Jay Copp 2016-12-28 04:42:06
A LOBBYIST IN WASHINGTON, BILL SPENCER IS A FREQUENT VISITOR TO CAPITOL HILL WHERE HE WEIGHS IN ON TAX POLICIES, HEALTH CARE BENEFITS AND ENERGY ISSUES. KARLA GILBRIDE ALSO FREQUENTS THE CORRIDORS OF POWER IN WASHINGTON AS AN ATTORNEY FOR PUBLIC JUSTICE. SHE FOCUSES ON CONSUMER FRAUD AND PREDATORY LENDING. The nation’s capital is crammed with busy people engaged in public affairs but who are still interested in volunteering and in associating with like-minded people. An ordinary Lions club with frequent meetings and high expectations of participation in events and projects would not work for them. That’s the thinking behind the innovative Capitol Hill Lions Club, chartered in December 2014. Spencer is a charter member, and Gilbride joined in August 2015. The club has 29 members. Some work on the Hill as legislative aides. Others toil for trade groups or for various nonprofits. Members don’t have to be involved in political work. Adam Froemming works for the front office of the Washington Nationals baseball team. “We know our members are very busy people. They work nights and weekends. They have kids,” says Spencer, who works for Potomac Strategic Development (among its clients is Lions Clubs International). “We’d like everyone to show up at every meeting and project. But we have to be realistic.” The club does not meet regularly. Sometimes conference calls are used in lieu of getting together. “We might try to meet when Congress is not here. Mondays are a good night. There are not a lot of fundraisers then,” says Spencer. But like any club, Capitol Hill Lions devote themselves to service. They’ve collected clothes for veterans through Boots to Suits, provided goods for abused women, given backpacks to needy schoolchildren and supported the Metro Washington Association of Blind Athletes (MWABA). Gilbride, who is blind, co-founded the MWABA. She met Spencer when he came to watch a dragon boat race for the visually impaired in which she was racing. He asked her to join his club. “I was at a point in my career where I wanted to give back,” says Gilbride, who as a college student received funds for textbooks from Lions in Long Island. “I wanted to help those less fortunate than me.” The Capitol Hill Lions Club is one of the growing number of specialty Lions clubs. Members come from the same profession or field or are passionate about the same cause. Lions Clubs International is encouraging the chartering of specialty clubs. Traditional clubs will continue to prosper and be much more common. But younger people today, in particular, have less time, less inclination to embrace decades-old patterns of associating with peers. A club has to be more narrowly targeted to who people are and what they care about. Some people are just not interested in traditional clubs that meet at the same time and place or that are organized around where you live. In today’s mobile, digital, 24/7 society, clubs can be more loosely organized and more open to flexible membership requirements. The specialty clubs run the gamut. Chartered a year ago, the San Mateo County First Responders Lions Club in California includes police officers, firefighters and paramedics (September 2016 LION). The Silicon Valley Cyber Lions Club, chartered in January 2016, now has 63 members, many who work for tech companies. Members are not only from Silicon Valley but also from Beijing, Hong Kong, Nepal and even small towns in Germany. The cyber club “creates great opportunities for joint projects and fellowship among Lions of diverse cultures,” says Michael Chan, a Guiding Lion of the club who came to the United States from Hong Kong in 1963 and then helped engineer microchips in the nascent tech industry in southern California. The club may be cyber-based but it does lots of service familiar to Lions. Members support youth exchanges, backpacks for schoolchildren, food banks, Lions Quest, clean water projects in the Philippines, medical missions in Nepal and medicine to treat children overseas with diarrhea. Chartered in August, the Melwood Environmental Lions Club includes both staff and clients of Melwood, a social service agency located in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Melwood provides job training and support for “people with differing abilities.” The club’s environmental focus fits perfectly with the set-up of Melwood, which includes a complex of greenhouses in which clients learn basic work skills and responsibilities. The nonprofit also recycles computers. Initiating a Lions club associated with Melwood brings the agency full circle: Lions built or financed much of the center’s facilities. Lions got the idea to start a club at Melwood after volunteering there. The charter president is Rosetta Fultz- Perry, a manager at Melwood. “I don’t really know a lot about Lions,” she says. But volunteering appeals to her. “I do it all the time for my church and community, for family and friends. I have a knack for it,” she says. Specialty clubs also involve ethnicity. In the past year, spurred on by International Director Sanjay Khetan of Nepal, six clubs of Nepalese-Americans have chartered and four more are being formed. The new members are mostly first-generation Americans who know someone who is a Lion in Nepal, where Lions clubs have been rapidly growing. The clubs plan to do local service as well as help the needy in Nepal. Being a Lion among other Nepalese- Americans provides a certain level of comfort and familiarity a traditional club would not provide. Membership also is a way to acclimate to the United States. “It helps get them established in society,” says Khetan, who envisions many other ethnic clubs in the United States among Indians and other ethnic groups. Bill Spencer and Karla Gilbride belong to the innovative Capitol Hill Lions Club in Washington. Ethnic clubs are not new to Lions. Nor are clubs organized around common interest. New York City alone has eight ethnic clubs including the New York Pan American Club, chartered in 1970; the New York Korean American Lions Club, started in 1974; and the New York Cuban Club, begun in 1984. Longtime clubs also include the Toronto Doctors Club, the Honolulu Kapiolani Ballroom Dancers Club, the El Paso Executive Women Club in Texas and the New York City SUNY Optometry Club, to name just a few. Alaska is home to more than its share of specialty clubs: the Anchorage Latinos Club, the Anchorage Racing Club, the Fairbanks Snowmobile Fun Club and the Fairbanks Curling Club. You can’t predict how these clubs will fare. The Anchorage Latinos club has been going strong since 1979 while, sadly, the Anchorage Skating Club came and went. A fast-growing alternative to traditional clubs, special interest clubs are attracting new members with shared interests. Despite some clubs shutting down, specialty clubs have proven to have lasting power. Even in these politically divisive times, a club in Washington whose members are public-minded can get along and even flourish. In fact, perhaps counterintuitively, the Capitol Hill Lions Club is able to stay above the fray. “Politics always comes up. It’s not a big deal. It’s not contentious,” says Spencer.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.