Lori Johnston 2013-08-13 12:59:06
Think college students are all about studying and having fun? A thriving campus club in Georgia shows that service also is a powerful draw. On an unexpectedly frigid day, several members of the Athens Campus Lions Club gather outside the student center at the University of Georgia (UGA) to sell neon tank tops to pre-spring breakers. Bundled up in fleece jackets, except for one brave coat-less male student modeling a bright green tank top, students hawk the shirts to raise money to counter blindness. The $10 tank tops didn’t mention Lions clubs or the cause. Instead, the message on the hot pink, orange, green and yellow tank tops was chosen to appeal to student buyers. The shirts bore the image of an iconic plastic cup, often used at parties, and the phrase “Hydrate Responsibly.” “When you have something to sell like this, college kids are all over it,” says Jaclyn Gaffey, a founding member who hand-drew the shirt’s design. Hawking the shirts, the students collected $1,500 for VisionWalk, an event in Atlanta for the Foundation Fighting Blindness supported by other Lions clubs. Sales took off via the campus club’s website and Facebook page before the students even set up the table on campus. The club swiped credit cards using an iPad app and PayPal account, and even collected a few additional donations. The effort didn’t just serve as a fundraiser but also promoted the Lions to students passing through the Tate Student Center, just across the street from Sanford Stadium, home of the beloved football team. “Most people didn’t know a campus could have a Lions club,” says Kimberly Cramer, wearing skinny jeans and boots, the standard seasonal attire among UGA females. “They didn’t know Lions reached out to the younger generation.” The Athens Campus Lions Club is among 467 campus clubs in 54 nations. It’s one of the newer ones. Begun three years ago thanks to one energetic student’s vision, it has grown to more than 60 members. In between classes and jobs, the student—Lions plant trees on campus, mentor younger students off campus, raise thousands for blindness and spend countless hours volunteering and fundraising. Charter president Erik Krumins fully realized the impact of Lions around the world when he attended his first Lions Clubs Annual International Convention three years ago in Sydney, Australia. Accompanying him was his grandfather, Joseph Wroblewski, the 1985-86 international president of Lions. “When I got to UGA, this made me search for a Lions club,” said Krumins, an economics major from Connecticut. “When I found out they didn’t have one, that’s when I took the opportunity to start one.” The fact that Krumins arrived on campus as a freshman, knowing no other student, didn’t hinder his vision for the Lions to have a presence at UGA, which has 30,000 students. He asked his professors for permission to briefly speak to his 300-student lecture classes, encouraging the freshmen and sophomores to give Lions a try. “When I told them Lions is the largest service organization in the world and how many members they had worldwide, I think that is what really drew people in,” Krumins says. Classmates, as well as fraternity friends and sorority members, joined as charter members. Some members’ grandparents had been involved in Lions. Boosting their resume with volunteer work also appealed to some students, but Krumins believes students genuinely want to give back to their community. “A lot of students who are really active in our club want the hands-on experience that Lions can offer them,” he says. “It’s gone beyond my expectations, which is amazing.” Wing-Kun Tam, 2011-12 international president, attended the November 2011 charter ceremony. His presence demonstrated to members the Lions’ excitement about their new campus chapter. The Athens Campus Lions Club members now include students ranging from freshman to seniors and represent a variety of majors, including business, pre-med and communications. From planting 62 trees on campus (contributing to the Lions’ goal to plant 1 million trees internationally) to playing dodgeball and tutoring elementary school students, the club seeks to make an impact and leave a legacy at the college. “A lot of people think it’s cool when we tell them about it. It’s a student-run, member-oriented club,” says Gaffey, who plans to attend medical school after graduation. “We do fundraising, but we go out and plant the trees and actually volunteer.” Paulina Bounds, a lecturer in the English department at UGA who served as one of the club’s Guiding Lions, has been impressed with the club’s ability to get so many members from the onset, then to retain members and grow. The club is professionally run and includes students of many interests and backgrounds, she adds. “People are continuing to be in the club, which I think shows they’re doing a good job,” Bounds says. “I really like that they’re utilizing what they have, which is their youth. They’re not just focused on campus itself, but they’re also going out to the community and contributing locally, which I think is rewarding for them and very exciting and positive.” As the students work together, they form bonds that last beyond a specific fundraiser or volunteer effort. The club’s most active members have become a tight-knit group, often grabbing dinner together. They hang out in their dorms and apartments and bring dates to club social events, such as a sushi and karaoke night. Boyfriends and girlfriends are members of the club, and even exes remain involved. Leading by Serving Adam Goren, the student who wore the green shirt without a jacket during the tank top sales, walks into the club’s weekly meeting on campus. He stretches out on a row of desks, saying, “It’s been a long day of Lions. I’m exhausted.” A finance major, Goren has become so involved that even his fraternity brothers have nicknamed him “Simba,” after the iconic character in “The Lion King.” “I think of myself as a Lion. It’s definitely part of my identity,” says Goren, recruitment chairperson, wearing a plastic wristband that says “We Serve” with the club’s website. He passes them out to students to promote the club. Goren, a fraternity member, joined Lions because of the