Serving Without Even Trying To Serve In Japan This past year Utsunomiya Chuo Lions in Japan traveled with people who have muscular dystrophy to Moka City, renowned for its pottery. Ceramic artist Moriyoshi Saeki, a club member, taught the group how to make pottery wares. The Lions and those with muscular dystrophy learned together and worked side by side. The Lions were serving by not serving. They befriended others by being friends. That was the whole point of the outing: not giving or receiving service but having fun together spontaneously. That’s how it’s been for this club and those with muscular dystrophy since 1974. Each year Lions and people with the disease enjoy an activity together with no service strings attached. It wasn’t always so. For seven years Lions donated blankets, visited people at home or otherwise provided a tangible service. Then club members realized it was more beneficial to those not in the best of health to go somewhere and just have a good time. Over the years places visited include an aquarium, a hot springs and an azalea park. The club works with the Tochigi Muscular Dystrophy Association in choosing a destination. “Lions made our request for pottery making come true,” says Toshiyuki Ebinuma, the president of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. “Many people don’t know what to do when they interact with people with disabilities, and that awkwardness comes across through their words and attitude,” says a longtime, non-Lion who volunteers on the outings. “Lions are different. They are so natural. It’s probably because in their mind they are just having fun together rather than giving favors of some kind to the disabled.” Service projects for those with disabilities are a traditional Lions activity in Japan. Niigata Chitose Lions hold a festive Friendship Walk for people with physical or mental challenges. Last year’s 14th annual walk was held at the Big Swan Stadium, where the 2002 World Cup games took place. Participants completed a half-hour walking course with three check points before enjoying a hot lunch and fun games. A total of 334 people including caretakers, facility staff, Lions and other volunteers took part. Lions began the walk because of a lack of affordable disability care facilities in Niigata City. “We have several participants whose physical disabilities are so severe they can rarely take a walk, and this event gives them a good opportunity to exercise,” says Director Aoki of the Yamashiro Local Activity Support Center. “Because Lions take care of organizing the event, we staff members can also enjoy the day, which we are very thankful for. It is also great that we can walk while talking and building friendships with people from other facilities.” Unmasking Melvin Mascot Meet Melvin Mascot. Many South Africans have. He shows up where crowds gather–at festivals, bingo games and fundraising walks, golf outings and wheelchair races. Active on Facebook, he has 2,995 friends and counting. According to his Facebook profile, he was born on January 13–not coincidentally at all, the same birthday of Lions’ founder Melvin Jones. His Facebook relationship status: “It’s complicated.” Such is the life of a Lions mascot with four fingers, a furry body and a fervent desire to publicize Lions. Melvin’s alter ego is Carl van Blerk, 45, a former schoolteacher steeped in Lions. His wife, Debbie, is a Lion, and Jade, their 12-year-old daughter, is a proud Leo. (Son Tyler, 9, is a Leo in waiting.) Van Blerk joined the George Lions Club in 2006, chartered the Eden Lions Club three years later and dreamed up Melvin not long afterward. What do you expect from a gregarious person who attended the College of Magic when he was 10 and earned pocket money as a teenager by performing at birthday parties and schools? Van Blerk says Melvin leaves an impression. “I can confidently say there is not a club in our country who is not aware of the Eden Lions,” he says. The average South African also gets exposed to Melvin by virtue of his frequent appearances on TV and radio stations and in newspapers. Van Blerk’s enthusiasm for public relations does not flag when it comes to club projects. Lions were prepared to launch a Tip-A-Ton food drive. “Why a ton?” he challenged them. They raised 10 tons. His club’s Christmas party for needy children included volunteer pilots flying more than 60 children over the city. Van Blerk has become a kind of franchise operator. Melvin Mascot now has three look-alike “brothers.” There is Swellvin of the Swellendam Lions, Rex of the Port Rex Lions and Mufasa of the Fort Beaufort Lions. Van Blerk dreams of further extending his role: “to have Melvin recognized in some form by LCI as an official Lion mascot and to be seen, not necessarily as a suited character, but as a Lion.”
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