Debbie Cantrell Lebanon Host Lions, Missouri Lion Debbie Cantrell (formerly Whittlesey) was a victim of domestic violence for 22 years before she found help at a local family crisis shelter. She later discovered that Lions support that shelter, and in 2004, she joined the Lebanon Host Lions. In 2011, she was serving as district governor of southern Missouri when a tornado took 158 lives and injured more than a thousand in nearby Joplin. She led Lions’ efforts to help and was honored as a Champion of Change by the White House. In 2016, she took part in the 38th Annual Lions Day with the United Nations. Cantrell has shared her story with thousands, volunteered at the shelter that helped her start life anew and kept the Lion commitment to serve. Can you recall your first Lion meeting? I knew a gentleman in Lions, and he took me to my first meeting. When I walked in there were about 15 guys and no women. I thought, ‘Oh no. I’ve made a mistake.’ But they were very welcoming. They made me feel like they needed me, and that I could help them. What made you get more involved? My club made me feel important. They invited me to a cabinet meeting, and I realized that Lions is a lot more than my local club. I come from 22 years of feeling insignificant. It was great to feel appreciated. Lion Debbie Cantrell (left) and Leo Katie Jackson of Sundre, Canada, share a “girl power” moment at the 2016 Lions Day with the United Nations where both were addressing the issues of women empowerment and gender equality. How would you encourage other women to join Lions? I would say that as a woman it’s very positive, empowering and supportive. It gives you an avenue to do the things that we as women like to do. We have built-in nurture. We want to take care of people. My babies are grown and I have grandchildren I love, but it’s fulfilling to do activities and events in my community. What is your favorite local Lions’ project? We just finished our fifth annual Diabetes Day, partnering with Mercy Hospital in Lebanon. I love to hear people say they’ve learned something new. What do you remember most about your trips to Joplin? I had a cell phone, and it rang constantly. Lions from California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York City … all backing us up with their words, their money, their volunteers. I felt so scared, but at the same time the presence of the Lions everywhere was so strong. We say we’re Lions, and we say we care. That’s easy to say, but when the actions and the words meet, it’s a beautiful thing. What’s one of the cool things that happened to you as a Lion? The very first Lion to call me and offer help after the tornado was Lion Kevin Cantrell from the Marshfield, Missouri Lions Club. He’s my husband now. It’s an amazing thing to happen to a girl who vowed to never get married again. But his heart was a Lion heart. It was easy to fall for him. Do you know a Lion who you think has a great story or deserves a bit of recognition? Email us a brief description of the Lion and the reason you’re making the nomination to email@example.com. Please include “One of Us” in the subject line.
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