Elizabeth Blackwell 2015-03-12 06:41:09
Don’t look now but clubs often partner with Rotarians and Kiwanians on ambitious service projects. They roll up their sleeves and work together— in between the inevitable kidding and put-downs. Sometimes a coincidence is so striking that it can hatch the most unlikely plans. Past District Governors Danny Stribling and Floyd Golan of the College Station Noon Lions Club in Texas were listening to Gordon Hartman, a San Antonio real estate developer and philanthropist, speak about Morgan’s Wonderland, a fully accessible amusement park he built in honor of his disabled daughter. Stribling, a former educator who now runs a real estate business with his wife, was struck by the image of children of all abilities playing together. Wouldn’t it be great if College Station had a place like that? And wasn’t it just the type of project Lions should be involved in? The club set up a meeting at the town’s Parks and Recreation department to discuss the idea, only to find out the local Rotary club—by pure coincidence—had recently proposed the same thing. Was it a sign? Clearly, there was a need and desire for an all-accessible park, but it was also an extremely complicated, expensive undertaking, one that might be too much for the Lions or Rotary to take on alone. Lion David Gerling, 56, the city’s former recreation supervisor, met with Werner Rose, the president of the Rotary Club of College Station. “We hit it off instantly,” he says. “The more we visited, the more the project grew from a simple playground unit to an entire park area. A place where you were welcome to play and meet others, no matter what your ability was.” “The goal of bringing this playground to reality forced historic and natural competitions to the side,” says Rose. “New friendships have developed, and I feel such great personal satisfaction being a part of it.” With the help of Ward Wells, a Rotarian and professor of architecture at Texas A&M University, landscape architecture students began drawing up potential plans including features such as slides for children with limited mobility, ramps for wheel-chairs and sensory experiences for those with autism. Gerling and Rose, as co-chairs of the playgound’s Steering Committee, are now working alongside parks officials to get the $2 million project started. The College Station park district has pledged $500,000, but the rest must be raised by donations. “We brought the proposal to the City Council last year, and they voted unanimously to fast-track it,” Stribling says. “The story was on the front page of the local paper the next day, and immediately we had the Kiwanis Club calling us and wanting to get involved.” Other local Lions and Rotary clubs joined in as well. The Fun for All Playground has become a truly community-wide effort, with all the organizational challenges that entails. Simply finding a time to meet can be difficult, Stribling admits. “Both our clubs are so community-minded that we have a lot of people who are also involved in other organizations,” he says. Another potential difficulty was how to pool all the money raised by different groups. It was decided—amicably—that all donations will be held by the Rotary’s nonprofit foundation, in a dedicated fund. “The Lions and Rotary are considered the founding members,” says Stribling, “but we’re all in this together. We’re not fighting over who gets credit; we just want to get the job done.” “Everyone will get their recognition, but we are stronger as a group than any one club or organization alone,” says Gerling. “This community has a very long history of working across borders and boundaries. We’re just continuing that tradition.” Whether they’re taking on outsized projects or reaching out in fellowship, many Lions clubs find they can get more done—and sometimes have more fun—working alongside other service clubs. Clubs whose plans perhaps are more ambitious than their membership rolls or fundraising capabilities have discovered that partnerships with other service groups allow them to serve in new and expanded ways. Near Dallas, the members of the Terrell Noon Lions Club don’t just cooperate with local Rotarians, they share a headquarters. When the Business and Professional Women’s Organization, a longtime local club, disbanded three years ago, its surviving members decided to donate its clubhouse to another organization in the community. The building is now owned jointly by the Terrell Lions, Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, who share the proceeds from rentals. All three clubs come together to organize annual events such as a holiday party for teenagers at the Terrell State Hospital, an inpatient psychiatric hospital. “We have a Santa come in and bring presents, and we make sure everyone gets something,” says Lion Darrell Boltin, president. Every summer, they host college students who bike across the United States as part of a fundraising drive for the organization PUSH America. “We feed them lunch,” Boltin says, “then we go to the state hospital where they spend the afternoon playing basketball and mingling with the kids.” Boltin says he’s gotten grateful feedback from the hungry riders. “They look forward to that lunch,” he says. “They get good chicken-fried steak, and they eat a lot of mashed potatoes. They need those carbohydrates!” The Terrell Lions and Rotary clubs also run a joint flag program. For a fee of $36 a year, club members put flags in subscribers’ lawns on July 4, Flag Day, Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day. Currently, there are about 400 subscribers, with the money going to college scholarships. Rotarians and Lions also place flags on highways and major roads during funeral processions for service members who died overseas. “It’s not something we like having to do, but we’re glad to be able to,” Boltin says. “We’ve gotten letters thanking us for that service.” Just because the Lions, Rotarians and Kiwanians share a building—and even include links to each other’s clubs on their websites—doesn’t mean ribbing is off-limits. “We’ll tell Rotary to call if they need any help, because we know they have a lot of older men who can’t get around,” says Boltin. “Of course, they say the same to us! I’m real good friends with one of the Rotary members, and I keep telling him if they want to start serving good chili at their fall supper, just give us a holler and we’ll help them out.” Luring a newcomer to one club or the other can also bring out a sense of competition. “If we get a new member, they’ll accuse of us finding out before they’d even moved to Terrell and grabbing him first,” Boltin says. “We have a lot of fun with each other.” In Michigan City, Indiana, the holidays ring in a season of fellowship—and friendly rivalry—for the local Lions and Rotarians. Every December, the two clubs compete to see who can raise the most during a Saturday of bell-ringing for the Salvation Army’s kettle campaign. Last year the Lions won, with $18,000. “We set a record for the largest one-day contribution ever,” says Henry Bausback, 47, an optometrist and 20-year member. Like the Old Oaken Bucket that passes between the Purdue and Indiana University football teams, “there’s a Salvation Army bell that travels back and forth between our clubs,” a prized symbol of victory, he says. The clubs also compete to see who can get the most donations for Operation Bookworm, an initiative that gives new books to needy children at Christmas. In recent years, the Lions and Rotary have each donated about 300 books. “We have a good bit of pride, and so do they,” says Bausback. “We want to show them who’s best, but it’s all for the good of the community.” For more than 20 years, the two clubs have held a joint meeting on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving that includes holiday-themed entertainment. In the past few years, the Lions have performed customized Christmas carols with lyrics by Lions Dan McNabb and DeNita Ton, who worked for the Salvation Army for 40 years and is the group’s honorary leader. As the “DeNita Tones,” they put on their Santa hats and perform their take on classics such as “We Three Kings”: We the Lions of M.C. are Bearing kettles, we travel afar Bells and mufflers, boot and mittens Following Lieutenant’s car Oh… Lions of wonder, Lions of might All with wondrous visions so bright DeNita leading, all are ringing At the mall and other sites “The songs elicit a few chuckles—more than a few, if I’m singing!” Bausback admits. “When I had to sit with a plastic red nose while they serenaded me with ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ my cheeks were probably as red as that nose. But I went with it. The songs get the group all fired up.” The joint meetings also provide plenty of opportunity for good-natured kidding. “One member of Rotary approached me and said he couldn’t find a handicapped spot in the parking lot because the Lions had taken them all,” Bausback says. “We always get those jokes about being the older service club.” “In all my work throughout the years,” says Gerling of the College Station Noon Lions, “I have found that any perceived boundaries of a group can easily be removed if honesty and respect can be agreed upon first thing.” And when Lions show respect for what other clubs can help accomplish— and vice versa—wonderful things can happen.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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