ELIZABETH BLACKWELL 0000-00-00 00:00:00
A Town That Loses a Club is Not Doomed to be Lion-less Lions arrived in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in 1941. For decades, the club grew along with the town. Located on the shore of Lake Coeur d’ Alene, the town thrived as a resort community. Barbara Walters praised it as “a little slice of heaven” and Good Morning America broadcast the city's Christmas lighting ceremony. The Lions did well, too.Being in the club was a surefire way to be part of the town’s fabric. But over the years the club lost its appeal. Members aged and weren’t replaced. The club’s biggest fundraiser— selling food each summer at the North Idaho Fair—became an impossible burden. Faced with a declining, dispirited membership, the club disbanded five years ago. But as Zone Chairman Ken Cook discovered when he visited with an extension team, the club had left its mark on the town. “The majority of the places we went to we met people who had dealings with the Lions in the past,” he says. “We had a lot of people interested.” The new Coeur d’Alene club was chartered in July 2008 with 22 members. The club quickly assisted 18 people with vision-related needs. This summer they planned to work with the Park District on its annual festival and hope to return to the North Idaho Fair, taking over the booth that residents still associate with Lions. It will be a public declaration that the Coeur d’Alene club is finally back. When a Lions club disbands, it may seem as if the final chapter has been written for Lions in town. But not so. Every so often a new club springs to life down the road. Reviving a club can take as much work as starting a new club from scratch. But few clubs disappear without a trace. Disbanded clubs leave a legacy behind, one that can be used as a foundation for a new group. Or residents who were Lions elsewhere often are eager to return to the fold. The desire to serve survives even after a club has disbanded. Building on Lions Roots Among those signing up for the new Coeur d’ Alene club was Roseanna Lewis, now club president. A Lion in Maryland for two years, she moved to Coeur d’Alene when her husband found a job in town. She became a charter member after seeing a newspaper story on the forthcoming club. Her club is new and “we rely on other clubs in the area for advice,” says Lewis, whose experience also has helped. “I’ve been able to bring to the table some of the things we did out East,” she says. Like Coeur d’Alene, Bullhead City, Arizona, has been transformed in the past few decades. Located across the Colorado River from Laughlin, Nevada, and at the edge of the Lake Mead Recreation Area, Bullhead City benefited from the housing boom that rippled through the Southwest. The town’s population grew to 40,000—twice what it was in 1990—and brought new condo developments and shopping centers in its wake. Although new residents were moving in, Bullhead City’s original Lions club didn’t adapt to welcome them, and it disbanded in 2005. “We didn’t want to let the area die,” says Rand Terwilleger, a past district governor and a member of the Kingman Club. “The Lions club went away, but the needs didn’t.” Those needs were clear to Sheryll Johnson, 47, a first-grade teacher, and the new club’s 2008-09 president. She vividly remembers how the world seemed to open up when she got her first pair of glasses as a girl. Now she sees countless other children with poor eyesight come into her classroom, children from families who can’t afford glasses. “There’s no big industry here,” she says. “Lots of areas are poverty stricken. Reading is the foundation for everything, and you can’t read if you can’t see.” When she heard about the effort to revive the Bullhead City club, Johnson’s firsthand knowledge of the Lions’ work with children motivated her to get involved. “At our first meeting, we had two people,” she says. But she remained dedicated, convincing fellow teachers to join along with her. Today, a year after it was chartered, the club focuses on projects for kids, from providing reading glasses to donating backpacks stocked with supplies for foster children. “It means a lot to know we can step in to make their lives easier,” she says. It’s been a learning process for all of the new members, admits Johnson, who says being president “is very far outside my comfort zone.” But she took on the responsibility because she believed so strongly in the club’s mission. “I wanted this to happen,” she says. “I can’t ask anyone else to do what I’m not willing to do myself.” Because teachers can’t meet during the day and often have family obligations in the evening, the club has had to be flexible to retain its members. But, Johnson notes, “we have a very supportive group. Quite a few don’t come to all the meetings, but they participate in all our activities. We know that they’re there when we need them.” Location Shifts It’s hard enough for active, successful clubs to bring in new