Marsha Mercer 2013-12-11 06:45:06
Women in clubs gain a special satisfaction in serving women and girls in need. An empty sock drawer is not a big deal in tropical Hawaii. The ability of girls to get an education also is not an abiding concern. It’s a far different story in Afghanistan. Christine Nguyen, a high school senior in Honolulu, has taken this to heart. Only 17, she has already been part of an international aid effort to make life a little brighter for schoolgirls in Afghanistan, one of the world’s harshest places for girls to get an education. Nguyen is president of the all-girl Sacred Hearts Academy Leo Club in Honolulu which, with two other Leo clubs, collected and sent backpacks, school supplies, balloons and socks to Afghan girls. The “Socks for Sisters” program began after the Leos learned that schools in Afghanistan are unheated. The girls first wanted to send bright, striped and patterned socks but decided that plain white socks were more appropriate for the conservative country. “When you live here in America, socks and school supplies are so trivial. But there it’s so important,” Nguyen says. “It’s pretty amazing.” Teresa Bryan began the process of chartering Leo clubs when she was president of Kamehameha Lions in 2008-2009. After girls at Sacred Hearts Academy asked Jim Bryan, Teresa’s husband, to sponsor a Leo club, La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls wanted a club and then Kalani High School did too. The three clubs now have 350 Leos. Socks for Sisters is just one of many service projects in which female Lions and Leos are making a difference in the lives of women and girls. If, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said, “There’s a place in hell reserved for women who don’t help other women,” these women Lions need never fear the hot place. Women-designed projects tend to be hands-on and personal; women typically work one-on-one or in small groups. Women Lions help homeless women in Michigan get back on their feet. They mentor kids in California, share their love of reading with children in West Virginia and drive sick children in Oregon to airports. And here’s something else that women-centric Lions projects often share: creative financing. “One of the things we try not to do is write checks,” says Diane Wehby, past president of the Thornapple Valley Lions Club in the Ada-Cascade area of western Michigan. “We say, ‘How can we help you?’” When she was club president, Wehby began hearing a recurring theme in conversations with women friends and colleagues. “Many of my friends had a huge interest in helping women and children,” she says. About that time, Wehby was also trying to grow the club, but some women members couldn’t make it to the Monday night meetings. Lightbulb moment: How about a Thornapple Valley Lady Lions Club? The branch club held its first meeting last May, and all its projects target women and children. “We have a member whose dream was to help homeless women. For me, the issue of domestic violence was near and dear to my heart,” says Wehby, a registered nurse and hospital administrator. “One of the cool things about Lady Lions is if it works for you, we can do it,” says Wehby. The branch club meets right after work, and some members bring their children. “If somebody’s baby’s crying, that’s OK,” Wehby says, adding diplomatically that a crying baby might not be as welcome at a traditional Lions meeting. Members of Thornapple Valley Lady Lions drive 25 miles to inner city Grand Rapids to work with the women’s unit at the Degage Ministries homeless shelter. They crocheted scarves for Valentine’s Day gifts for shelter clients and donated more than 200 business outfits, complete with accessories, for women returning to the work force after job retraining. “Our specialty,” says Wehby, “is doing what we can do with little or no money.” For example, the women hosted a baby shower for two domestic violence shelters. The Lady Lions made refreshments and invited friends and family to bring baby gifts. The night of fellowship and fun brought in $2,000 worth of donated baby goods. For shelter clients about to “graduate” to their first apartment or home, the Lady Lions prepared about two dozen “bathroom in a bag” kits–shampoo, conditioner, towels, toilet paper and a bathmat in a duffel bag. Sometimes the Lions hear indirectly about their impact. Wehby said a shelter volunteer told her about complimenting a homeless woman wearing a pretty scarf. The woman proudly explained it had been a Valentine’s gift from the Lady Lions and that was the last time she would wear it. But why? The volunteer asked. “I’m going to be using my scarf as part of the valance in my new apartment to remind me of the kindness of strangers,” the woman said. In her day job, Carol Shipley, president of the Modesto 500 Lions Club in California, is a Stanislaus County assistant district attorney. She knows that mentoring can be an important tool to help kids stay in school and out of trouble. This is the sixth year she and other Lions have mentored fourth-graders at Shackelford Elementary. Lions work one-on-one to develop reading skills. For the kids, having an adult mentor “makes them feel important, even if it’s just half an hour twice a week,” she says. “It’s the boost they need to realize they can succeed.” Modesto 500 also supports the Family Justice Center, a local nonprofit that helps victims of