Touchstone Story #10–Leos Abound
All over the world, young people are forming lasting friendships and learning the value of volunteerism with a Lions program geared specifically for them: Leo Club. Whether they join the Alpha Leo Clubs (for ages 12-18) or the Omega Leo Clubs (for ages 18-30), young people are developing the skills to serve their communities. The results are nothing less than inspiring.
The Leo Club Curaçao organized a project to encourage school children to stop bullying. The Leo Club of High School Batu Pahat in Malaysia cycled 40 kilometers to raise awareness for alternative, environmentally friendly forms of transportation. In the Netherlands, the Leo Club Rotterdam sold clothing to raise money for an Easter breakfast for the homeless. The Leo Club Neapolis Nabeul in Tunisia donated goods to a local nursing home and spent time visiting with residents and raising spirits.
“You realize one act can change lives,” Kat Sandell, a Leo in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, said after collecting cold weather clothing for children in 2014.
Leo Club has had official, international recognition since 1967, but Lions’ auxiliary youth service clubs are almost as old as the association itself. As early as 1922, Lions in Fort Smith, Arkansas, had organized what they called a Junior Lions club in the town’s high school, focused on civic leadership. Within the first year, dozens of junior and senior high school students joined the club.
Over the years, other Lions clubs also hosted youth auxiliary clubs. In 1957 the seeds of a permanent youth program were planted in Abington, Pennsylvania, when Bill Graver asked his father and Glenside Lion Club member Jim Graver, “Why isn’t there a Lions-sponsored service club for young people?”
As coach of the Abington High School baseball team, Graver soon came to believe that forming a Lions youth club at the high school would encourage students to participate in community service. Graver and fellow Glenside Lion William Ernst presented the idea to their club, and the Lions decided to support the effort with the help of 35 eager students (mostly from the baseball team). On December 5, 1957, the first Leo club was formed. The club adopted the high school’s colors—maroon and gold—and created an acronym for Leo: leadership, equality, opportunity. The word equality was later changed to experience.
In 1964, the Lions of Pennsylvania District 14K sponsored the Leo club as an official district project. Clubs soon sprang up throughout Pennsylvania, as news of the Leo program spread. A few years later, a youth committee of Lions Clubs International studied the possibility of developing a youth club program. But the committee soon recognized there was no need to create something new. The Leos had already set a standard as efficient and effective youth clubs. By October 1967, the board of directors decided to implement Leo clubs on a global scale. Within two years, 918 clubs were operating in 48 countries.
By 2015, more than 5,700 school- and community-based Leo clubs are in 140 countries around the world. Through Leo Club, young people are changing their communities and building personal leadership skills that will last a lifetime.
Explore the exciting history of Lions Clubs International with our exclusive Touchstone Stories series. They’re a great resource for promoting service at your club meetings!