Touchstone Story: Community Cleanup

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.”

Read the entire collection of Touchstone Stories at Lions100.org!