Kester Edwards receives his Melvin Jones Fellowship plaque from Chairperson Yamada

Making History: Charting a Future in Service

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While his service footprint has been made throughout the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, his inspiration comes from the hills of Tobago, a small island nestled in the southern Caribbean. It was in these lush, green hills that Kester Edwards learned of the power, and impact that local service can have on a global population. Thousands of miles from his hometown, Kester recently received a significant distinction from the world’s top service club organization, and made history.

As a charter member of the Washington, DC, Special Olympics Lions Club in 2001, Kester Edwards has taken that inspiration and transformed it into a focused effort to ensure that community service is not just offered TO individuals with intellectual disabilities, but also FROM them. His signature projects include dedicated support to food kitchens throughout the nation’s capital, women’s shelters, at-risk youth, and the local Special Olympics program. Fundraising, advocacy, hands-on service, connecting members and inspiring the next generation of Lions, both in his Club and abroad, are just a sample of the highlights that Kester Edwards has achieved in nearly two decades as a Lion.

Kester Edwards’ story is one of millions, and at the same time, one of a kind. Kester Edwards has provided some of the strongest global service focus to Special Olympics athletes of anyone in the world today, perhaps most notably because he himself is a former SO athlete. He is also a former SO coach, international member of the Board of Directors, and currently a formidable sport development expert.

His profile has inspired a generation of Lions and SO athletes, and the world is taking notice. In the company of Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics, Inc., Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) Chairperson Dr. Jitsuhiro Yamada, and a range of Special Olympics and Lions Clubs International leaders, Kester Edwards received his Melvin Jones Fellowship, recognizing his dedication to LCIF. He is the first Special Olympics athlete to ever receive an MJF.

“I am proud to stand here before you as the first SO athlete to receive this distinction. My commitment is that I will not be the only, or the last,” said Kester, at the Lions Clubs International Centennial celebration event, hosted by Special Olympics at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Schladming, Austria. “I have been a solider of Special Olympics for many years, most of my life in, fact.  And tonight, I commit to all of you at Lions Clubs International, I am now a lifetime solider of Lions Clubs International.”

As recognition of humanitarian work, an MJF is an honor presented to those who donate US$1,000 to LCIF or to people for whom a donation was made by others.

“Words do not capture the admiration we have for Kester’s deep commitment to a more just and inclusive world for all,” said Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics. “Kester is a role model, a man of physical strength, professional achievement, and enormous integrity. A role model not only because of the service he provides to others, but also because he is a great colleague, dear friend, and strong advocate for change.”

Kester continues to support his community through a range of projects, and has most recently been identified by Special Olympics and Lions Clubs International as a key driver of the youth activation work underway with Leos throughout the world.

Kester Edwards addresses the audience

“I have been blessed,” said Kester at the Centennial event. “More athletes should be given the opportunity to serve, and that is now my mission: to make sure that I am but the first of many. That is inclusion in action.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a guest post by Special Olympics.

A student enjoys the playground.

Fun is Very Accessible at a Playground in Argentina

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Villa Regina Lions in Argentina volunteered at a school for disabled children and young adults, so the exhortation from the LCIF chairperson to help those with disabilities struck a chord. “Imagine the joy of a disabled child when a playground is built allowing them to finally participate in play,” then- LCIF Chairperson Wing-Kun Tam wrote in a newsletter to Lions in 2012.

The end result has been an accessible playground at Special Education School #5. The playground includes an accessible merry-go-round, multiple sets of swings and a teeter totter. There is also sensory equipment such as an elevated sandbox, a tactile panel, a sign language panel and a braille panel.

The playground was built thanks to an LCIF grant of US$17,211 and through funds raised by the Villa Regina Lions Club.

Special Education School #5 enrolls more than 100 students ages 6 to 25 with visual impairments, cognitive disabilities or physical disabilities. The school provides traditional learning tailored to their abilities as well as vocational training.

The school had no playground. In addition to providing recreation, playgrounds provide students with disabilities a rich opportunity for cognitive, social and emotional development.

Villa Regina Lions raised funds for the playground in a variety of ways including “Pedaling for a Dream,” a 24-hour bike-a-thon done in conjunction with local volunteer firefighters.

Villa Regina Lions often volunteer at the school. They take students for walks around the school’s property and also organize activities for the annual Children’s Day. Every August, Lions bring hot chocolate and sweet bread to the school and organize games for the children.

Thanks to Villa Regina Lions, students at Special Education School #5 now can learn and play among their peers, develop their life skills and discover the fun to be had on a playground.

This article was originally published in the May issue of LION Magazine.


Touchstone Story #7–The White Cane

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Great ideas often take ages to form before taking hold all at once. The white cane, the now universal and indispensable aid for the blind, follows that path. It came into wide use beginning in 1930 as two caring problem solvers stood on busy street corners thousands of miles apart—one in Paris, France, and the other in Peoria, Illinois.

Throughout history, visually impaired people have carried canes, staffs and walking sticks to help get around obstacles. But, they faced terrifying new challenges in the 20th century as cars replaced carriages on city streets—streets that were frequently without stoplights and crosswalks. The plain, walking stick still worked as a way-making tool, but it was useless as a warning sign to motorists. A blind Englishman named James Biggs claimed to have found an answer in 1921 when he painted his walking stick white. A decade later, this simple invention began to gain ground.

