Whether it’s through extraordinary service or exemplary fellowship, these eight clubs are great assets to their communities. Dysart Lions Club, Iowa Dysart Lions know what to expect at a meeting. The club has had a pianist ever since it was founded in 1950, and meetings begin with a rousing rendition of “Hail, Hail, The Lions are Here.” Or as members refer to the song: “number 14 from the old book.” Say 51-year member Don Lyons, “We like to think of ourselves as a very traditional club.” That’s another way of saying, “Don’t mess with success.” The club has woven itself into the fabric of town life. Where there’s a cause, there likely is a Lion or two or three. For decades, the Lions have served hundreds of hamburgers and hot dogs on the 3rd of July. The club sponsors local Scout troops and student athletics. It donates regularly to organizations such as LCIF, the Iowa Lions Foundation, Leader Dogs for the Blind and Camp Courageous, an Iowa camp for children with disabilities. The club also acts a cheering section for Dysart itself. Last year the club hosted a free luncheon for more than 200 community volunteers. “Dysart and the Lions work hand-in-hand,” says Lyons. “We’re a great team.” Whenever a major project comes up—such as replacing the community swimming pool the Lions helped build in 1959—the club is there to pledge money and support. “We’re an active part of this community and we intend to stay that way,” says Lyons. In fact, the Dysart club has become the go-to group for anyone in town who needs help, whether it’s a family trying to rebuild their lives after a house fire or someone with a serious illness who needs assistance with medical bills. The club steps in, offering to cook a meal as a fundraiser and charge only for expenses. “Whatever they raise, they keep,” says Lyons. “Our motto is We Serve, and we live by it.” Unlike many other small towns, Dysart is thriving. A number of stores promote Iowa artists, and the picturesque downtown attracts visitors from around the state. The town’s vitality is due in large part to the work of the Dysart Development Corporation, which has a Lion as its director and others who serve on its board. “I’d like to think we’re part of the reason our community is what it is today,” says Lyons. The club itself is an example of brotherly love in action: among its members are five ministers from four different denominations. “We’re never short on anyone to say grace,” quips Lyons. Members also have a very Midwestern way of getting the word out about their club. The club painted its motto, “Spread Good Will,” on a 1930 manure spreader. “We’ve paraded it all over Iowa,” Lyons says with a grin. Dysart Lions Club Chartered: 1950 Members: 54 Community: Dysart (pop. 1,400) is a farming community in central Iowa that has reinvented itself as a tourist destination with art galleries, gift shops and restaurants. Holiday Spirit: During the holidays, the club distributes dozens of “Christmas Cheer” boxes, filled with food and “Dysart dollars” that can be spent at local businesses. Elburn Lions Club, Illinois A drive from Chicago takes you through suburb after suburb, a vast sprawl of housing tracts, shopping centers and congested roads. The growth thins after 30 miles and 50 miles west of the city is bucolic Elburn, a bastion of fresh air, open spaces and Lions. The Elburn Lions Club is the largest in Illinois with nearly 200 members and surely one of the most active, vibrant and friendly as well. “We’re one big family,” says Bob Thomas, president. That can be taken literally. Multiple generations of the same family have joined in the club’s 85-year history. They join and they stay. “We have lots of members who have been with us for 50 or 60 years,” says Thomas. “Even when people retire and move away, they keep their membership active.” (Currently, the club’s farthest-flung member lives in Alaska.) Much of the club’s work revolves around the 26-acre Elburn Lions Park. Since Elburn has no park district or other public open land, the park is a vital community resource, with playing fields for local sports teams, a playground, public garden, picnic tables and a variety of shade trees to rest under on hot summer days. Family reunions and wedding receptions are held at its clubhouse and outdoor pavilion. Rental fees help pay for the club’s wide variety of charitable projects: collecting books for underprivileged children, arranging eye exams and free glasses for those in need, putting together care packages for a VA hospital and making monthly donations to a local food pantry. The club also hosts Bingo nights every Friday. “We have something going on every week of the year,” says Thomas. “People see the camaraderie, and that we’re having fun, and they want to be a part of it.” The club’s major undertaking each year is the annual Elburn Days Festival, a popular three-day celebration every August. “It’s the last hurrah of summer before school starts,” Thomas says. Lions staff the food stands and beer garden, hire bands and bring in