LIONS FIND HANDS-ON SERVICE REWARDING Working in two- or three-person crews, Lions in Norwood climb into their pick-up trucks on a Saturday in autumn and cruise the streets. Their mission is to keep their Canadian town of 1,200 a little greener and much cleaner. Lions pick up paper bags bulging with leaves and deliver them to farmers and gardeners for compost. “People were burning the leaves. That’s not a good idea,” explains Scott Stewart, chairperson of the club’s environmental committee. On a single day last fall about 20 Lions filled a dozen half-ton trucks with leaves. “When I say half-ton, I mean piled half again higher than the cab,” says Stewart. For Lions such as Stewart, the chore is easily done for at least two reasons. “I’ve lived here 65 years. I know the streets and I know where the maple trees are,” he says. Plus, hauling bags of leaves is not exactly daunting to someone of his background. “I suppose if you live in town and don’t do anything it’s physical exertion. For a farmer it’s just another thing to do,” he says. The Norwood Lions in Ontario is one club among thousands that does hands-on service. The clubs also typically hold fundraisers and understand that writing checks for good causes is something Lions are wellpositioned to do. But there is something innately satisfying about lending a hand by extending a hand, be it building a park, serving hot meals or picking up leaves. Anyone can drop a check in the basket on Sunday in church or respond to a direct mail solicitation for a charity. But Lions are able to couple their skills and know-how with their desire to serve their community. Pride in Workmanship Sebeka is a tiny town of 700 in central Minnesota near the banks of the Redeye River. Residents can enjoy lunch at a picnic shelter in the city park, watch a community concert at the amphitheatre along the local walking trail or take the occasional stroll through the pristine grounds of Red Eye Cemetery, perhaps to pay respects to a loved one. Sebeka Lions made these activities possible. They collected the timber and built those shelters in the park. They weathered sore knees and achy backs to re-shingle the amphitheatre roof. And Red Eye Cemetery always looks pleasant because Sebeka Lions maintain the grounds. “We do a lot of the other activities that other clubs do, but I think the backgrounds of members in the club lend themselves to more handson things,” says Paul Sturm. “Our club’s first project was actually to bring in fill for a construction site for apartments. That was a long time ago, but I was there, and I can tell you it was probably not a typical first project for a Lions club.” The club does typical concession stand fundraisers and supports the Minnesota Lions Children’s Eye Clinic. But hands-on projects—the bricks-and-mortar type—come naturally. It’s what they’re good at. “I think there’s a pride in workmanship,” says Pat Volkerding. “To outline a project, make a list and gather materials, get to work, and then solve the problems you run into, that process is rewarding. The reward is almost more in doing the planning and the work than it is in the result, because you already have a good idea of what the result is.” Sturm concedes that Sebeka may be better equipped than others for hands-on projects. “Most of our members are craftsmen, so we have the tools and the trucks that you need for projects like that.” Even so, handson Lions need to be resourceful. Without the supplies needed to go forward, the club needed help. For the first of three picnic shelters members would eventually build, the club asked Wadena County officials for their leftover timber. The club then exchanged the extra timber it didn’t need for other materials, and reached out to a few community members for their remaining needs. “You can measure twice and cut once every time, but more often than not you find you still need something you don’t have. So you reach out to other people,” Volkerding says. Rite of Fall The trees burst with color every fall in the Poconos. It’s a shame that many seniors are unable to witness the autumn glory. So 32 years ago Lion Chris Sweeney did something about it. He organized a ride for the elderly through the countryside of northeastern Pennsylvania. The caravan of cars is an annual rite for the Western Poconos Lions Club. This past fall 10 Lion-drivers and a Lionness escorted 40 seniors from four facilities on a ride in the mountains. Arnold “Spike” Sisinni, a resident at Getz Personal Care Home in Jonas, enjoyed the tour. “Of all the seasons, fall is my favorite,” says Sisinni, a former diesel mechanic. Adele Argot drove her Buick and chatted with the senior in her car. Getting the seniors away from their normal routine turns on a switch inside them. “They talk about their lives. The memories start to flow,” says Argot, an employee of Penn State University. “The experience is both a joy and a pain in the heart. I just ached for her [the senior]. She wanted to be in her own home [and not at a facility].” The cars climbed Route 115 and ambled along Route 534. The trees were aflame with yellow and orange. “Great,” exclaims Robert Jump. “All right!” gushes Bobby Ott, 73. Sweeney, a past council chair, has done this for three decades, but the thrill remains. “It’s a part of giving back,” he says. Protecting the Elderly Rick King, president of the Terrell Noon Lions Club in Texas, was not home when called about his club’s hands-on service. He was busy placing dozens of flags along the town’s streets to honor a soldier killed in October in Afghanistan. Shawn McNabb, a 2003 graduate of Terrell High School and a combat medic, died in a helicopter crash. The club also displays flags on major holidays. One of its hands-on service initiatives is the Smoke Alarm Project. Taking referrals from a senior citizens center, members visit homes of the elderly in the fall or early winter to replace batteries and smoke detectors, if needed. Typically, the club replaces 50 to 60 sets of batteries and 25 to 30 smoke alarms. The local Walmart donates the items. Many of the seniors are lonely and eager to talk and even pray. Both King and Lion Otis Hanby are active in a Methodist church. “Some of them are blind. Some can’t move around,” says King. “If they’re religious, we speak some religion. It’s very rewarding to be with them.” King related the details of the smoke alarm project on another sad day in town. “Today was a long day for the Lions club,” he says. “I walked into our meeting to be greeted by a local news reporter and camera crew. Another local man [Joe Lewis] had been killed in Afghanistan and they were looking for the Lions club president.” ‘We Built That’ Palmerston is an old railroad hub two hours west of Toronto in Canada. The town has 2,400 people and 34 Lions. Chartered in 1939, the club does fundraisers such as selling chocolate Easter bunnies, Christmas hams and even a live bull, holding a road toll and sponsoring a