Anne Ford 2016-08-26 12:58:00
A San Francisco-area club for public servants charters with 30 members. Here’s the career of bomb-squad officer Mike Peck, by the numbers: Years served: 25. Potentially explosive devices dismantled or disarmed: About 300. Words of public recognition: Essentially zero. “Occasionally, we’d get a little pat on the back—an award here, an award there. But you don’t expect one; you don’t require one,” says Peck, who recently retired from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Bomb Squad in Redwood City, California. As for emotional support for these hardworking first responders? Those were mostly limited to jokes among the bomb squad itself (such as “If a bomb goes off, it’s going to hurt a whole heck of a lot. The good news is, it won’t hurt for very long”). “There really wasn’t anybody who said much to you to alleviate any stress,” Peck recalls. “You had to do it yourself.” Now, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, nurses, emergency medical technicians, and yes, bomb squad members on the San Francisco Peninsula have a new source of support and recognition: the San Mateo County First Responders Lions Club, which will serve the area between San Francisco and Palo Alto. A number of Lions clubs are formed around a common interest or background. These include the Fairbanks Snowmobile Fun Lions Club in Alaska, the New York City SUNY Optometry Lions Club, the El Paso Executive Women Lions Club in Texas, the Honolulu Kapiolani Ballroom Dancers Lions Club in Hawaii and the Toronto Doctors Lions Club in Canada. Chartered last November, the San Mateo County First Responders Lions Club is for first responders and the family members, friends and community members who support them. Jack van Etten is a past 4-C4 district governor, a retired chief of the Burlingame Police Department and a longtime member of the Burlingame Lions Club. During his nearly four decades in law enforcement, he engaged in plenty of good-natured workplace hijinks such as putting pinholes in his coworkers’ paper coffee cups, or leaving a rubber snake in his boss’s desk drawer. Van Etten came up with the idea for the First Responders Club because “law enforcement really took a hit” in public perception in the wake of widely publicized incidents such as the 2014 unrest that followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Members of the San Mateo County First Responders Lions Club serve the region between San Francisco and Palo Alto. “I wanted to do something to elevate the status of first responders, so communities can understand that these people are good people, and the [negative] things you hear about law enforcement don’t necessarily represent everyone in the field,” says van Etten, who is serving as one of the club’s Guiding Lions. “Plus, people in first-responder positions are kind of taken for granted.” Van Etten had a Rolodex overflowing with contacts in the first responders field, and so he began recruiting potential members for the new club. “Everybody knows Jack,” says Sandee Schlickman, charter president and a retired ER nurse. “He just started sending out emails to his friends.” The club’s 30 members include retired and current law enforcement officers, two emergency room nurses, a fire-fighter, an investigative consultant, and several Community Emergency Response Team participants (members of the public who have received training in disaster response skills). The club kicks off each meeting at the Burlingame Lions Club Hall with the Pledge of Allegiance. “My heart just blooms every time I say it with these people,” Schlickman says. “Justice for all—boy, that means a lot these days.” ‘I didn’t have any idea about what the Lions were. I just wanted to make some friends.’ Sandee Schlickman, charter president and a retired ER nurse. Todd Medford, a lieutenant in the San Mateo Police Department and 2016-17 club president. Jack van Etten, a retired police chief, is the club’s Guiding Lion. Members with law enforcement backgrounds say they’re used to working solo. Those who’ve worked in the fire department or as medics have a more team-based orientation. Yet the members mix well together. “I don’t think we have had a tense moment since we started,” says Schlickman. “Everyone is very respectful of each other’s voices.” Members understand one another and what they hold dear: each meeting ends with a moment to remember a local first responder who has recently passed away. Some of the members such as Schlickman and Peck knew very little about Lions before joining the club. “I didn’t have any idea about what the Lions were. I just wanted to make some friends,” says Schlickman, who had just moved to the area and became involved with the club after being invited by a neighbor. “But it sounded like a good group of people to be with. Their whole philosophy is ‘We serve,’ and I’ve always been that way.” How so? Well, after Hurricane Katrina, Schlickman and her sister “loaded up four big Rubbermaid containers and filled every one of them up with 50 pounds of medical supplies and treats for kids,” she says. “We took them to Gulfport, Mississippi, and I worked in a medical clinic there, too.” Then, five years later, a few weeks after the devastating Haiti earthquake of 2010, she and two combat- medic friends took rope, tents, tarps, and medical supplies to the city of Port-au-Prince. “My dad was a volunteer fireman and a volunteer policeman, and I think I just take after him,” she shrugs. Because the club’s service area encompasses several dozen towns and first-response agencies, its formation has given first responders from all over the county an opportunity to