carnival rides and games. “We start planning for it in January, and it takes hundreds of volunteer hours,” says Thomas. The proceeds from the festival help maintain the park and pay for the club’s activities. But the festival is much more than just a fundraiser. “It’s a chance for all of us to come together,” says Thomas. “You see a lot of people you haven’t seen since the last Elburn Days!” The Elburn Lions Club in Illinois has plenty to celebrate. This year, the club marked its 85th anniversary with a gala dinner whose guests included LCI’s international president and two vice-presidents. Elburn Lions Club Chartered: 1929 Members: 187 Community: Elburn has maintained a mostly rural, small-town atmosphere, though bigger businesses—including the first chain supermarket—are moving in. Fun for All: The club is adapting the park’s playground equipment to make it accessible to children with disabilities. “We’re hoping it brings in kids from all over the area,” says Bob Thomas. Ponca City Noon Lions Club, Oklahoma Black gold. Texas tea. That’s what brought the Ponca City Noon Lions to birth in 1922 when oil magnate (and future state governor) E.W. Marland founded the club. And for decades, the reassuring presence of oil company Conoco in Ponca City meant that the club had a steady stream of members. That changed a decade ago when Conoco moved 700 jobs out of the town. “We were going to lose about 30 members out of close to 100 total,” says Terry Woodruff, past president and past district governor. “We immediately started doing a very, very effective membership drive. We had a membership director who had a real vision, and he divided us into teams and gave incentives to those who brought in the most new members. It was a year of outstanding enthusiasm. And we finished the year with a net gain of members.” Not ones to rest on their laurels, the club then decided to reach out to potential members who might not be able to meet at noon by starting an Internet branch club, the Northern Oklahoma E-Lions. “That’s brought in several new members, even from outside our community,” Woodruff says proudly. Then, too, the main club has cultivated future members by organizing service outings for “Cubbies,” i.e., kids ages four to 12. Of course, it’s one thing to gain new members; it’s another thing to keep them. The Ponca City Noon Lions hang on to their members, says Woodruff, by having plenty for them to do. “The difference with our club is the diversity of projects that we’re involved in,” he says. “It gives everyone a chance to pick and choose and participate. Some clubs have just a few members who take the lead on projects, like ‘Hey, we’ve got it, don’t worry about it,’ and then new members don’t feel needed. We give that opportunity to feel needed.” Among the club’s many projects: a support group for people with low vision, free eyeglasses to those in need, vision testing for all children in the community, blood glucose screenings and medical supplies for children with insulin-dependent diabetes. Why that last one? Because, Woodruff says, “We have identified a lot of families who fall into a gap. They don’t qualify for Medicaid, but they don’t have insurance or the funds to take care of deductibles. So we have children whose diabetes is going untreated, and we know what that causes. So we have partnered with Diabetic Solutions of Oklahoma to set up a fund that they will administer for us, so they can help children in our community get the supplies that they need—even an insulin pump, if necessary.” Ponca City Noon Lions Club Chartered: 1922 Members: 94 Community: One of the largest communities in the region, Ponca City is an oil town that has seen many of its jobs shift from white collar to blue collar in recent years. Impact: In addition to its many other sight initiatives, the club loans magnification equipment to people in the community who have low vision. “All of a sudden they can read their own mail, write their own checks,” Terry Woodruff says. Western Harnett Lions Club, Sanford, North Carolina In 2002, the Western Harnett Lions’ future seemed dim indeed. Though only four years old, the club was experiencing such low membership levels that keeping the club going seemed hardly worthwhile. “At that time we had about eight or nine members in the club, and they were talking about turning in the charter,” says Vince Schimmoller, who was then a new member. “We were more or less a social club—meeting for a meal and then going home, without really giving back to the community.” In an attempt to boost membership, the club started seeking out service projects. Schimmoller’s first: helping build a home mobility ramp for a blind, wheelchair-bound member of the community. “When we got finished, the joy on his face was just unbelievable,” recalls Schimmoller, now a past district governor, “He said that was the first time he was able to leave his house without being carried down the stairs. That was the first project I was involved in. That’s what got me hooked.” Judging by the