opportunity to be a leader in establishing a campus organization. “Those are things they don’t teach you in classes,” he says. As the meeting begins, there’s no official call to order, or singing of the national anthem or funny songs. Krumins, wearing jeans and a blue hoodie instead of a Lions vest that leaders of other clubs sometimes wear, provides updates about fundraisers and upcoming activities including their biggest event yet. The upcoming Rumble in the Jungle 5K will benefit the American Cancer Society. The Athens Campus Lions Club embraces the idea of doing service across the board. Not limiting itself to a single cause allows the club to partner with other campus and community organizations, including other Lions clubs. Members can suggest any idea, such as serving meals at a homeless shelter, recycling in student apartments or composting dining hall scraps. They’ll attract other students gung-ho about a cause. During the meetings, students work in teams to create plans and put them into action. “Anything you want to do, it [our club] gives you a place to get it organized and make it happen,” Gaffey says. “They can bring their own cause to life.” At a point in life when students feel pressed for time and money, the club also allows students to pick and choose how they want to be involved in events and fundraisers. Gaffey says the club doesn’t require members to attend every activity. “They have a bunch of different opportunities, and you can work with other organizations,” adds Cramer, an applied biotechnology major and French minor. “I’m kind of a shy person when voicing opinions and ideas. The Athens Campus Lions Club helped me do that more and to speak out.” The freedom in the club works to its benefit. Now that the Athens Campus Lions Club has a reputation for hard work, Krumins often received invitations to be involved with other campus organizations and local Lions clubs. “We have created a club that I, 100 percent, believe will be around after we graduate,” Goren says. Creating a Legacy The thud of bowling balls and the clattering of pins drowns out the conversation at an Athens bowling alley, but Athens Campus Lion Club members keep chattering while raising money for a local nonprofit that serves individuals with disabilities. The Athens Heritage Club is hosting the bowl-a-thon, just one of the opportunities the students have to partner with older Lions. “They’ve invited us out to events like these,” Krumins says, wearing a yellow and blue Lions Club T-shirt and jeans. Other club members, dressed in khakis and ties, have taken a break from a daylong fraternity event to bowl for a good cause. The Athens Lions also do direct, hands-on service. After members showed interest in mentoring children, the club partnered with a local Boys & Girls Club and a community center that hosts an after-school program. Wearing their yellow and blue Lions Club T-shirts, the college students help the children with their homework and play sports, even organizing a kickball tournament last fall. “I can't think of better people to be mentoring these kids than our club members who are at a university with so many opportunities. We are able to support these kids and share with them the opportunities they can have in the future,” Krumins says. “We can let them know the importance of getting a good education.” The club also has served at a pancake breakfast fundraiser hosted by the Athens Classic City Lions Club. Dhruv Bhavsar, vice president of the campus club, says he had heard about Lions from his grandfather. But he also saw Lions as a way to build his professional network through relationships with students and older Lions. As a charter member, Bhavsar put his tech skills to use and increased his management skills while making new friends. “I have met people inside the club that I wouldn’t have met at UGA,” Bhavsar, a management of information systems major and a fraternity member. “I’m definitely going to stay involved with Lions once I graduate.” Students connect with older Lions weekly by visiting their meetings and volunteering. The students’ enthusiasm for volunteering is something Bounds thinks can result in a lifetime of volunteering as a Lion. She believes that when students graduate, they will be more likely to seek out Lions and can bring their ideas and energetic attitude to clubs. A few members have thanked Krumins for starting the campus club because they desire to remain involved, creating a new generation of Lions. Krumins says, “They can always reach out in their community or hopefully start a club where there’s not one.” Lions Clubs Target Younger People The Athens Campus Lions Club is one of 86 campus Lions clubs in the United States and one of 467 worldwide. The clubs count 10,710 members. The campus clubs are a sign of hope that Lions Clubs International can attract younger people and stay vital for decades to come. International President Barry Palmer is urging clubs to recruit women and younger adults. “I love older people. I’m not a teenager myself,” he told attendees of the international convention in Hamburg in July. “But we need a mix of younger and older if we want to keep attracting new members.” A recent survey by Lions Clubs International of former Lions revealed that a low number of younger members was a primary cause of dissatisfaction with their club. The average age of a U.S. Lion is 61 and it’s 60 for Canadian Lions. President Palmer is encouraging clubs to hold a Family Week in April to attract a more diverse membership. Clubs are asked to invite family members to plant trees, work a pancake breakfast or help with another family-friendly project. The large numbers of Leos also is another sign of hope that service draws in younger people. The United States and affiliates have 1,593 Leo clubs and Canada has 101. (Actual numbers of Leos are not known.) Numerous studies show that younger people volunteer in large numbers. More than half of American teenagers and young adults volunteered during the course of a year, according to a study by DoSomething.org, a group working to get young people involved in social change.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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