golf tournament and Valentine’s Dance/Elimination Draw. But members also like to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. “We’re not just check writers,” says Joanne Klonikowski, a past club president. “Our club is known by everybody in town for doing hands-on stuff.” Palmerston Lions worked with town officials to clean up the old railroad yard. A government grant enabled engineers to scrape off 18 inches of contaminated soil. Then Lions transformed the property into the 18-acre Lions Heritage Park. Lions helped fund a $150,000 splash pad and, then donning their work clothes, installed a decorative fountain, laid a cobblestone path and erected playground equipment. The equipment was installed “on the hottest day of the year,” recalls Klonikowski. “We had to cement the poles in and put the equipment together.” It was like Christmas morning putting together toys but to a larger degree–“ on a massive scale,” says Klonikowski. Lions had incentive to get the equipment in place. “There were kids on it when we were putting in the wood chips. They were standing there while we were working saying ‘when will it be done?’” she says. The club also renovated the old movie house, once closed but now staffed by volunteers including Lions. Club members tore out the walls and put in the framing for the new walls. “PDG [Past District Governor] Paddy Rundle was way up on the ladder whacking away and he’s 78. I was shaking in my boots,” says Klonikowski. Klonikowski is only 45 and she recalls the morningafter sensation following working on the playground: “Oh, my aching knees.” The age of some members is “an Issue. Everybody does what they can. I’m amazed at what some of the older members can accomplish. Even the older ones are right into it,” she says. The payoff is seeing the fruits of your labor. “When I go by the playground I see kids on it and I say, ‘We built that.’ It’s a good feeling,” says Klonikowski. Staying Patient The New Lenox Lions in Illinois built a 270-square-foot kitchen in the community room of a senior housing center. They installed the underground plumbing, electrical lines, heating and ventilations systems themselves after a lack of funds prevented it from being built with the rest of the center in 2003. Lions contributed $20,000 and 400 labor hours to the effort. The room now serves as the base of operations for the town’s Meals on Wheels program. “The hardest part was working with the village and the county,” says Bill Byerley. “The building is actually part of both the township and the village, so we had to make absolutely sure we had the proper permits from the village and the county. Everything had to meet two sets of building codes, so we were going back to the drawing board on a lot of issues.” One such code prohibited the use of an oven without a proper exhaust system, a sticking point that frustrated Lions who wanted the facility to be able to accommodate larger events such as the club’s spaghetti dinner. Members settled for microwaves and a mock-oven that serves as a food warming system. Byerley says the club bit the bullet in not installing a regular oven, but that the setback was a learning experience. The club now knows even the best of projects won’t be entirely perfect. “We’re not able to do our spaghetti dinners there, which is disappointing, but when we look at it from afar, we know the kitchen is still getting a lot of use, oven or no oven. That’s what makes you feel good, knowing the whole community can get use from this. The key was staying patient.” Ahoy, Mates Beloit Noon Lions in Wisconsin saw the fruits of their labor at Turtle Island playground in the cherubic smiles of children playing sailors and pirates for 15 years. The club spent $50,000 and countless hours in planning and building a life-size replica ship at Turtle Island on which children could play. The ship— christened The Lion and featuring several decks built of weather-treated mahogany—was the brainchild of member Tom Sudgen, a club member and former contractor who passed away several years ago. “For years the city was always look Ing for ideas and donations for that park, and I think that just clicked with Tom Sudgen,” says Lion Elroy Wirtz. “It was a great idea, something he got very involved in. He was even sure to have a Lions flag raised up to the top of the mast. It was really beautiful, and the kids were there all the time.” But the ship grew old and fell out of compliance with city safety codes over the years, Wirtz says. The city took the The Lion down this past summer, replacing its weather-worn hull and decks with a state-of-the-art playground that’s more durable and safe. The club still sees the results of their efforts at Turtle Island in other ways, says fellow club member Dave Peltier. Large drinking fountains in the shape of lions with their mouths stretched in a giant yawn (or perhaps roar) dot the walkways surrounding the exterior of the playground, installed by the club in the early 1990s. The club also is actively involved in the Lions state cornea transportation system, picking up and driving 23 tissues from Rockford, Illinois, to Madison just last year. Wirtz can attest to the value of this literally hands-on task. “I asked a surgeon one time when I was transporting a tissue, ‘When will this person be able to see?’ He looked at me and said, ‘They’ll be able to see tomorrow morning.’ I’ve been a Lion for 46 years, and to hear that sent shivers down my spine.” Cooking for Thousands Two years ago a record drought, high temperatures and ferocious Santa Ana winds combined to create some of the worst wildfires in California history. Football took a back seat to survival as Qualcomm Park, home of the San Diego Chargers, became an evacuation site for many of the thousands who lost their homes to the raging flames. Past 4-L6 District Governor Scott Leslie points out the obvious—Lions didn’t have a lot of time to plan. “These were people who half an hour ago had everything: a house, car, food, medication. Then, they don’t have anything. They don’t know where their next meal is coming from. It’s just devastating. The only thing we could do was to put ourselves there and help as best we could.” Lions in the districts went to work cooking and serving more than 1,000 meals to evacuees as part of their relief efforts. These were neighbors and friends who needed help, and though the gesture of a fresh meal seemed small in scale compared to the losses suffered, evacuees wasted no time in showing their appreciation—a fact not lost on Leslie. “It was a great feeling to be thanked by those people, but a lot of the reward was knowing that you contributed to their next step. The step after that might be finding out about a sister’s house, or when your neighborhood would reopen so you could see for yourself what was left. You’re measuring your life by a completely different set of standards.”
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