numbers, a whole lot of others got hooked, too. “Once we started coming up with different things for people to do so they could feel good about what they did, I think that’s what turned it around,” Schimmoller says. Thirteen years after nearly surrendering their charter, the Western Harnett Lions have seen their ranks swell to 75 (including six original members), and their service projects include repairing bicycles, picking up trash, providing food to needy schoolchildren, painting Habitat for Humanity houses, planting trees, volunteering at a food pantry, performing vision screenings and renovating a camp for the blind and visually impaired. Oh, and then there’s the lion—the real one. At each meeting, members who’d like to share news of a good event in their lives must put money in a “brag cup.” Those funds go to support a lion at the Aloha Safari Zoo, a sanctuary for rescued animals, in Cameron, North Carolina.“This lion was a passion for one of our former club presidents, who died a couple years ago,” explains Virginia Barney, president. “We saw how much this tradition meant to her, and that memory keeps it alive.” In fact, it’s that kind of passion, Barney says, that has made the Western Harnett Lions so successful and active in general: “When there’s so much demand on everybody and so many challenges, it’s hard to keep folks motivated and involved unless you can tug at their heartstrings.” To clubs that might be struggling with their membership levels, Barney suggests, “Say to folks, ‘Do what is your passion. Don’t do something because you’re feeling mandated to do it.’ Without sounding too cliché, it takes a village to make a club successful, and that’s why we’re successful—because we value everybody’s talents, and we try to find the role that works for you.” Western Harnett Lions Club Chartered: 1998 Members: 75 Community: Sanford, known as the brick production capital of the United States, sits in central North Carolina, not far from Fort Bragg, a major military base. Fun: The club recently turned an abandoned horse barn into an indoor miniature golf course at North Carolina Lions Camp Dogwood, a camp for the blind and visually impaired. Digital LION Whatever the era, some clubs have been remarkably effective. Learn more at lionmagazine.org. • Club in Montana “unifies a community” (May 1932 LION). • California club ensures that “kids don’t have time for mischief” (December 1966). • Minnesota Woodlands clubs are particularly strong at fellowship (May 1996). • Illinois club helps build a town (January 2007). Denver Five Points Lions Club, Colorado From the 1930s to the 1950s, Denver’s Five Points area was known far and wide for one thing—jazz. In those days, legends such as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Nat “King” Cole regularly performed in the dozens of bars and clubs that dotted the first predominantly African-American neighborhood in Denver. The days of hot licks and hepcats may be over, but thanks to the Denver Five Point Lions, this historic neighborhood is now associated with something else just as exciting—at least to the schoolchildren who receive them: school supplies. Each August for more than 22 years, the club has distributed much-needed backpacks full of notebook paper, folders, pens, pencils, spiral notebooks, glue, scissors and more to kindergarteners, high schoolers and all children in between as part of its annual Community Appreciation Day. And we’re not talking a couple of dozen kids, either. Last year, more than 500 children showed up to receive supplies. “When we get there in the morning, sometimes there’s people already in line waiting,” says Willa Townsend, president. “My favorite moment is seeing the children’s faces when they get the school supplies and seeing how thankful they are for what they’re getting. We start at 11 o’clock and we usually stop around 3, and some of the kids are there all day, just playing and having a good time. We do games, hot dogs and chips, face painting, balloons.” If it sounds like the Five Point Lions know how to let loose and have fun, it’s because they do. “We eat at every meeting we have,” Townsend laughs. Each year, the club holds three fundraisers, all food-themed: two fish fries, one in February and one in October, and a barbecue dinner in May. And then there are the parades. “We do just about every parade that there is,” Townsend says, from Martin Luther King Jr. Day to St. Patrick’s Day to the Colorado Black Arts Festival. “Our motto is to have fun, and that’s what we do,” Townsend says. “And when we go places, we go as a large group. It’s kind of like going someplace with your family.” Torrington Lions Club Chartered: 1925 Members: 33 Community: A close-knit, blue-collar community in the Naugatuck River Valley, Torrington is a former mill town and the birthplace of famed abolitionist John Brown. Philosophy: “Pick something that you feel really impassioned about, that you really want to solve,” Margaret Tucker says. “It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Just changing one person’s life is worth it.” Torrington Lions Club, Connecticut Cancel Halloween. That was the sad solution that the town of Torrington was contemplating a few years ago when so much snow fell in October that it wasn’t safe for trick-or-treaters to roam the streets. “Then the mayor called us and said, ‘Is there anything you can do?’” recalls Margaret Tucker, club president. “We said, ‘Yeah, let’s do a trunk-and-treat at the high school; it’s plowed.’ We decorated the backs of about 10 cars and dressed ourselves up, and we had about 1,500 kids come. It was a mob scene.” The popular event quickly turned into an annual tradition on a prime location on Main Street. The day includes 30 cars, hay rides, games—and a whole lot of happy families, trick-or-treating in a safe, positive atmosphere. That’s just one example of how this small but scrappy club has made a habit out of turning adversity into adventure. For example? When the club realized that few students at one of the town’s poorer elementary schools had ever been to the theater, it arranged for each graduating class to take in a children’s play. About 10 years ago, when a club member realized that many people in a local nursing home had no one with whom to celebrate special occasions, the Torrington Lions began visiting there monthly to bring balloons and sing to residents having birthdays. “They love it; their eyes light up,” says Dan DiVirgilio, past president. Perhaps most impressively, when the Torrington Lions learned of a local blind youth who needed a guide dog, the club raised $20,000 to get him one—in a single year. “It was just incredible, the transformation of this young man,” Tucker says. “He got a job, got a girlfriend, and moved out of state. Having a guide dog completely changed his life.” That’s on top of awarding four four-year college scholarships annually, donating smoke alarms to elderly community residents, giving eyeglasses to those in need, buying an emergency defibrillator for the local fire department, holding vision screenings at several kindergartens and preschools, organizing a coat drive, giving personal hygiene supplies to a homeless shelter and providing a hospital with blankets for post-operative heart patients. All the more impressive when you consider that the Torrington Lions number just 33. “Most of our club is over 50, and our oldest member is probably about 82,” Tucker says. “We are a seasoned club—not well done yet, just seasoned. I will put up some of my members against any young person nowadays.” Denver Five Points Lions Club Chartered: 1987 Members: 57 Community: Denver’s historic Five Points area developed a rough reputation in the 1970s, but recent commercial and residential development is sparking hopes for revitalization. Reach: Each June, the club hosts an inter-club picnic for Lions from all over the Denver area. Zionsville Lions Club, Indiana When people in Zionsville get together to celebrate, it’s the Zionsville Lions who often bring the festivities to life. The town’s annual Easter Egg hunt, 4th of July celebration and three-day Fall Festival are all run by the club. The events have something else in common: they’re held at the club’s beautifully maintained 22-acre park in the center of town. Lions Park is also the site of countless everyday activities that enhance the quality of life in this historic suburb of Indianapolis: family picnics, Little League games, summer strolls along the walking paths. “If you live in Zionsville, chances are you’ve taken your kids to the playground or walked your dog there or come to an event,” says Mike Heffner, president. “The park makes us visible, which is a big advantage.” Zionsville is relatively small. “We don’t even have a mayor,” notes Heffner. But it’s growing. Its population jumped to 25,000 from 14,000 in a few years. The club has kept its numbers up by drawing from newer residential developments. About half the membership is aged 60 or over, yet that is balanced by an influx of younger husbands and wives joining together. Heffner credits Tara Worthley, the working mother of a young child and former membership chair, for reaching out successfully to young families. One big selling point for newcomers is that the club is such an integral part of community life. “Nothing happens in Zionsville without a Lion being involved,” says Heffner. The experience of Mike Sweeney, 53, typifies how Lions and Lions Park take a central role in the community. “I played softball in the park as a young adult. I brought my kids to the swings there when they were little and for Little League when they were older. The park is always very neat and well-kept, and I want to keep it that way. I’m sure I’ll be bringing my grandchildren there one day, too,” says Sweeney, who joined the club two years ago. “I always thought of the Lions as people in yellow shirts who seemed really happy to help, and I’m proud to be one of them.” Meetings, like the club itself, are a mix of fun and substance. There’s usually a