Julie Halpert 2016-08-26 12:56:42
The Michigan State University Lions Club gathers at the iconic Spartan Statue on campus. Joining members are 2015-16 District 11 C2 Governor Russ Amidon (see if you can guess which one he is), and Sparty, the university’s muscular mascot. The new Michigan State University Lions Club is No.1 in the hearts of its devoted members. Two miles from campus, three Michigan State University students kneel beside a toddler-sized play kitchen and aim and then spray sanitizer on tiny plastic cups and toy hamburgers, mustards and ketchups. The college cleaning crew is learning that being a Lion encompasses all kinds of service. The students are volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House, a home away for home for families whose seriously ill children are hospitalized. Preventing illness among families with sick kids is vitally important. The diversity of service practiced by Lions was what drew her to join, says Patty Costello, an 18-year-old freshman in 2015-16. No other campus group “had the versatility to do such a broad range of things,” she says. Chartered last October in East Lansing, the Michigan State University Lions Club is flourishing. It began with 30 members and now has 37. The club has hit the ground running. In less than one year, it’s launched 30 projects including working with Brookdale Assisted Living, Habitat for Humanity and a food bank. It’s no easy feat to launch a successful club of any type at MSU, a sprawling Big Ten university whose mascot is the helmeted Sparty. Students have classes to attend, homework to do and often jobs to work—not to mention social functions, sports events and late nights of having fun in myriad ways. And it’s not as if there aren’t other clubs on campus to belong to. The first recruitment for a Lions club on campus was in September at Sparticipation—400 student groups vied for new members. A further hurdle was a lack of awareness of Lions Clubs among the student body. Some students believed Lions passed out Tootsie Rolls at intersections. (The Knights of Columbus do that.) Others assumed the club had something to do with the Detroit Lions. Vivien Powell, a 19-year-old sophomore, says her father was surprised when she told him she was becoming a Lion. “Isn’t that for older people?” he asked. “He didn’t expect a group of college students to be interested in it,” she says. Fortunately, many students, Powell included, had no preconceived notions. She says she now “lives and breathes” Lions. That kind of embrace of membership is reflected worldwide among college students. There are now 111 Lions campus clubs in the United States among a total of 500 in 66 nations. A Roaring Start Courtney March, a 22-year-old senior business major in 2015-16, stands at the lectern at the front of the classroom. “They’re for residents at Brookdale Assisted Living,” she reminds two dozen of her fellow Lions. “Try to make two each. Make them as cute as you can.” Sitting at desks, the students munch on cookies, chat with one another (often loudly or animatedly) and decorate valentines. Upbeat songs from Justin Bieber and Katy Perry fill the room. A golden retriever named Brandi, a Leader Dog, wanders from row to row as students take turns petting her. Welcome to a biweekly meeting of the campus club. Meetings at MSU include many traditional elements: the hanging of the Lions banner, collection of dues, a presentation of pins, election of officers to fill vacant seats and guest speakers such as a representative of the Lions International Youth Camp and Exchange Program. Yet the club definitely has a more informal vibe. Members aren't decked out in the traditional Lions vests. Women dress in typical student attire such as leggings and long sweaters while men come in jeans and sweatshirts. Regular clothes make sense for college students, not flushed with cash. The goal is to avoid asking students to pay more for wardrobe items on top of dues, though they may decide to order T-shirts at some point, explains Kaylee Langlands, the chair of the Social Media/Public Relations Committee Chair. “As students, we’re here to serve,” adds Kaitlyn Kwiecinski, one of the first members. “We’re less worried about the gear that goes along with it.” The club is less formal in other ways. Instead of a ritual prayer favored by some clubs, “we might throw in an MSU fight song,” Langlands says. As the club evolves, it plans to build partnerships with area Lions clubs. Many local Lions turned out for the MSU clubs’ charter party. “They’ve been willing to go out of their way to meet us and help,” says Rachel Swartz, another charter member. The seeds for the club were planted when a friend of Courtney March tried to start a Lions club at Western Michigan University. That club never got started. But March, her interest piqued, emailed Ray Robins, membership chairman of the nearby Holt Lions Club and secretary of District 11 C2. Robins was elated. Starting a club at MSU had been a longtime goal of Lions in the district. “Getting a Campus Lions club means you get a younger