MD 23’s Legacy Project Gives Gift of Independence to the Blind

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The most valuable gift that Lions can give to their blind and visually-impaired neighbors is the gift of greater independence.

And that is exactly the gift that the Lions in Multiple District 23, Connecticut gave. For their Centennial Legacy Project, they provided Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, Inc. in Bloomfield, Conn. with two new, fully apportioned and optioned vans for trainers and guide dogs. The foundation partners blind individuals with German Shepard guide dogs, free of charge.

“Connecticut Lions have been working closely with Fidelco since 1961,” explained Hilary Kumnick, Governor of District 23C. “Their trainers travel to clients’ homes to help them learn how to work with these fully-trained guide dogs, and Fidelco needs vans to transport the dogs and trainers. The organization’s 28 vans were rapidly aging, so we decided to supply them with a new one.”

The project was a multiple district initiative, with three clubs—Killingworth, New Haven and Woodbury Lions Clubs—donating US$10,000 each, and the Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) providing a matching grant of US$30,000. Each club donated money for the van from funds they raised from various fundraising events.

Guide dogs help the blind navigate traffic, avoid obstacles, manage escalators and get on and off of subway trains. They are devoted to their owners’ safety and independence. Eight years ago, the Killingworth Lions Club raised US$27,000 to provide a guide dog to a client through Fidelco. “Our club is committed to the Lions’ mission of serving the blind, and we have been able to do this through Fidelco,” said club president Tom Keyes.

People are visually impaired for a number of reasons, Kumnick observed. “Some have lost their sight due to diseases or accidents. Some were born blind. Many guide dogs go to US veterans returning from war, where they’ve been blinded by IEDs (improvised explosive devices). No matter how they’ve lost their sight, they all want to live life to the fullest, and these wonderful dogs give them the freedom that most of us take for granted.”

The Lions celebrated their Legacy Project last year with a ceremony at the annual Fidelco Open House and Lions Appreciation Day. In February of this year, the New England Lions Advisory Board (NELAB), MD23 Council of Governors and several Lions past international directors officially presented the vans to Fidelco at the MD23 Mid-Winter Convention. The vans’ artwork recognizes LCIF and the three contributing clubs.

“We’re so pleased to provide these vans to Fidelco to help our blind neighbors enjoy more independence,” said Kumnick. “Our Lions clubs throughout Connecticut and all of New England feel that this partnership with Fidelco is a true manifestation of our vision as ‘The Leaders in Community and Humanitarian Service.’”

What will your Lions club legacy be? This is the last year to celebrate the Centennial with a Legacy Project, so start planning yours today!


Touchstone Story–Lions International Convention

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In 1925, when Lions Clubs International was only 8 years old, the annual convention was held at Cedar Point, Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie. The Ohio Lions planned to host 4,000 attendees.

In fact, 7,500 Lions converged on Cedar Point. The August 1925 LION Magazine reported that “he was a fortunate man who had a room with a bath, even though he had to share it with some other. Many would amend that and say that the man with any room at all was lucky.”

It was at this convention that Helen Keller, an American icon who was both deaf and blind, spoke to the assembled Lions and called upon them to become “Knights of the Blind” in the crusade against darkness.

Incoming Lions Clubs International President Ben F. Jones of Newark, New Jersey, called this the convention the greatest yet. “Those who have been inconvenienced because of unprecedented number of delegates and guests I am sure will keep smiling,” Jones said. “We are glad that this great association is building men of vision, men who will lead us and help our governments lead us into the greatest future that history has yet recorded.”

The Lions Clubs International Convention, which has been held annually except for 1945, grows bigger, stronger and better every year. At the 1933 convention in St. Louis, Missouri, a resolution was passed stating that at future conventions, the national anthem for every country represented by a Lions Club would be played. This practice later evolved into the Parade of Nations, which in 2015 featured 10,000 Lions from 120 countries, often marching together in traditional clothing of their home countries.

Every international convention sees the election of a new international president, a rousing competition by the Lions All-State Bands, lots of seminars and an opportunity to visit old friends and make new ones.

Past International President Brian Stevenson, from Alberta, Canada, who served from 1987 to 1988, recalled conventions as a time to conduct club business and to spend time with friends from around the world. “It’s one of the great benefits, the friendships you form. We draw people from all walks of life.” Lions in Honolulu for the 2015 International Convention agreed, saying, “The world is so big, but once you all get together it becomes such a small place.”

The 2015 convention was one of the biggest conventions in recent years. About 20,000 Lions and their families spent five days having fun and learning more about Lions. Thirteen-year-old Wei Jin Qian from China, the winner of the 2015 Lions International Peace Poster contest, and 12-year-old Jalen Ballard of Toledo, Ohio, the winner of the 2015 Lions International Essay Contest for visually impaired youth, were honored. Save the Children, an international charity, was presented with the 2015 Lions Humanitarian Award.

“Meeting people from all walks of life all over the world is so engaging, so wonderful,” said one recent convention attendee. The international convention is a unique opportunity to see the growth of Lions clubs and take of stock not just why but how Lions will continue to serve around the world for a century and more.

Explore the dynamic history of Lions Clubs International with our exclusive Touchstone Stories series. They’re a great resource for promoting service at your club meetings!


Celebrating 60 Years of Leos: From Club President to Elected Official

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December 5th is the 60th Anniversary of the Leo Club Program. To celebrate 60 years of Leo history, we will feature stories from former Leos around the world on what being a Leo has meant to them. Our second feature comes from Past District Governor Patrick Ene-Okon, who used the experiences and skills he learned as a Leo club president to become a successful elected member in the Nigerian House of Representatives.

