MAPLE VALLEY Centennial Lions Club, Washington Wendy Castleman had doubts about becoming a Lion. The mother of a 12-year-old and a five-year-old, she also works full time as a communication specialist for a school district. “I didn’t think I had the time. No one thinks they have the time,” says Castleman, 40. But she likes volunteering, and she likes seeing her children volunteering. The club’s cubs, including her children, recently collected cereal and school supplies for the local food bank. “For my younger one, it was mostly just fun. She’s starting to get it [volunteering]. The older one was blown away by the goodwill of people, how they wanted to help others,” says Castleman. Chartered last April, the Maple Valley Centennial Lions Club in Washington has hit upon a winning formula. Even busy parents will find time for service if their children are involved. The club has 50 members, mostly women and many with younger children. At the club’s meeting in a community space at a police station on Saturday morning the Lions gather in one room, and the 15 or so cubs meet in another. “A lot of clubs have older gentleman. That makes sense. They have time and money,” says Haley Pendergraft, 38, charter president. “It’s difficult for women, especially moms, to do community service. But we’ve found a way to make it work. We involve our kids.” Years ago, Lions were only men. In a sense, the Maple Valley club has turned the traditional Lions club on its head. When Castleman brings Lions’ work home, her husband lends a hand. He’s not a Lion, but “he needs to be,” says Castleman with a smile. Located 30 miles south of Seattle, Maple Valley is a prosperous town of 25,000. The longtime Maple Valley Lions Club had disbanded in 2002 after 43 years of service. The new club came together very quickly after 2016-17 District Governor Jan Weatherly visited the town and made a pitch. “I think she tapped into a market,” says Pendergraft, who has two children. “I remember the Lions when I was in high school here. They were very involved in the community. We wanted to do community service and be parents. We didn’t want to wait to be grandparents.” The club has made a splash in a short time. It collects eyeglasses and supports one needy family quarterly. After Pendergraft made an impassioned Facebook post about teenagers, the club hosted a successful discussion for teenagers on issues they face. In the summer the cubs stationed themselves in front of a grocery store and collected 600 boxes of cereal for the food bank. “It’s good for our kids to learn about community service. That’s a cornerstone of a good society,” says Pendergraft, a painting contractor. Members work on issues they and their children care about. The club hosted a speaker on climate change, and it wants to create reusable grocery bags with a Lions’ emblem. Club leaders are not afraid to take chances and have a little fun. Pendergraft interviews a member and posts “Get to Know Your Lion” on Facebook and YouTube. For the first segment, she interviewed herself while in her car. Though she doesn’t sing, its breezy style is reminiscent of Carpool Karaoke. It’s a new age in many ways for Lions in Maple Park. −By Jay Copp ORRVILLE Lions Club, Ohio On U.S. Route 30 in Amish country, tourists stop at Shisler’s Cheese House in Orrville for the cheese, chocolate and jams and also take home a new appreciation for a small-town service club. “I just talk about the Lions nonstop,” says proprietor Rita Shisler, “whether I’m in the store or out in town somewhere. I fell in love with the Lions at the very first meeting I ever went to.” The club is less than a decade old, chartering in 2008. But it’s an institution in Orrville. They’re about 25 members strong, but the breadth of their community impact would suggest a club perhaps twice as large. Shoes for poor children. A sack lunch program. Medical supplies shipped to Honduras. Vision screenings for preschoolers. The list goes on. This year, they’re funding eight college scholarships worth $1,500 apiece to students at four different local schools. A poorly maintained park in downtown Orrville will soon be home to replanted trees (and a Lions statue, to boot) thanks to the Lions. Orrville is a bedroom community of 8,300 for those who work in Akron (30 miles away) and Cleveland (50 miles north). Smuckers, the publicly traded food company famous for its jams, is headquartered here. “For as small a club as we have, we do so much more than any other club I’ve ever observed,” says President Melissa Siburt. “I transferred from a different club when I moved to Orrville back in 2011. Here, it feels like a family. We know each other. We pray for each other. It’s not just another boring meeting you have to sit through for lunch.” The club’s signature event is the Orrville Lions Music & Rib Fest, an annual event dreamed up by Shisler that now draws 10,000 people. “That’s our big moneymaker,” Shisler says. “We netted over $20,000 on Rib