Erin Mcintyre 2016-07-26 09:33:47
Grand Junction Lions in Colorado know how to make someone’s day. Stephanie Jordan is in tears after Brad McCloud of the Grand Junction Lions Club pays her day care bill as part of the Random Acts of Kindness campaign. Photo by The Daily Sentinel Karen McClure, 63, lies down on her new bed, fanning her fingers out and sweeping her arms across the mattress so she can feel every inch of this wonderful new gift. Tears well up in her eyes and trail down the sides of her face as she makes a snow angel, staring at the ceiling. “I just can’t believe it,” she says. “It doesn’t seem real. I didn’t know people did stuff like this.” “Stuff like this” is a random act of kindness, performed each year by members of the Grand Junction Lions Club in Colorado. This year McClure was one of the lucky recipients of the program, which focuses on giving to neighbors in the community. Sometimes the members fulfill a known need, such as this one, and other times the act of giving is completely random. McClure suffers from fibromyalgia and back injuries and has spent the majority of the past 15 years in bed. She was so thrilled to get a new bed that she didn’t even let her health care assistant put sheets on it before she tried it out. Nearly 30 years old, her bed was so sunken that her health assistant referred to it as a “soup bowl.” It sagged so much she often could not sit up independently or get out of it without assistance. The frame was broken so Rubbermaid containers propped up the mattress. On her limited disability income, she couldn’t afford a new bed. That terrible bed was gone now. Lion Jim Nickerson took it away when he helped deliver the new bed to Mc- Clure’s apartment. It was one of many random acts he participated in, carrying on the tradition of the club that has existed for more than a decade. How It Started A city of 60,000 in the western part of the state, four hours from Denver, Grand Junction sits at the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers. It boasts a mild climate, spectacular high-desert scenery, plentiful recreational choices—and a very active Lions club. Many of its 125 members have been Lions for at least 20 years, and the club’s roster includes a slew of well-connected community leaders including government officials, bankers and small business owners. The random acts of kindness program originated 15 years ago with Lion Gregg Palmer. “I stole the idea from Rotary,” he jokes. “I took it, and we made it better.” Palmer’s business partner, Tom Brown of Brown’s Shoe Fit Co., was a Rotary member in California at the time, and his club passed out flower seeds as a random act of kindness to the community. One day Past President Lynn Hood came into Palmer’s shoe store, Palmer handed him the packet of marigold seeds and said, “I’ve got a hell of an idea. We could do the same thing here. But we’ve got cash, and people might need something more than flower seeds.” So the idea was born to give each Lion in good standing $100 to distribute as a random act of kindness, with a card explaining the purpose and letting the recipient know where it came from. The program was a sharp departure from their traditional funding priorities—normally the club gave money to only capital projects—with a goal of benefiting the greater good. In the past, club members allocated funding based on how many people would benefit from the donation. But the random acts are based on a single donation, often to a single person, and they definitely aren’t for capital projects. “We typically help groups, not individuals,” says Palmer, a Lion since 1984. “This was outside of our normal criteria, and it wasn’t universally accepted at first.” The program has evolved to provide what some of the 125 members consider “seed money” for bigger donations to individuals, or multiple random acts. Most of the members don’t just give out their $100 and call it a day, says President Ken Brownlee. Many match the funds or spend even more. The program has become a popular event in the community, and the club is well-known for its random acts. Palmer says it’s evolved to be a good tool for the club as well as a benefit to individuals. “Part of it is a recruitment and retention tool for our own club,” he says. “You don't want to join another club after you do this.” Some of these acts are more random than others. Brownlee has given away his $100 in various ways over the years. In 2014, headed to the Veterans’ Administration Hospital, he was waiting at a bus stop. When the bus arrived, a veteran with a guide dog stepped off and Brownlee approached him, explaining that on behalf of his Lions club he wanted to give him the money. “He said, ‘That's not necessary,’ ” Brownlee recalls. His eyes tearing up at the memory. Brownlee was able to give the cash to the veteran after briefly explaining the Random Acts program. ‘So Grateful’ This past year, Nickerson and fellow Lion Brad McCloud pulled up in front of the house in McCloud’s green Chrysler. They rang the doorbell and stood waiting to surprise Jamie Berns, Publisher’s Clearinghouse style. Berns answered the door with a confused look on her face, obviously wondering who the heck these guys were and why they were bothering her. “I was ready to tell them to go away because I can’t afford whatever they’re selling,” the 39-year-old single mom says. She was at home on her lunch break, and her mother had helped to arrange the surprise and made sure she was at the house. McCloud and Nickerson explained she was receiving a random act of kindness and handed her the