The International Association of Lions Clubs was anything but international when formed in Chicago in 1917. At its inception, about two dozen clubs were scattered around the central United States in places such as Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Oklahoma and Texas. Lions suspected, however, that their group would soon live up to its multinational name. Service and volunteerism are contagious, especially when combined with a bit of fun.
It didn’t take long. Just three years later, in 1920, Lions became truly international with the establishment of its first club outside U.S. borders in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
Located across the river from Detroit, Michigan, Windsor was a bustling border town in 1920, benefitting from the region’s booming automotive industry. Detroit, birthplace of the moving automobile assembly line, had just formed its own Lions club earlier that year and word was quickly spreading about the association. Windsor’s volunteer-minded citizens were intrigued. Through Lions Clubs, they could serve their growing community and improve the lives of their neighbors.
Michigan District 11 Governor Anthony Menke was known as a dynamic force in area business circles, and the enthusiastic leader was eager to make the Canadian Lions club a reality. Under his guidance, the Detroit Lions sponsored the Windsor club, which soon sprang into action and began serving fellow Canadians with Lions’ fervor. The Windsor club would later make its mark by introducing Canadians to the white cane, a safety identification tool for the visually impaired.
After founding the Windsor club in Canada, Lions moved into China and Mexico. In 1926, the first Lions Club in China was established in Tianjin (formerly Tientsin). A year later, Mexico’s Nuevo Laredo Fundadores Club joined the association with the help of Lions across the border in neighboring Laredo, Texas.
Today, Lions are serving those in need through clubs in more than 200 countries and geographic areas. As the largest service organization in the world, Lions Clubs International goes wherever the Lion-hearted are found.
Grand Junction, Colorado, 1958. The once-vibrant downtown of a small American city. Sidewalks were cracked. Parking was impossible. The streets flooded after every rainfall.
Though home to only 20,000 people, Grand Junction was a hub for commerce and medical care for as many as 200,000 Coloradans. Situated in the clear air and high desert of Colorado, Grand Junction was notable because of the beautiful mountains and wilderness visible even from downtown. However, urban blight had crept into the quaint town.
Then came Operation Foresight, with the Lions leading the charge.
A committee of seven—more than half of whom were Lions or were married to a Lion—meticulously laid out a plan to modernize and beautify 27 blocks of downtown Grand Junction. Improvements to traffic lights, water and sewer systems, streets, and sidewalks were the foundation. Four years later, traffic accidents dropped to one-sixth of what they were before Operation Foresight was launched. Coats of paint spruced up fire hydrants and buildings, and a barren four-block stretch of Main Street was turned into a new shopping area, a pedestrian-friendly, picturesque center of commerce.
Lions have a history of cleaning up their communities in ways large and small. In 1937, the Lions of Kona, Hawaii, teamed with the Boy Scouts and the local fire department to safely dispose of 92 truckloads of waste that had accumulated on the outskirts of town. Four clubs in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, teamed up in 1964 to pick up litter along a five-mile stretch of highway. In 1985, the days of thick telephone directories, the Lions clubs of Portland, Oregon, organized annual programs to collect old phone books and recycle them instead of simply throwing them out.
Lions around the world work to clean up beaches, too: The Karachi Professionals Lions Club of Pakistan led 1,000 schoolchildren in cleaning a local beach in 1994. Additionally, the Lions of Petaling Jaya Metro in Malaysia, cleaned up roadside drains in 1995 in order to keep the homes of local residents from flooding. And Lions across southern India once planted hundreds of thousands of trees in a single day.
Community cleanup means more than beautifying. It’s also about repair, closure and new beginnings. After a devastating tornado struck Joplin, Missouri, in 2011, causing nearly US$3 billion in damages and laying waste to entire communities, the Lions were there, partnering with the First Response Team of America to clear damaged homes and recover anything they could.
Sandy Taylor of the Joplin Lions Club put it perfectly: “That’s just what Lions do. We serve.”
Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) offers a variety of funding options to support various stages for disaster relief operations, including Disaster Preparedness, Emergency, Community Recovery and Major Catastrophe Grants.