domestic, child and elder abuse, and Without Permission, a nonprofit that helps victims of human sex trafficking. “It’s pretty frightening out there,” Shipley says. Girls are being recruited into prostitution between the ages of 11 and 14. “It’s crazy right now.” She also hopes to get her club involved in a new summer camp for children of domestic violence. The news media often focus on the need to mentor boys, but guess what? “Girls need mentors for the same reasons boys do,” says psychology professor Jean E. Rhodes, director of the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring at the University of Massachusetts Boston. A single mother raising a son alone may realize her boy needs a strong male role model and get a male mentor, but, Rhodes says, few single moms raising a girl would see the need for another woman to mentor her daughter–even if mom and girl can’t communicate or the working mom has no time. Research shows that when a child has one good relationship with a caring adult outside the family it helps the child build resilience. A mentor also can show a child another life path, Rhodes says. Adult mentors benefit, too. They often connect with people outside their social network and become more aware of problems in the community. They can develop deeper appreciation for teachers and schools, Rhodes says. Lura Watkins, a great-grandmother and a member of the South Charleston Lions Club in West Virginia, has made a lifelong commitment to sharing her love of reading in schools. She was a volunteer reader decades ago when her own three children were young. Now she’s among the Lions who read to younger students in West Virginia’s Read Aloud program. Last year, Watkins read weekly in a thirdgrade class for half an hour. She’s about to start again. “The kids hear somebody’s voice other than the teacher’s, and they know somebody in the community is interested in them,” Watkins says. “It’s good for Lions and other organizations to get involved, and it gives the teacher a few minutes’ break.” Kathryn Jo Clark of South Charleston, a retired school teacher and mother of three, was recruited for Read Aloud by her husband, Dick Clark, a Lion for 44 years. “I just loved being there,” Kathryn Jo Clark says of the third-grade classroom where she recently read from a book of scary folktales. Reading is not the only seemingly modest task Lions do for others: driving is another. After a 2-year-old girl in southern Oregon tumbled headfirst off a picnic table and suffered a serious brain injury, Lion Sue Jaggers got a call. The child needed medical treatment in Portland, 300 miles from her home. A free flight was arranged, but could Jaggers provide ground transportation? That’s where Earth Angels, a Lions service project Jaggers created, comes in. An Earth Angel–in this case, Sue’s husband, Jim, picked up mom and daughter at the airport, drove them to the hospital and back to the airport for their flight home. “The families save thousands of dollars in airfare and rental cars, and they know someone cares,” says Sue Jaggers. She and Jim, a past district governor, belong to Canby Lions Club near Portland. Earth Angels works in partnership with Angel Flight West, a nonprofit group whose volunteer pilots provide free flights for seriously ill patients. Since 2009, Earth Angels have driven more than 900 missions in Oregon, and the program recently started in Washington state. Sue Jaggers’ goal is to take the project nationwide. The Lions provide more than a car service. Every Earth Angel who picks up a sick child gives the girl or boy a stuffed animal–a lion, usually–and a Lion-made quilt, thanks to Sue Jaggers and her family. “It’s the moms who really appreciate it,” Jaggers says. “They have tears running down their faces.” The Lions and Leos can get teary-eyed, too. But often, despite the stakes, the actual service is anything but serious and somber. Schools in Hawaii have service requirements for students, but teenagers are glad to be Leos, says Teresa Bryan. “They have fun. That’s our key,” she says. Jim Bryan, first vice district governor, risked his life making two trips to Afghanistan in 2009 and 2011 to personally deliver 15,000 pairs of eyeglasses along with backpacks, school supplies and socks. The Leos have more shipments ready to go, but it’s too dangerous for Bryan to return. Afghanistan lacks postal service, FedEx and UPS, and the U.S. military no longer accepts aid packages for delivery after a package bombing last year killed three American troops. Bryan hopes to find a way to resume the shipments. Until then, the Leos in Hawaii aren’t standing still. After cases of bullying came to light and a girl at La Pietra committed suicide, local teens flooded Facebook with condolences. The three Leo clubs wanted to do something to fight bullying, but what? They decided on a scholarship and an anti-bullying dance with signs that carried messages like “Keep Calm and Say No to Bullying!” Applicants for the Kamehameha Lions Club & Foundation’s $1,000 scholarship will write an essay about efforts to fight bullying at their school. The first dance last January was so successful that the Leos are planning another. “We’re trying to target teen awareness about bullying in a way that appeals to them,” says Nguyen, the 17-yearold Leo. Digital LION Watch a video on Socks for Sisters at www.lionmagazine.org.
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