The white cane crossed first to continental Europe through a one-woman campaign. From her home on the bustling Boulevard de Courcelles, a wealthy Parisienne named Mme. Guilly d’Herbemont would watch nervously as sightless students commuted to a nearby school for the blind. In November 1930, she wrote a letter to a leading Paris newspaper urging the use of attention-getting batons blancs, similar to those carried by traffic police. A few months later, Mme. d’Herbemont arranged for the French president to ceremoniously present one white cane each to a blind war veteran and a blind civilian. She then made personal gifts of 5,000 more white canes to the city’s blind residents.

Meanwhile, Peoria Lions Club President George A. Bonham rallied the help of thousands of partners when he introduced the white cane to North America. Lions had eagerly embraced Helen Keller’s call to aid the blind at the Lions Clubs International Convention five years earlier. Now, they were primed to act on a fellow Lion’s compelling new idea for service.

Like his Parisian counterpart, Bonham was moved one day in 1930 in downtown Peoria when Bonham saw a blind man tapping his cane helplessly as traffic swirled around him. No one seemed to notice the man’s dilemma, which set Bonham thinking. The answer again was the white cane, this time with a red band for even greater visibility. Bonham shared his idea with club members who immediately voted their endorsement. Members took up the cause, painting white canes for the blind and writing letters to city officials. In December 1930, the Peoria City Council passed the nation’s first “white cane safety law,” giving blind citizens the right-of-way and other protections when carrying a white cane.

At the 1931 international convention in Toronto, Lions heard a detailed presentation on the white cane program and received copies of the Peoria ordinance to bring home. By 1956, with the help of a full-scale awareness and advocacy campaign, every state in the United States had enacted white-cane safety laws.

The white cane has become a symbol of the independence, confidence and skills of those who rely on it to guide their walk through life. Every Oct. 15 on International White Cane Safety Day, many Lions wear a white cane lapel pin, reminding us how far we have walked together.

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!

A young woman works with a sewing machine.

Reaching Across Borders to Fight Poverty

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Although India has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, an estimated 50 percent of Indians lack proper shelter. An overwhelming majority of the population does not have access to adequate sanitation or secondary education.

Lions in Ireland are teaming up with Lions in India to help the poor in rural areas to help themselves.

Lions of District 106 I in Ireland are partnering with the Arni Silk City Lions of District 324 A4 in India help women break the cycle of poverty. Together, they received a US$50,000 Core 4 grant from Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) to fund a microenterprise program for single and widowed mothers. LCIF believes that microenterprise boosts the economic well-being for those who live at or below the poverty level and have limited skills and capital but who aspire to improve their situation.

The Lions are working with Nandri, a nonprofit in Ireland, and Child Aid Trust (CAT) in India to provide microenterprise loans to single and widowed mothers. Most of the women who participate in CAT programs are illiterate and support their families through menial labor. They are part of the Dalit caste, the lowest social class in India.

The women are denied access to traditional credit or loan options. The women are given a loan of Rs. 25,000 (approximately US$366), which they repay at a one percent interest rate for 25 months. Some women use their loans to purchase a cow whose milk they can sell on an ongoing basis. Some choose to purchase sewing machines so they can find consistent work as seamstresses. Others open small shops to sell snacks and cold drinks in their communities. All of these options allow the women to be more independent and to feed and educate themselves and their children.

This article was originally published in the March issue of LION Magazine.


Touchstone Story #27–Chicago Central Lions Club

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The Business Circle of Chicago, formed in 1908, would never be the same after insurance agency owner Melvin Jones joined the modest-sized club in 1913. Jones had an idea that business luncheon clubs, such as the Business Circle, should focus on serving their communities. Soon, he began working to connect his club with other like-minded clubs around the United States.

By June 1917, Jones had helped to establish a new organization that would change the lives of millions around the world: Lions Clubs International. Jones’ club joined the movement two months later. Since renamed the Chicago Central Lions Club, it has been an enthusiastic and dedicated supporter of the Lions mission of service ever since.

“We’re continuing the great legacy of Melvin Jones and his vision,” said Richard Carlson, past president of the Chicago Central Lions Club.

Since 1999, the club has collected more than 50,000 eyeglasses for the Lions’ Recycle for Sight program. Members also periodically provide eyeglasses and hearing aids to the homeless in downtown Chicago, in addition to other service and fundraising programs. The Chicago Central Lions Club has a firsthand perspective on Lions’ work for the visually impaired. Five of its 32 members as of 2015 were blind.

Carlson became a member of the club more than two decades ago after retiring from a career in banking. He wanted to give back to his community, and a former colleague talked him into joining Lions—a decision he has never regretted. He is glad to have the opportunity to serve, whether by playing Santa Claus and bringing club-sponsored gifts to local visually impaired children or by reading for the Chicagoland Radio Information Services (CRIS), a daily service from the Chicago Lighthouse that broadcasts audio recordings of printed periodicals and daily newspapers to more than 40,000 visually impaired listeners. Looking back, it makes clear sense that Carlson would become a Lion. His mother once worked as a secretary in Jones’ insurance firm.

When Jones joined the Chicago Business Circle more than a century ago, he likely never dreamed that his experiences with the club would inspire an organization that today has more than 46,000 clubs around the globe. Jones remained a dedicated member of the Chicago Central Lions Club as he worked to build up the Lions Clubs International, even serving as the president of the club from 1920 to 1921 while also serving the greater Lions organization as secretary-treasurer.

Today, Jones’ home club, Chicago Central Lions Club, is proud of its role in Lions’ history and proud to be one of the many dedicated and enthusiastic clubs carrying out his vision of service.

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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