Fest this year. And all that money goes to all the neat stuff we do in the community.” A particular point of pride regarding Rib Fest: the vast majority of the roughly 250 volunteers are not Lions at all—they’re just residents who believe strongly in the event. “I think that shows how important the Lions have become to Orrville,” Shisler says. “Before our first meeting, I didn’t know anything at all about Lions clubs. Now, I don’t think you could live in Orrville and not know what we do.” −David Hudnall They’re about 25 members strong, but the breadth of their community impact would suggest a club perhaps twice as large. CONROE NOON Lions Club, Texas Conroe Noon Lions like to call themselves “The Greatest Lions Club in the World.” Well, “it ain’t bragging if you can do it.” That’s the philosophy of Past President Bobby Cantrell, who—along with his 300- plus fellow members—has helped make the 78-year-old club one of the largest and most active in the country. Members operate the only eyeglasses recycling center in Houston. Hold a fishing tournament for children with disabilities. Provide one-on-one mentoring to at-risk youth. Screen preschoolers for myopia and astigmatism. Staff the concession stand for the county fair, award college scholarships, sponsor a community blood drive, organize several fundraisers a year and volunteer at a warehouse to distribute supplies for victims of flooding. It’s not bragging. They really do it. “We have always been willing to try everything, and we have a can-do attitude,” says Warner Phelps, public relations chairperson. “And since we’re big in number, when we need 50 people to show up, we can get 50 people to show up. The last time I looked, we had 11 different sign-up sheets going.” The club chartered in 1939 with 25 members, who raised money by selling brooms, mops, light bulbs and candy. These days club fundraisers run more along the lines of dinner-dances, auctions, truck raffles and golf tournaments. But the club’s dedication to community service has not wavered. That was supremely evident in August, when Hurricane Harvey slammed southeast Texas, dumping as much as 65 inches of rain and unleashing winds of 130 miles per hour. “There were a couple neighborhoods in our town that got 10, 15 feet of water,” Phelps recalls. “As soon as the rain stopped and the waters receded, everybody was outside, tearing up their flooded homes and throwing stuff on the curb.” The Conroe Noon Lions, of course, swung into action, partnering with other organizations to gather and distribute donations such as bottles of water, clothes, diapers, nonperishable food and cleaning and demolition supplies to flood victims. The club is also providing much-needed labor. “Anybody who has had their home damaged by the flood, we’re going to do what we can to get them able to sleep in their own home,” says Phelps. “We’ve done a lot of cleanout. We provide the material for the repairs, and we help make the repairs. And we’re coming up with $25,000 for materials.” How has the club managed to cultivate such a large, active membership? “The first thing we try to do is have fun,” says Phelps, who attributes much of the membership size to the club’s lively, even boisterous meetings. “We have a lot of fun.” If speakers start saying “Uh . . .” too many times, for example, they can expect to be hit with a barrage of napkins. Yet, “I don’t know that we’re trying to reinvent the Lion club’s wheel,” Phelps muses. “We’re not trying to be totally different. We’re just trying to serve our community, like the rest of the clubs out there.” −Anne Ford PALMER Lions Club, Alaska For the Palmer Lions, Lionism is a family affair—literally and figuratively. “I have four granddaughters I’ve recruited as members,” Past President Janet Kincaid says happily. “And I have a great-grandson who is two and comes to the meetings in his little yellow vest like the ones we wear. He likes to sing the Lions song: ‘Hail! ‘Hail!’” But when someone in the community is in need, everyone becomes family. Take the terrible trailer fire that killed five children in nearby Butte in September. Members passed the hat at a club meeting for the grieving parents. Or take the local single father whose young son was diagnosed with cancer. When they learned that the dad was overwhelmed with medical bills, the Palmer Lions held a bake sale and raised more than $8,000 to help. As Kincaid says, “We just care.” Chartered in 1962, the club has 80 members. Once a rough-hewn farming settlement and now part of the Anchorage area, Palmer has a population of 5,900. One of the Palmer Lions’ most recent projects came about after a speaker from Set Free Alaska, an outpatient substance abuse treatment center, educated the club about the ongoing national opioid crisis and its effects in the community. “In Alaska, like everywhere, opiate addiction is horrible,” Kincaid says. The $5,000 the club donated to the center allowed it to furnish an entire room where a person