<b>Wheels Keep Turning for Free Wheelchair Project</b> Florida Lion Martin Murphy recalls the first few times he tried to assemble wheelchairs Lions were putting together as part of a project to send them to Latin America for those in need. “They’re sent unassembled from China, and the first time I put one together, it took me three days. Once I realized that I had to rewrite the instructions into understandable English, it took just a couple of hours.” Murphy, a past district 35-A governor, and other Lions are dedicated to providing wheelchairs to the poor so that they can experience mobility. The chairs cost $53 apiece to manufacture, but are assembled by volunteers. They can be shipped to any port of entry in the world. Clubs in southern Florida support the fundraising efforts by selling pins for $10 each. These funds help get the chairs from the ports into the hands of those who need them, very often a costly and difficult trip. Lions became involved when 2009-10 Governor Edgar Roa, a native of Nicaragua, met Lions Rich Schwag and Dayami Garcia at a Lions club meeting in Managua. The pair had partnered with the non-profit Free Wheelchair Mission (www.freewheelchairmission.org) to distribute 575 wheelchairs in that country. Both Garcia and Schwag, Vermont residents, joined a Lions club in their community and then helped charter the new Miami NE Latino Lions Club, a cyber club. Schwag, who a decade earlier founded a humanitarian medical assistance organization (www.cubacaribe.com), served as the club’s charter president. “It made sense for our Vermont Lions club to become aligned with the Miami district because Lions there are keenly interested in helping their compatriots in Latin America,” Schwag explains. “Since we’re an Internet club, our members can be from anywhere—so we specialize in members who are already committed to various kinds of international humanitarian projects. We also maintain our local Vermont projects. We have one foot in Latin America, one foot in the Green Mountains. “It costs between $4,000 to $6,000 to get each container of 550 wheelchairs through customs, pay for internal shipping from the port to the distribution center, pay expenses for assembly, although this is often accomplished by volunteers—and document all distribution.” Lions are in the process of sending a second container of wheelchairs to Nicaragua and he says that they are readying more chairs for Guatemala, Haiti, Columbia, Honduras and Brazil. Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, a town on the Atlantic Ocean with no roads to the rest of the country for most of the year, is one place where wheelchairs were given. “We had designated 40 wheelchairs for this community after Lion Garcia and I visited the area by plane. We met with vice mayor Martha Downs, who uses a wheelchair, and ascertained that she would be a great partner,” Schwag explains. “These chairs had to go by truck from the central distribution center in Juigalpa to the town of Rama, then by riverboat to the ocean, then by barge to Puerto Cabezas. It took the better part of a year, but all 40 have arrived.” <b>April [Snow] Showers Bring Lions</b> It was supposed to be a routine brush cutting in the woods on a sunny spring day, but the temperature plummeted, winds picked up and snow showered down on Lions. Members of the Burr Ridge-Hinsdale- Oak Brook Lions Club in Illinois still showed up ready to work, outfitted in winter wear instead of short sleeves, during a clean-up project in the well-known Fullersburg Woods. The area houses a museum and nature center and is frequented heavily by visitors and walkers. Cutting fallen limbs for pickup by forestry personnel and cleaning out brush was a tough job made a lot tougher by the sleet and snow Lions encountered. Wielding hand saws, the Lions crew of men and women cut and stacked several bundles of brush to clear a portion of the woods of dangerous overhanging limbs. Club members regularly plan projects to clear the area of debris and litter. <b>A Date Night with Dad</b> There are plenty of ways that dads and daughters can bond, but in Chesterton, Indiana, that connection takes place on the dance floor. “The Little Sweetheart Swirl is a date night with Dad,” explains Robin Smith, 2009-10 club president. “Our dance is open to all girls aged 5 to 12 and their dads, granddads, uncles and even adult brothers.” Held on a Sunday close to Valentine’s Day for the past three years, the 2010 event saw 171 little girls accompanied by their “dates,” who came not only from Chesterton but nearby communities as well. Lions raised $700, but more importantly, stresses Smith, is the opportunity that Lions give parents to enjoy their children without distractions. “It’s where little girls can dress up and be the center of Daddy’s attention for an evening. The event has been such a big hit and has brought our Lions club some great publicity. It’s also given us a great venue to recruit new members. This year alone there are four potential members who are very interested in serving with our club.” The idea for a little parental bonding on the dance floor was sparked when Smith’s husband, District 25-A Governor Mike Smith, accompanied their daughter, Mikaela, to a similar function sponsored at a park three years ago. “They had so much fun, we thought it would be a neat activity for the young girls in our town. Individual schools and churches have dances of this kind occasionally, but there isn’t one open to the public.” One of the most popular dancers is Chester, the club’s Lion mascot, who spends most of the evening out on the dance floor with groups of giggling admirers. Lions charge $20 per couple for the dance and dinner, but additional children are only $5. Each child receives a raffle ticket and drawings are held throughout the night for child-friendly gifts such as hair accessories or simple jewelry. “The feedback from the attendees has been so positive,” Smith emphasizes. She likes to hear comments from happy girls—and dads—exiting the dance. “Daddy had an awesome night with you,” one father told his daughter at the night’s conclusion. There’s no question that the Lions Sweetheart Swirl is a hometown favorite. “The smiles and giggles were enough to know we had a successful night,” Smith says.
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