members. When a club disbands, it can be that much harder to find people willing to bring it back. However, neighboring towns—places that have not had clubs in the past but are familiar with Lions’ charitable work— sometimes step up and take over, reaching out to many of the same people as the earlier club and serving many of the same needs. That’s what happened in Sheffield Village, Ohio, not far from Cleveland. The Lions club in adjacent Sheffield Township disbanded a few years ago, and efforts to bring it back were unsuccessful. However, a Lions extension team focused on surrounding towns as potential sites for a new club. Club president Jon Koethe, the owner of a local sign company, had no connection to the earlier Sheffield Township club. But he was looking for a meaningful way to contribute. “I wasn’t involved in any charitable organizations,” he says, “I had been thinking about ways to give back to the community.” The Lions he met convinced him he could make a difference. Sixty people attended the club’s charter night last November. “It got everybody motivated and excited,” says Koethe. Within a few months, the club already had a schedule of fundraisers, including a pancake breakfast and Mother’s Day flower sale. But as with any new club, maintaining the early enthusiasm can be a struggle. “We have a core group of about 8 to 10 people who attend meetings regularly,” says Koethe. “We have others who aren’t able to be as active, but you don’t want to push people away. You try to keep people as involved as they’re able. It may take awhile to get bigger, but we’re going in the right direction.” Although the Sheffield Village club is serving the same general area as an earlier, disbanded club, it was started with a fresh mindset. “I heard a speaker once who said our first mission is to serve the community we are involved with, but the second, equally important mission, is to serve the needs of our members,” says Koethe. “We want to get people out doing things. We want our members in the community making that personal connection. That will help our membership retention.” Uphill Battles For every club that comes back to life, there are others that simply fade away. John Fehr, 72, past district governor for District 5-M13 in Manitoba, Canada, has worked hard to ensure that one such club in the town of Carman doesn’t share that fate. Carman, a town of about 3,000 southwest of Winnipeg, serves as a commercial and recreational center for the region. The original club, which disbanded in 2007, was active for years and best known in the area for its food booth at a local fair each summer. But as members grew older and the ones who left were not replaced, staffing the booth for five full days became impossible. “They raised a lot of money for the community, but it was a burnout situation for a lot of them,” says Fehr. “They were offered assistance when they were in trouble, but there was no spark left by then.” During a visitation in the area, Fehr was encouraged when he talked to residents about bringing back the club. “There are still some former members that feel the need for a service club,” he says, “and there are also new people in the community that had some experience with Lions in other locations. There seemed to be interest remaining.” But almost a year since he began his efforts, the Carman club remains in limbo. While residents have told Fehr they support the idea of a revived club, few have shown a serious commitment to leadership. “I haven’t given up because I believe so strongly in what Lions do to serve others,” he says. “I want them to feel like I do—it’s great to be a Lion!” Will the Carman club come back? It’s still too soon to say. But no club can be rebuilt without bringing in new, younger members. And traditionalists have to accept that young adults have different expectations for their charitable activities. “We need to look at what drives them in terms of civic contribution,” says Amanda Moore McBride, director of the Gephardt Institute for Public Service and research director of the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis. “They want to know how it will enhance their job skills or what they will learn from it. It’s as much about them as it is about others. When doing outreach for young adults, you have to think about how it’s in their interest. You have to create flexible opportunities that allow them to take ownership of the organization.” All too often, it seems, a club’s fate lies in the hands of one or two highly motivated individuals. People such as Sheryll Johnson or Jon Koethe, who stepped up as leaders when others held back. The Carman club may not have found their leader yet. But for countless other struggling clubs, one person with the right attitude can truly make a difference. With motivation and dedication, a revived club can be even better than what came before.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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