struggling with opioid abuse can live while being treated for addiction. “Five thousand dollars is a chunk of change, but it was in response to a need that we saw,” says Kincaid. “In this day and age, government funds have basically dried up, and so it’s up to those of us in the service and nonprofit worlds to pick up the slack and try to get the biggest bang we can for our buck.” In addition to those “biggest bang” projects, there are the myriad smaller undertakings that the Palmer Lions carry out throughout the year—the sorts of things that keep a community humming. The club provided a bulletproof vest for a police dog, cleans up a stretch of highway, rings bells and sings carols with the Salvation Army at holiday time, performs elementary school vision screenings, organizes pancake breakfasts and takes tickets for high school sporting events so that parents can watch their kids play instead of volunteering. And then there are the club’s effects on communities to which most of its members will never travel. In 2015, for example, Palmer Lions were among a group that traveled to rural Guatemala to distribute more than 300 pairs of eyeglasses donated by Alaskan Lions. The group also provided water filters, feminine hygiene kits, mobility devices and vision screenings. “One of the most moving stories was of this little lady in her 90s who got a pair of glasses,” Kincaid (who did not go on the trip) remembers. “For the first time in a long time, she could see to read, and the first thing she did was ask for a Bible.” “For a club in a little town,” she concludes, “we do amazing things.” −Anne Ford Palmer Lions were among a group that traveled to rural Guatemala to distribute more than 300 pairs of eyeglasses donated by Alaskan Lions. ATHENS HERITAGE Lions Club, Georgia Sam Elliott places a styrofoam plate in front of Jerrie Toney. “At 4 o’clock is green beans, and 12 is meatloaf,” he says. “I don’t know if I overloaded your plate.” Around the room, members of the Athens Heritage Lions Club serve fellow blind and disabled Lions at their regular semimonthly meeting. The slow-cooked green beans and squash casserole came from the garden of another member, Coriene James, who cooks the homemade meal each month. Toney picks up the fork and takes a bite. “Thank you, Miss Coriene. It’s awesome as ever,” she says. “There is not anything that she hasn’t cooked that I don’t love.” The blind serving the blind was the impetus for the club, chartered in 1997 and continuing its mission of inclusivity. The club has had as many as 25 members, most of whom are blind, disabled or have mobility issues. At one point, five members had Leader Dogs for the Blind. “We would show up at a meeting with Leader Dogs and women and black folks and blind folks. Inevitably, someone would crash into a chair,” Elliott says. Robin Oliver, who joined about 10 years ago, lost some of her sight after emergency brain tumor surgery in 1998. The club’s attitude is, “we’ve been there, done that, we can pull you through,” says Oliver, secretary. Their care starts in the club and continues into the community through annual fundraisers such as the Roll, Walk, Jog and Run! 5K. The November event was expected to raise $3,500, says President Charles Schrauth. The club doesn’t let potential physical limitations hinder its fundraising. For example, a chicken barbecue wasn’t possible as a signature event because of safety concerns for members, so they partnered with the Oglethorpe Lions Club and the science club at an Athens middle school for a pancake breakfast at Fatz Cafe. The event, coming up on its fourth year, raises about $400 to $600. “We are all differently abled, and we have different skills that we can bring to the table. We work hard to work toward fundraisers that are important to us and that will give back,” says Toney, a computer whiz who joined the club about 14 years ago and serves as its treasurer. The club meets at Multiple Choices Center for Independent Living. Many members work for the center or participate in its programs, such as micro-enterprise business training. “You’re here, you’re home, you know where everything is,” says Oliver, director of Multiple Choices. Besides supporting Multiple Choices’ 10-county transportation services, the club also supports the Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation, Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind, Lions Clubs International Foundation and Learning Ally. Another annual fundraiser—selling Fantastic Savings coupon books—also raises about $500 annually. Oliver locks up the center at the end of her workday and the club’s evening meeting, preparing to drive another member home. The members are interesting, funny, caring and advocates for others, she says, and an important part of her life. “I haven’t been in Athens and not been a Lion,” she says. −Lori Johnston
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/Five+Great+Clubs/2932510/451927/article.html.