speaker, often from a local non-profit group, and regular theme nights. The club even gets glamorous once a year, when it hosts a dinner for the contestants in the Miss Indiana beauty pageant. While the club is an integral part of its community, its work also touches families who live well beyond Zionsville. The first night of the town’s annual Fall Festival is designated “VIP Night,” the VIPs being children with physical and mental disabilities. Last year, the evening drew 1,000 families from throughout Indiana— and even out of state—to enjoy the rides and activities for free. “I try not to volunteer for anything that night, because I like to walk around and see the parents and children having fun,” Heffner says. “It’s probably the coolest thing we do all year.” Zionsville Lions Club Chartered: 1930 Members: 140 Community: A prosperous suburb of Indianapolis, Zionsville is known for its highly-rated schools and historic, brick-paved Main Street, lined with shops and restaurants. Pump It Up: “Energizer” meetings are held before each major event to get members current on logistics and excited about what’s to come. After the event, a post-mortem meeting allows everyone to share what worked and what can be improved next time. Virginia Beach Town Center Blind Lions Club, Virginia About half the members of the Virginia Beach Town Center Blind Lions Club have some form of visual impairment. Not being able to see doesn’t mean not being able to serve, of course. Members find a way to contribute. “When we look at projects, we want something all our members can do,” says Bambi Martin, president. “That’s what we’re always on the lookout for.” Says Beth Stevens, a past president who went blind due to retinal degeneration, “When you lose your vision, you feel like your world is falling apart. You don’t feel you can be a contributing member of society anymore. Our members are there with encouragement, and we’re out there in the community. We’re role models.” Members with low or impaired vision sort and clean donated glasses, bag food at the local Salvation Army food pantry and hold the Spot vision screener during screenings at local schools. But their greatest contribution is their knowledge and expertise, which they use to help others who are struggling with losing their sight. The club hosts regular demonstrations of new technology such as “talking” sensors, which tell what color a piece of clothing is so a blind person can easily coordinate an outfit. “We want to make these tools available so people can try it all out in one place,” says Martin. The club publishes an annual Resource Guide with information on local services, support organizations, products and recreational activities for those with vision impairments—an all-inclusive handbook that the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired distributes throughout the state. “Not all people who are low vision need to be served,” says Stevens. “Some of us are just waiting for the opportunity to serve alongside you as a fellow Lion.” The club also collects food for needy families, puts together care packages for the USO and raises money for the Special Olympics and other local nonprofits. Martin says they’d never be able to keep up such a busy schedule if their gatherings didn’t have a sense of fun. The club’s annual Tractor Rodeo in April puts everyone in the same, non-sighted boat: the driver of a ride-on lawnmower (who is either blind or blindfolded) has to pop balloons guided only by a partner riding on a trailer behind—the partners uses reins to pull left or right. Teams can’t make any sounds to communicate, but there’s plenty of laughter from the audience. “It’s hysterical,” says Martin. Another club project is an audible Easter egg hunt for visually impaired children; the plastic eggs emit a beep that children follow in order to find them. “They’re so excited to search for the eggs on their own, with no help,” Martin says. “We encourage adults to join in at the end, because some of them never had the chance for a real Easter egg hunt when they were children. It’s absolutely wonderful.” Virginia Beach Town Center Blind Lions Club Chartered: 2012 (from the merger of the Hampton Roads Blind Lions Branch Club and the Virginia Beach Town Center Lions Club) Members: 72 Community: Virginia Beach, population 450,000, is the largest city in Virginia and a popular tourist destination. Club meetings are held in Norfolk at a center that provides independent living services to people with disabilities. Spreading the Word: The club’s visually-impaired members developed a Low Vision Awareness Training Program, which demonstrates the best ways to assist those with vision loss. The program has been presented to more than 400 people at doctor’s offices, movie theaters, hospitals and other Lions clubs. Stories on Dysart, Elburn, Virginia Beach and Zionsville by Elizabeth Blackwell. Stories on Western Harnett, Denver Five Points, Ponca City and Torrington by Anne Ford.
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