A student competes in the NYC Braille competition sponsored by Lions. Pride in Serving Youth Queens Pride Lion Ralph Gonzales says he discovered something unexpected when his club and the Little Neck Douglaston Lions united to sponsor the Braille Challenge in New York City. He knew contestants from the sixth through 11th grades would be thrilled to compete. What he didn’t anticipate was how Lions felt by observing the interaction of families whose children were contestants. “We were watching parents sharing stories about raising a visually handicapped child. Hearing them talk among themselves made me feel like we sponsored a more valuable event than we could have ever imagined. We wanted to empower the students, but we empowered the families, too,” he points out. “We just sat back and were pretty close to tears when we saw how much it meant to them to meet other families who shared the same challenges raising a visually impaired child. It was kind of amazing to see.” There were 50 visually impaired and blind students who participated in the competition that tests proficiency and promotes the importance of Braille. Lions hosted the finals event by providing volunteers, meals for contestants, their families and teachers, trophies, certificates and prizes. Gonzales estimates that about 60 percent of his club’s projects are focused on helping youth. They’ve helped train 200 Lions Quest teachers, collect Toys for Tots, donate school supplies for an after-school program, collect eyeglasses and bought new clothes for needy students. They also sponsor a yearly trip to the circus for 150 blind and hearing-impaired children, who use headsets and ASL interpreters during performances. Still, Lions want to do more, emphasizes Gonzales. “We’ve already hosted a workshop for 35 NYC physical education teachers to learn about beep baseball, and we’re planning to work with more teachers and students to teach them about the game,” says Gonzales. Lions recently gave the school district 300 T-shirts donated by the Brooklyn Cyclones, a minor league baseball team. “We really want to have a team sponsored by next year,” he emphasizes. Hudson Lion Ron Maynard (left) and Camp Pride staffer Bill Goodfield load mattresses onto a cargo container in Boston for shipment to Odessa, Ukraine. Sleeping Soundly, Thanks to Lions When the 42 Lions clubs in eastern New Hampshire funded the purchase of 260 new mattresses for Lions Camp Pride in New Durham, Hudson Lion Jerry Vaccaro, the camp director, believed that the old mattresses, still serviceable, could be put to good use. And now they are—more than 4,500 miles away in Odessa, Ukraine. “Being in the mattress business for 43 years, I had some contacts,” he says. “Some of those mattresses had been at the camp since 1989. But since they were used only three or four months of the year because we’re a summer camp, they were still in good shape. We didn’t want to just throw them out.” Working with several agencies, Lions and other volunteers loaded the mattresses into cargo containers for overseas shipment from Boston. The cost of the shipment is estimated at $40,000, paid for by a humanitarian aid program of the United States Department of Defense. It took a month for the cargo ship to reach Odessa. The mattresses are now being used at an Odessa hospital, and Camp Pride guests are sleeping soundly on their new ones. “Smiles are coming from all different directions at camp,” says Vaccaro. “The ‘thank yous’ we got from parents and kids were overwhelming.” Gary Jones and Ken Foxx (right) install the final screws in the iron frame around the new Gravette welcome mural. Mural Anchors Town to its Heritage Lions in Gravette, Arkansas, were looking for a way to honor their small town of 2,300 people. There was already a Lions logo on the sign welcoming drivers to Gravette, but the club’s 18 members thought bigger was better when it came to promoting their town. Now, just a short distance away, visitors view a colorful mural depicting Gravette’s history and cultural heritage. The mural is affixed to the front of the Mid-Continent Concrete plant located near the highway, with a large “Welcome to Gravette” sign anchored to the center. Composed of 16 four-by-six-foot panels, the mural was created in two months by 50 volunteer art students at Gravette High School. Lions paid for wooden panels and the 10 gallons of paint to complete it. “It shows scenes in and around Gravette,” says Lion Susan Holland. Among those scenes are a football field, a farmer in a field, and an early steam locomotive, which played an important part in Gravette’s historical development. A baseball player (Gene Stephens), an astronaut (Dick Covey) and an Air Force plane (several flying aces have hailed from Gravette) recall noted people from Gravette. Lions thanked students with a pizza party. And then club members faced another big job—coating the murals with waterproof sealant and mounting them in an iron frame to the concrete plant’s exterior. The mural doesn’t just provide a colorful and warm welcome to drivers entering Gravette. “Every Lion feels a sense of accomplishment whenever we drive by,” Holland says. One, two three … Oom-pah-pah! It’s all in the name, although the abundance of beer may help. Mark Lootz, a Plymouth Lion in Massachusetts, serves as chairman of the Thirsty Pilgrim, the club’s Oktoberfeststyle festival held on Plymouth harbor’s waterfront for two days each September. He says Lions never realized seven years ago when they sponsored their first festival that it would become the club’s most popular event. “Turns out that it’s become our biggest fundraiser by far,” says Lootz, who says it brings in more cash than the club’s annual pancake breakfast, golf tournament and Vegas Night combined. A little lederhosen and some cheery music from the King Ludwig Band entertain Thirsty Pilgrim visitors and raise money to help feed the hungry. It’s not just about beer, brats and dancing to good German music. It’s about feeding the hungry. “We give out money to 12 different food banks in our town right before Thanksgiving to help people before the holidays,” Lootz says. Last year, the club raised $40,000 for food pantries and gave funds to eight elementary schools for their “backpack and snack” programs. The Thirsty Pilgrim has raised $200,000 for families in need since it began. Lions charge a $5 admission for adults, a price that includes three beer sample tastings, but there’s also plenty of fun for underage visitors to keep them amused. Face-painting, balloons and contests for kids make it a family-friendly day.
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