generation exposed to Lions,” says Robins, 68. When they leave here, they will go on and join another club and infuse younger blood into those organizations.” Robins took on the equivalent of a part-time job over the next year acting as a Guiding Lion to get the club off the ground. That job was made easier with March as a partner. She’s a “natural born leader,” he says. March became president. “Service has been my calling, and that’s what the Lions are about,” March says, her singsong voice conveying the passion she feels for Lions. She saw the club as filling a void on campus for an international group focused on community service. She enlisted three of her friends: Kwiecinski, Swartz and Sarah Mimnaugh, all 21-year-old seniors during the 2015-16 school year, to help form the club. Robins quickly dubbed them “the gang of four.” March took on the leadership role despite a heavy schedule: a 15-credit class load, four hours of daily homework and two jobs that took 15 hours weekly. She was able to maintain her 3.9 GPA in the midst of it all, fueled by three to four cups of coffee a day and a Type A personality. “I go crazy when I'm not busy,” she concedes. Much of the recruiting took place through social media. The club has its own website and Facebook page and is active on Instagram and Twitter. Four of the club’s 38 members are from outside the United States. Twenty eight are women. Going forward, the club plans to recruit more men. Members are studying a range of disciplines—everything from business to pre-med, psychology, public policy and advertising. What they all have in common, March says, is a passion for service. They need to be committed to the club because the $51 annual dues can be a challenge for students on tight budgets. The club fulfills a need for its members. For Nick Miller, a 19-year-old public policy major and the group’s fundraising committee chair, it was the chance to quickly assume a leadership position. “It's a good opportunity to start something new,” he says. Volunteering and philanthropy provide a solid base for a political career, he adds. Kwiecinski, an economics major with plans to attend law school and eventually work for a nonprofit, has participated in 15 service projects already. “The Lions fell into my lap,” she says. “I wanted to do something to impact the community and leave a significant impact on campus.” She says her experience with the Lions has provided her with valuable leadership and networking skills. A 20-year-old from Rwanda, Joyce Goodluck chairs the Service Committee. The Lions’ international presence was a big attraction for her. “If I go back home, I can still be a part of it,” says Goodluck, whose laptop has a Lions decal. Since there are few opportunities to help the disadvantaged in her home town, she may start a Lions club there. Mimnaugh, one of the “gang of four,” has volunteered at Ronald McDonald House three times. She manages to juggle her Lions activities, including her role as treasurer, with a full academic schedule and working 17 hours in the ad department of an insurance company. The Lions club, unlike other college clubs, offers the chance to be more interactive with the community that surrounds East Lansing, she says. Another Lions’ volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House, Melissa Snyder, a 19-year-old sophomore, says that allowed her to see how “a simple thing like volunteering can make such an impact on another person's life. It makes you see the world through a different perspective.” Robins, a Lion for 20 years, listens to the students discuss their zeal for the club like a proud father. He’s gratified that so many plan to join other Lions clubs when they graduate. March, who will stay another year at MSU to get her masters in accounting, has already accepted a full-time job in Chicago in June 2017 at Deloitte Tax LLP. She plans to incorporate the Lions into her company. There are now 111 Lions Campus clubs in the United States among a total of 500 in 66 nations. The “gang of four,” all 21-year-old seniors who helped form the club, are (from left) Kaitlyn Kwiecinski, Sarah Mimnaugh, Rachel Swartz and Courtney March. Powell is pleased that she can remain a member wherever she lives. “I can move to Japan and will find a Lions club there," she says. Adds Langlands, “Once a Lion, always a Lion. We all feel that way.” And the way young Lions feel about their membership is fresh and genuine. After the freshman Costello expresses interest in running for the board but hesitates because she’s new, Mimnaugh and Snyder encourage her. “I'd go for it,” Snyder says. “What's open?” Costello asks. “Everything!” Mimnaugh and Snyder respond in unison. Julie Halpert is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a self-described foodie who relished her stint as a local restaurant critic. Extra Digital Content College Campus Lions clubs gain in popularity. Read the story from the June 1999 LION. A Campus club thrives at the University of Georgia (September 2013 LION).
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