpose is also one of its biggest selling points. “Invite prospective members to participate in an upcoming service project rather than attend a meeting,” Ivetic says. “This will actively engage them and show them exactly what Lions clubs are all about: service!” • Get social: Use social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to spread the word about your club across the web, Ivetic advises. Clubs can also create a brochure through a template on LCI’s website that showcases service projects to prospective members. • Share your success: “Happy members make for positive PR,” Ivetic says. “The best promotion is networking and ‘talking up’ that great service project/ event—with your hairdresser, dentist, butcher, boutique owner, pastor, contractor, bowling team or running buddies. Everyone wants to be part of something exciting, be it giving money or time.”
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