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!
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Special Olympics.
The setting was remarkable. The impact, even more.
Within the walls of the United Nations General Assembly Hall, it was easy to be awestruck by the immense nature of the venue, both in size and significance.
The Lions Day with the United Nations celebration in March 2017 brought together nearly a thousand civic and service leaders from throughout the world. Lions clubs members came from near and far to pledge their support to the global service framework for which Lions Clubs International is internationally recognized. United Nations and civil society leaders spoke to the urgency of supporting service as part of a shared commitment to addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues.
The plight of refugees worldwide, especially youth, was paramount. It was for this reason that Lions Clubs International invited Mina Bahgat, a refugee from the Middle East currently residing in the Netherlands, to address attendees.
“I CAN, I WANT, I DO IT NOW!” exclaimed Mina as he explained the way in which Lions Clubs International and Special Olympics have empowered him to achieve his best – both on and off the ice rink. Mina is an active Special Olympics winter sports athletes and an avid short track speed skater. He has found a new life in Holland through sport and service.
The event concluded with an informative, influential panel of leaders from the international development and disability space, including Mina, to offer solutions to the myriad of challenges facing this most at-risk population on the move.
The momentum has been strong.
Lions clubs from across the world have helped provide supplies to refugee camps, services to urban reception centers, language services for new arrivals, and much more.
In May, a small, local inclusive sports match took part in Larnaca, Cyprus. Refugee youth teamed up with Special Olympics athletes to share a morning of Unified Floorball. Special Olympics athletes extended the invitation to the local reception center in an effort to expand Unified Sports, and to bring an added dimension to the growing Special Olympics – Lions Clubs International “Mission: Inclusion” partnership platform.
It was a juxtaposition of sorts: the excluded were including.
It was a reminder of the power that a simple invitation to play can have. It was also yet another example of the ways in which Lions Clubs International and the Lions Clubs International Foundation are empowering marginalized populations – of all abilities – to achieve their best and face a brighter future.
As young refugees played alongside their Special Olympics athlete counterparts, it was clear that the event and the passion behind it was a living testament of the Lions Day with the United Nations. Just as Lions had empowered Mina to stand at a podium exclusively reserved for global leaders, so too had they made possible a simple gesture of play to break the walls of exclusion and replace them with celebration.
Lions from all over the world are actively engaged in supporting refugees and migrants in their local communities, and Special Olympics athletes are proud to follow this example of service and solidarity. The Lions Day with the United Nations was not only a moment to shed increased attention on an urgent social issue, but it also served as a stimulant of sorts to ignite further action, more ideas and deeper partnerships for change.
“Lions throughout the world are committed to action, to help brighten the lives of those in need,” said Chancellor Bob Corlew, Lions Clubs International President. “It is for this reason that supporting refugees in our local communities is a natural fit for our association, but most importantly, for the passion that drives us to bring our ’We Serve’ motto to communities in need.”
Lions Clubs International is the world’s global leader in community service, and it is also a global leader in community change. From prestigious venues in New York City to a local sports facility in Larnaca, Cyprus, Lions Clubs International is leading the way – with action and purpose.
This strategic vision of Lions Clubs International is remarkable. Its impact, even more.
As a Lion, there are so many opportunities to learn and grow, so we can serve our communities in the best way possible. Who better to help Lions navigate through community service and leadership roles than other Lions?
WHAT: The Lions Certified Instructor Program (LCIP)
WHO: We’re looking for Lions who have experience as a trainers or educators!
WHY: Certified instructors who have passed our new program can help improve learning opportunities at LCI-directed institutes, DGE seminar and other training related events.
HOW: Click the link below for more details on the program, qualifications and how to apply!
Learn the benefits of becoming Lions faculty from Lions themselves. It’s a rewarding experience that allows you to learn more, grow your network, and expand your reach to communities around the globe!
“The connection made with the participants is the best part of being a faculty member. Seeing Lions grow in knowledge and skills making them stronger Lions, ultimately leads to better service for our communities. To see new Lions gain confidence and experience was powerful.
As Lions we always need to grow and continue to learn. Being a faculty member engages me to keep growing. There is always something to be learned at any training or learning experience.”
