Lions Champions of Change Share Work with the World

On Oct. 2, the White House honored 11 Lions from across the country as Champions of Change. These Lions were selected to represent the 1.35 million Lions around the world who work to improve their communities through service. During two panel discussions, each Lion had a chance to share more about their projects, the challenges their clubs face and how our work is important to every American. Here, the champions on our first panel share their thoughts.

Champions of Change

Doug Rodenbeck, Mike Buscemi, Debbie Whittlesey, Nadine Nishioka and Laura Rieg participate in a panel discussion at the Lions Champions of Change event. Photo by Dan Morris

Doug Rodenbeck

Doug RodenbeckI became a Lion more than 30 years ago because Lions give 100 percent of the funds we raise to causes. I’ve long been involved with community efforts, acting as a volunteer firefighter for more than 40 years. I’m known as “Fireman Doug” around town because of my work with fire prevention in schools, during which I’ve taught fire safety to more than 125,000 kids in the past 35 years.

When I heard about the need for family suites at the St. Joe Regional Medical Center Burn Unit, I thought it would be a great project that we could work on with our Leos. After about 18 months of fundraising, gathering checks and exploring matching grant initiatives, our youth leadership program raised $170,000 for facilities to house the families of critically ill patients. This is the largest known fundraiser undertaken by Leos, which shows the power of what we can accomplish when we work with young people. Additionally, Leos provide a vital resource to society. We’re never going to have too many volunteers, and community service early in life makes youngster well-rounded adults because they learn what it’s like to be part of a community.

Douglas D. Rodenbeck of Fort Wayne, Ind., is a member of the Anthony Wayne Lions Club and has been a Lion for 33 years.

Mike Buscemi

Mike BuscemiAs a former school teacher, a parent and a proud grandparent, I am convinced that the future of our society, our country and our great Lion organization is dependent on our commitment to building a healthy next generation. This includes preparing young people to live the most productive lives possible and to commit to serving others and “paying it forward” as we do with our Lions clubs. When I was a junior high school teacher, the challenges my students faced became my reality as well. My students needed skills in learning how to resist peer pressure, stay true to themselves and make safe and healthy decisions. These are tools that every child needs, yet we don’t always have a clear process for communicating these skills and life lessons to students.

In developing what eventually became the Lions Quest program, we looked at the whole child throughout the schooling process. What Lions around the world offer millions of children through this program are the personal and practical skills to function independently and successfully as an adult, a parent, an employee and a future leader. Being a Lion member sends a clear signal to the world that as members of the community we are unwilling to allow our world’s youth to be neglected or ignored.

Mike Buscemi of Thornville, Ohio, is a member of the Thornville Lions Club and has been a Lion since 1982.

Debbie Whittlesey

Debbie WhittleseyFor 22 years I was a battered spouse. Pain and I knew each other very well. A women’s shelter in town helped me get protection and escape my situation. After that, I wanted to find a civic club so I could give back to my community and help others who were hurting. I saw a flier from the Lebanon Host Lions and noticed they supported the very shelter that had assisted me. I knew this civic organization was the one for me.

I have changed drastically since I became a Lion; probably even more so since the Joplin, Mo., tornado and working with Lions everywhere.  I used to have low self-esteem, unable to look people in the eye and was battered and bruised. Since becoming a Lion, I have been trained to lead, to be confident and take pride in the organization I serve.  In the days following the disaster in Joplin, I couldn’t stay away. I was simply amazed and astounded at the number of phone calls and e-mails from Lions across America — literally hundreds as soon as the tornado hit. Lions from many states sent much needed money to help in the immediate relief efforts. Also, Lions came to Joplin from across the nation just to work and to serve beside us.

Debbie Whittlesey of Lebanon, Mo., is a member of the Lebanon Host Lions Club and has been a Lion for eight years.

Nadine Nishioka

Nadine Nishioka HeadshotWhen I was 5, my family went to a Christmas parade organized by Lions. Lions were tossing some coins and candy to people on the street and I remember telling my mother I wanted to be just like all those men wearing the yellow vest, throwing candy to the people lining the streets because everyone was having a great time.  I am now a member and march in that parade each year where I am front and center leading the parade holding the Christmas banner.

I have been involved in my community’s athletics league for many years prior to becoming a Lion.  Four years after I became a Lion, our league needed repairs to our facility that the city couldn’t afford. Instead, my Lions club stepped up, pouring concrete, laying sod,  building rain and wind shield panels for the bleachers and repairing everything that was in desperate need of it. It was from this point on that I realized that the Lions as a whole care about their neighbors.  From that point on, I made a strong commitment to serving those in my community as a member of my Lions club.

Although I am visually impaired, I do not allow it to infringe on my ability to serve in and around my community.  I have made many adjustments and with the help of many, including Lions, I have been able to continue my responsibilities chairing many projects which are very important to me and our community.

Nadine Nishioka is a resident of Honolulu, Hawaii, and has been a member of the Honolulu Manoa Waioli Lions Club for 11 years.

Laura Rieg

Laura RiegAfter achieving a master’s degree in early childhood special education, I wanted to be a part of an organization that is service oriented. My Lions club was of particular interest because it serves preschool children with special needs. Our members are educators, speech pathologists, a retired school nurse, school psychologists, retired diagnosticians and a grandmother of a student with special needs. Our connections within the school system keep us informed about the needs of the children at each preschool center. Together, we work to serve these needs within our community in a variety of ways, from providing literacy packages for families at women’s shelters to screening the vision of all preschool students in our area.

All Americans benefit when children grow beyond their circumstances. Having the back and forth interaction between a parent and a child from birth builds communication and cognitive skills from the beginning. This interaction with books also establishes that reading and learning are valued in the home.

Laura Rieg of Portsmouth, Va., has been a member of the Portsmouth Children First Lions Club since 2008.

4 Comments on “Lions Champions of Change Share Work with the World

  1. On behalf of lions north Cairo
    Congratulation to champions of change .
    What an amazing utmost effort done by champions of change ,for also describing what the presence of volunteers means to those served and how volunteers contribute to fulfill mission and goals and these champions are really the ideal members for urging members to afford more and more to their society

  2. My club JABALPUR JABALI INDIA has passed a resolution to congratulate all CHAMPIONS OF CHANGE honoured lions in special meeting held today in club meeting hall. We are trying to email this to all those lions.

  3. The selection of lions ae the best among the lot. They deserved to be honoured. One should feel proud of being a lion . The opportunities are plenty to serve it is upto us to execute and excel.All the kudos to the great lions.

  4. What wonderful stories. I have printed them off for my next Club Meeting.