get to know one another for the first time. “I only knew three people in the entire club when I joined,” says Todd Mefford, a lieutenant in the San Mateo Police Department and 2016-17 club president. “It has brought together first responders from different areas of the San Francisco Peninsula. We’re getting to know each other, and that’s one of the beautiful things about this club. That’s one of the things we do as first responders—work well in teams.” Not only that, but the new club gives first responders a way to be Lions without having to join a community-based Lions club. “There may be some people who would not want to be in a community-based club because they may work in Burlingame but live 50 miles away in another city. So they can’t really be in a community-based club because they’re not in that community very much,” van Etten says. “This club involves the entire county, not just one city.” So far, the young club has supported events such as a holiday brunch for needy children and an awards banquet for police officers and firefighters. Members have many ideas about exactly how they’d like to help meet the needs of first responders, their families, and those who support them, as well as how they’d like to help the community at large. “Let’s say a police officer dies in the line of duty,” says Milan Radojevich, a board member of the new club and a retired law enforcement official. “There are a lot of organizations that come in immediately and help the family out. What happens after they all go away? After the funeral, then what? If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know what it’s like. You’re sitting there going, ‘Now what do we do?’ Our club is thinking of doing something along the lines of afterward, after everybody leaves, coming back to the family and saying, ‘Okay, what do you need now?’” “There are organizations out there that jump to the family within the first 24 hours of a tragedy, but it pretty much dwindles after that,” agrees club treasurer Ross Hite, a private investigator and fraud specialist who owns the Burlingame-based Investigative Analysis consulting agency. “We think we’ve found a niche that we’re going to try to address.” Hite points to a case involving a detective with the city of San Mateo’s police department who was killed in the line of duty back in 1968. “His widow is in her early 90s, and she’s still alive,” he says. “This particular tragedy occurred before anything like a benevolent association for officers existed, and we believe she’s fallen through the cracks. We’d like to investigate the possibility of providing some assistance to her, such as transporting her to the grocery store. That’s just one example.” For her part, Schlickman would like to see the club provide community education on disaster preparedness— something with which she gained much firsthand experience during four post-Hurricane Katrina visits to New Orleans and one visit to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake there. “Disaster runs in my blood,” she jokes. “I’d also like the club to provide some help with 911 dispatching education, so that community members know what to say when dialing emergency services. The dispatchers don’t want screaming; they want you to stay calm.” Its members think that the new club may be the only special-interest Lions club to focus on first responders. In that sense, “we’re kind of a pilot program,” says Peck, a member of the club’s board. “Our success will possibly stimulate successes in other geographic areas.” “As first responders, we need to support each other more than ever right now,” Mefford adds. “But it’s really what we do in the community that makes us effective. Having first-responder Lions in the community will allow us to work more closely with that community— and build trust in law enforcement.” Stitching Together—As Lions Painstakingly, tenaciously stitching small pieces into a beautiful whole—that’s what quilters do best. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the Victoria Quilters Lions Club, Australia, has brought together 24 quilters, all of whom are working toward a larger goal: establishing the country’s first museum devoted to quilts and textiles. The commemorative quilt of the Victoria Quilters Club celebrates Lions Clubs’ centennial. “Unlike the USA and other countries, Australia hasn’t previously taken the step to establish a significant quilt museum in our country,” says Robyn Falloon, club president-elect. “Whilst every quilter here would love to see that happen, no one person or group has moved it forward until now.” Chartered in 2014, the club envisions the museum as a place not only for the display of quilts and other textiles, but also as an educational center where local artisans will teach their techniques. To raise funds for the project, the club has created a commemorative quilt to celebrate Lions Clubs International’s centennial next year. The quilt, which features a “tree of life” design, will tour Australia until July 2017, when it will be displayed at the centennial convention in Chicago. But that’s not all the club has done. “We’ve also raised funds for an organization called Streets of Freedom, which gives support to people who are trapped in modern-day slavery situations,” Falloon says. The club also provided care to local families who lost their homes last summer to severe bushfires. What care did that form take? The distribution of quilts, of course. Extra Digital Content Whether it’s ballroom dancing, snowmobiles or UFOs, Lions unite around a common interest. Read the story from the January 2009 LION.
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