money. Berns couldn’t wipe the tears away fast enough as they spilled down her face. “Seriously?” she asked them. “Ohmigod. Thank you, thank you!” The kindness could not have come at a better time. Berns suffered from health problems and pancreatitis, broke her ankle, had wrecked her car and was laid off from work for months. She barely kept her head above water, scraping by with just enough to make her rent payments. To have an extra $200 was an incredible gift and a relief. “I’m so grateful. So, so grateful,” she says. “I just can’t stop crying!” ‘This is the Best’ When Deborah Kohler took over teaching a classroom of high-risk, special-needs preschoolers at Clifton Elementary School last summer, she was dismayed to find her school only had broken toys for playtime and recess. The bikes were missing pedals; the centers of their wheels were cracked and wobbly. Duct tape held parts together. Three Tonka trucks were broken as well. And the playhouse, which was missing a roof, had been stolen from the playground outside the classroom. The toys weren’t just for fun. Because many of children are diagnosed on the autism spectrum or have other developmental issues, developing social skills through play and other interaction is important. Kohler used her own money to buy used toys at yard sales and thrift stores so her students at the school in Clifton, located six miles from Grand Junction, wouldn’t go without toys. Several Lions who knew Kohler decided to pool their Random Acts cash to buy bikes, a playhouse and toys for the children. Seeing the new toys for the first time, the children became giddy with joy. The students raced around the room, trying out their new rides on the carpet before Kohler even had a chance to remove the bubble wrap from the handlebars. Four-yearold Jalivia Anthony jumped up and down excitedly when Lion Steve Stewart presented a box of Legos for her to open. “This is the best!” she said. “Miss Deb? You are the best teacher ever,” said 3-yearold Aleyna Rowin. Kohler told her she should thank the Lions in the room who donated the toys, and Rowin went from person to person, thanking each of them politely. Several Lions contributed toward this particular project, but Stewart also convinced a local business to help out as well, just as he did last year when he helped organize help for a family that lost their home in a fire and bought furniture for them. “We had $700, $800 that turned into probably $2,500 that time,” he says. “I like to leverage the money and get more people to participate, make a bigger difference.” How They Do It The Grand Junction Lions Club holds one major fundraiser each year—its annual carnival. Although it’s a lot of work, they make enough money to fund all their grants and projects for the whole year in three hours. It’s come a long way from when it started in 1929, to raise $400 for Mesa Junior College. To date, the carnival has helped the club grant $5 million to organizations. The carnival’s proceeds allow the Lions to fulfill their motto: Doing the most good, for the most people, while having the most fun. “We believe we are the largest fundraising Lions club in the world,” says Palmer. “Nobody raises more money than we do in one event, and we're able to be really generous because the community is that way.” Ultimately, the random acts are a small thing the club does over the course of the year, and financially it’s a much cheaper investment than many of their other grants. But Palmer says that is beside the point, and he keeps that original packet of marigold seeds on his desk at work to remind himself what it’s all about. FOR THE LIONS, THE RANDOM ACTS AREN’T JUST ABOUT THE GIVING. IT’S ABOUT THE RECEIVING OF THAT SPECIAL TUG AT THEIR HEARTS WHEN THEY CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR OTHERS. For the Lions, the random acts aren’t just about the giving. It’s about the receiving of that special tug at their hearts when they can make a difference for others, and the welcome surprise of making someone’s day a little better. The personal connection with each recipient is crucial, the Lions agree. There’s just something incredibly rewarding about making life easier or giving a person an unexpected gift. “I didn't want to stick it in a bucket or mail it to someone,” says Palmer. “I wanted that one-on-one [contact] because that’s where you get that special feeling in your own heart.” This year, Palmer wandered around K-Mart until he saw a Marine and his partner walking in an aisle. Palmer approached him and asked if he’d been overseas. “He said, “Just back home, sir,’ ” Palmer says. “I handed him the money and he just kind of stood there and stared at me.” “Go out and do something nice for your family,” he told the Marine, thanking him for his service. “These are the kind of things that make this more than just a town you live in,” Palmer says. “These are the kinds of things that make a community feel connected.” Extra Digital Content Extremely active since 1921, the Grand Junction Lions Club has been featured many times in the LION. Charter member tells why his club is “the best” (January 1937). One town’s answer to downtown blight (November 1963). Club’s carnival “raises more money with one single event than any other Lions club in the world” (February 2012). Preschoolers ride new tricycles at Clifton Elementary School. Grand Junction Lions treated students to bikes, a playhouse and other toys as one of their Random Acts of Kindness. Photo by Christopher Tomlinson/The Daily Sentinel
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