While Past District Governor Patrick Ene-Okon has made a career as an elected official and respected academic, he credits his time as the Calabar Leo Club President as the basis for his leadership success. As Leo club president, he developed skills in budgeting, community needs assessment, and report building, which he found easily transferrable when he was elected to the Nigerian Fourth Republic House of Representatives. Of the most important lessons learned as club president, he notes, “the Robert’s Rules of Order (a widely used set of parliamentary procedures) that were used during Leo club meetings were remarkably used in the House of Representatives. When I was elected into my state legislature, I had more experience than any of my fellow newly-elected lawmakers, something I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t been a Leo.”

PDG Ene-Okon now works as a professor at the University of Calabar, teaching journalism, public relations, advertising and organizational communications. When asked what advice he would give Leos today, he says, “Be passionate in serving youth, and take every advantage of the leadership development opportunities in the program. It may be very handy in the future. ”


For more information on becoming a Leo or to sponsor a Leo Club, visit our website at


Celebrating 60 Years of Leos: A Leo Family

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December 5th is the 60th Anniversary of the Leo Club Program. To celebrate 60 years of Leo history, we will feature stories from former Leos around the world on what being a Leo has meant to them. Our first feature comes from Past International Director Roberto Fresia who, inspired by his father, became a Leo in his home country of Italy. Today, he reflects on how being a Leo helped him find success and on his proudest moments watching his three daughters serve as Leos.

Past International Director Roberto Fresia knows that being a Leo is a family affair. As the son and husband of Lions and father to two Leos and a Lion, the Fresia family has spent a collective 50 years serving their community through the organization. When reflecting back on what inspired him to join Leos, he points to his father’s passing as a major catalyst. “My father encouraged me to become a Leo, and after his passing I hoped to honor my father’s legacy as a Leo.” He became a member of the Savona Leo Club in 1972, later chartering his own club as a founding member of the Varazze Leo Club in 1975. Even after becoming a Lion, he continued to encourage and support youth, developing the official “Italian Leo” magazine for Multiple District 108 and serving as a Youth Exchange Chairperson and Leo Chairperson for over a decade.

When asked what advice he has for today’s Leos, PID Fresia points to the importance of engaging as Leo club members. “Being a Leo teaches you to be a leader in life through experiences in managing groups, coordinating activities, and making big decisions. Being a Leo was the base of success of my life without my father, and I encourage all young people to find success by becoming a Leo.” Though he assumed international leadership as a member of the board from 2013 – 2015, he says that his greatest achievement is knowing his daughters are continuing their family’s legacy as Leos. “My proudest moments are seeing my daughters serve as leaders for Leos. My daughter Eleonora was recently chosen to be a Leo representative at District Governor-Elect School and Lions Day at the UN in Geneva, and my daughter Emilia was elected this year as president of Leo District 108. In Emilia’s acceptance speech, she began by thanking my wife, Raffaella, and I for having ‘obliged’ her to become a Leo. With a big smile, she proclaimed it had proven to be one of the best decisions in her life.”


For more information on becoming a Leo or to sponsor a Leo Club, visit our website at


Touchstone Story #20–Vision Screening

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Lions clubs’ local efforts can change lives

Vision screening has been a part of Lions Clubs International’s mission since its founding and continues today. In 1962, the Lowell Lions Club in Massachusetts staffed concession booths at a fashion show to raise money to screen young children for amblyopia, also known as lazy eye. A condition that is easy to miss, it can lead to loss of vision over time. But if it’s caught at an early age, the chances of successful treatment greatly increase. The Lowell Lions Club raised more than $1,500 during the two-day event.

Decades later, vision screening continues to save children’s eyesight—and sometimes it saves lives. In 2013, kindergartener Brianna Leitten took part in a vision screening organized by the Bloomfield Lions Club in Bloomfield, New York.

After initial screening, Brianna was recommended for further testing. Though her parents hadn’t noticed anything wrong with her vision, Brianna’s eyesight was starting to get blurry by the time of her doctor’s appointment three weeks later. The doctor discovered that Brianna’s retina was completely detached in one eye due to a tumor. It was not known at the time whether the tumor was cancerous, Doctors suggested immediate surgery. But to remove the tumor would require removing the eye.

“It’s a difficult decision to make as a parent,” said Brianna’s father, Gerry. “Understanding you may be making the wrong decision if it’s not cancer.”

Brianna’s parents decided to go ahead with the surgery, and further tests revealed that they made the right decision. The tumor was cancerous, but it was removed before the cancer spread to other parts of Brianna’s body.

The Lions club continued to support the Leitten family throughout the procedure and Brianna’s recovery and helped pay for a prosthetic eye for the courageous and resilient kindergartener.

“Her biggest concern was to get back to school to learn her kindergarten song for graduation,” said Brianna’s mother, Dorie.

The Leittens, in turn, became avid supporters of Lions Clubs International and vision screening efforts for other children. In 2015, Brianna and her parents attended the annual Lions Day at the United Nations in New York and the Lions Clubs International Convention in Hawaii, telling their story and hoping to inspire more Lions clubs to conduct vision screenings.

Vision screening is a simple, fast procedure that can make a big difference in children’s lives. Lions Clubs International’s KidSight program screens more than 500,000 children each year in the United States, and vision screening is a long-standing Lions tradition that saves sight and saves lives.

Explore the exciting history of Lions Clubs International with our exclusive Touchstone Stories series. Don’t forget to share these stories with new members so they gain an understanding of Lions history!


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