For districts impacted by a natural disaster that has affected at least 100 people, including tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and tsunamis, Emergency Grants provide up to US$10,000. Lions district governors may apply for disaster relief funds to help meet immediate needs such as food, water, clothing and medical supplies. LCIF typically awards more than US$2 million in Emergency Grant funding each year.
In January 2017, LCIF awarded 7 emergency grants totaling US$65,000. These grants are addressing immediate needs in:
Turkey, District 118-U
US$10,000 for flood relief
Thailand, District 310-B
US$5,000 for flood relief
Argentina, District O-2
US$10,000 for flood relief
Argentina, District O-1
US$10,000 for mudslide relief
Mississippi, USA, District 30-S
US$10,000 for tornado relief
Chile, District T-3
US$10,000 for wildfire relief
Georgia, USA, District 18-O
US$10,000 for tornado relief
Please consider making a donation to LCIF’s disaster fund today.
China played an important role in the early days of the Lions Clubs International, as the organization was just starting to expand.
China was the third nation to host a Lions club, after the United States and Canada. In October 1926, a group of business and community leaders in the port city of Tianjin (formerly Tientsin) received their club charter. Reflecting the city’s cosmopolitan character and its importance as an international trading center, the membership was evenly divided between leading Chinese citizens and foreign nationals—Americans, British, French, Germans, Italians and Hungarians, among others.
A few months later, a second Lions club was founded less than 300 miles away in Qingdao (formerly Tsingtao). Lions clubs ceased operations in China in 1949, following a change in government.
Lions’ sight mission was the key that reopened doors in China. In the early 1990s, Lions leaders including Wing-Kun Tam, a Lion from Hong Kong who would serve as international president in 2011-2012, initiated talks with Chinese government officials about helping to restore sight to millions of Chinese through cataract surgeries. An estimated 20 percent of people in the world who are blind from cataracts live in China, and every year there are 400,000 new cases.
Lions soon found a loyal friend and champion in Deng Pufeng, chairman of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation and the son of China’s leader at the time , Deng Xiaoping. Deng Pufeng energetically took up the Lions’ proposal and helped guide it through numerous government ministries.
A few years later, in 1999, Lions launched SightFirst China Action in partnership with the China Disabled Person’s Federation and China’s Ministry of Health. With US$35.7 million in Lions Clubs International Foundation SightFirst Action grants, the effort has supported more than 5 million cataract surgeries, helped train more than 50,000 doctors, nurses and health care workers, and upgraded more than 300 eye hospitals and clinics.
SightFirst is working with its partners in China to increase low-vision services, including pilot centers in Liaoning and Guangdong provinces, to assess if blinding trachoma is a public health problem in China. SightFirst in China is also working to develop a regional training program model in Liaoning Province that better links eye care services in urban areas to those in rural areas.
With these spectacular results, the formation of new Lions clubs in China was not long in coming. In 2002, with the full support and endorsement of the Chinese government, Lions Clubs International issued charters to new clubs in Guangdong and Shenzhen with about 60 members each. Lions have grown rapidly in China. By 2015, there were 26,000 members in 758 clubs, ranking China among Lions’ fastest growing regions worldwide.
Perhaps you have heard that Lions Clubs International (LCI) approved a new service initiative in June. This is a very exciting time to be a Lion! Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) is eager to support future Lions’ service initiatives just as it has for nearly 50 years.
Lions, Leos and LCIF will continue working to save sight, fight hunger and protect our environment, just as we always have. But emerging global needs also require our attention. We are developing new ways to expand our capacity to serve in unique areas, including childhood cancer and diabetes, to ensure that we meet the needs of our changing world.
We have accomplished so much together, saving lives and offering hope to those who need us most. But our work is not done. I know that we will continue to have a positive impact all over the world and I am delighted to stand beside you as we head into a new and exciting era of service. Remember, LCIF stands with Lions and is here to help you make a difference.
Dr. Jitsuhiro Yamada
Chairperson, Lions Clubs International Foundation
Read the rest of the January newsletter here.
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