“The most valuable takeaway I experience from being a Lions Faculty includes understanding the different cultures, way of living, standard of educations, personal desire/ambition, and abilities of the participants.
It’s not a one-way street anymore; there’s great communications and appreciations amongst the faculties and participants.”
“Without a doubt what I love most about being part of the faculty, is to watch people evolve and become more self-assured from the moment they get there. They enter hesitant and unsure what to expect and they leave confident, motivated and inspired. Lions and Leos all have a desire to improve themselves, their clubs, the community and the world around them!
Every benefit that you give to the attendees is every benefit you receive back in return tenfold. Lions Clubs International has changed my life considerably. It has changed how I prepare and do business as well as my personal life. I benefit from every class I prepare for and do.”
“I love the adrenaline each institute generates in me. It is a real challenge to prepare the lessons, to think of how Lions might enjoy working or dealing with different topics and activities. It is fun to meet the other Faculty members, we have a great time together besides we learn a lot from each other.”
Becoming Lions faculty ensures that LCI has a strong trained team of Lions delivering a consistent curriculum throughout the Lions world. Experience as faculty has provided me and continues to develop my personal leadership, facilitation skills, and growth as a Lion leader.
On July 22, 2011, the calm of a normal day in Norway was shattered by an explosion in Oslo, the nation’s capital, just a few doors from the prime minister’s office. Hours later, as police were investigating the car bomb that killed eight and injured more than 200, the man responsible had already taken a ferry to the nearby island Utøya, killing 69 youth camp attendees, adult supervisors and camp employees.
The gunman was taken into custody by police, but in a country that hadn’t seen this kind of violence since World War II, it was an act of terrorism that most young people could not comprehend. One in four Norwegians knew someone who had been affected by the attack. Michelle Borgli of the Fredrikstad Sorgenfri Lions Club, a participant at a similar youth camp organized by the Lions, said that “the day before the bombings, we were in [Oslo] with the camp. It affected the students more when they realized how young the people were—and they were at a camp just like us.”
The Lions of Norway seized the opportunity to help youth camp participants understand this tragedy and spread peace as well.
Helle Soos, also of the Fredrikstad Sorgenfri Lions Club, said the aftermath of this tragedy “was a golden opportunity to get a new way of doing the camp,” encouraging camp participants to imagine peace.
For more than 60 years, the Lions Club Youth Camp and Exchange Program had attracted young people from all over the world to Norway. The Norway Imagine Peace Camp is one of more than 100 Lions camps around the world held each year. Camp activities include sports, a variety show and visits to locations of cultural interest, but at the Imagine Peace Camp there is a special focus on fostering discussions of peace and building international friendships.
“In my part of the world, I’ve never known peace,” said 2015 camp participant Milad Bisharat of Israel. “We face problems inside Israel and outside. . . . The traditions here are awesome. Nobody cares who you are or what you are—they’re just friends with you.”
Lions also promote peace across the North Sea in Germany. Since 1967, the Peace Village, a partnership between the Lions Club and Peace Village International, has helped more than 42,000 children heal together. Treating children who have been injured by sickness, accidents or war and who cannot receive adequate treatment in their home countries, Peace Village provides medical treatment, physical therapy and an environment of healing and hope.
Eberhard J. Wirfs of Kelkheim, Germany, who served as international president in 2009-10, said that hope is the most important thing that Peace Village offers. “Without hope, you really can’t exist.”
Hope—and peace—are offered by Lions around the world. Their goal is to help people understand, as an Imagine Peace camp participant said, that “we are different, maybe, but actually—we are all the same.”
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!
After immediate needs are met, victims of disasters are not forgotten. Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) remains committed to the important rebuilding of homes and lives that must happen, often long after a disaster occurs. Through Major Catastrophe Grants, LCIF helps with long-term reconstruction projects to help victims begin to return to their lives and regain their independence.
Part of what makes LCIF disaster relief so unique is that it continues for as long as it is needed. LCIF provided a US$200,000 Major Catastrophe grant for relief in the wake of devastating floods that struck Paraguay in December 2015/January 2016. Now, a year and a half later, relief work is still ongoing. Lions and LCIF are still there, supporting communities as they rebuild.
Local Lions recently finished repairs on 5 primary schools that were destroyed by flood waters. Because of this important work, 1,725 students have been able to return to school.
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