Commentary: LEO Clubs, teens and young adults in action

Various research studies have shown that teens who volunteer in their communities are generally more responsible with greater self-esteem and better overall attitudes than many of their counterparts and are 50% less like likely to abuse drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or engage in destructive behavior. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an average of 26% of teens are involved in some form of volunteer community activities each year; a number that should, in theory, rise exponentially with each year of service learning instruction in school.

However, the rosters of many youth organizations tell a different story. Students today are certainly being taught the value of service to others, but too many are not afforded either the opportunity or encouraged to put into practice what they learn in the classroom. This inevitably leads to disinterest or ambivalence outside of the classroom with respect to pursuing their desire to help others. Volunteering helps teens gain knowledge and skills such as leadership traits, effective communication, and time management and decision-making abilities; all of which are paramount to later success as they navigate life post high school.

State-mandated service learning hours are built into most high school curriculum, but field experience rarely extends beyond the campus. Practical field application on a routine basis is vital to sustaining an interest and commitment to community service. Engaging teens outside of the school environment and teaching them the true value of serving their community is of great benefit to them, their families and their community. Teens who volunteer in their communities on a regular basis perform better at school, are more confident, socially adept, content and generally happier and easier to get along with.

Leadership, experience, opportunity. Sharing missions similar to those of the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, Lions International-sponsored youth Leo Clubs offer an additional benefit to teens in that they afford an opportunity for self-governance. With a board of directors structured much like that of a large corporation, and where a 12-year-old has as strong a voice as an 18-year-old, Leo Clubs, with the guidance of at least one Lions Club adviser, develop and execute service projects spanning a multitude of perceived and existent needs in their communities and beyond. From helping to ease food and clothing shortages experienced by the less fortunate to promoting awareness of the more salient issues facing teens and young adults today, to sharing a bit of home with servicemen and women deployed overseas, Leo Clubs can be an integral part of the fabric of a “healthy community.”

Leo Clubs got their start in 1957 in the small community of Abington, Pennsylvania. Abington High School coach Jim Graber, also a member of a local Lions Club, was interested in starting a service club for boys at the school. Together with fellow Lion William Ernst, they created the very first Leo Club on Dec. 5, 1957; the club was chartered by the local Glenside Lions Club. Growing rapidly in the ensuing years throughout Pennsylvania and spreading to New York, the board of directors of Lions Clubs International adopted the Leo Club Program as an official program of the association in October 1967; open to boys and girls aged twelve to eighteen in Alpha clubs and 18 to 30 years of age for Omega clubs.

Alpha clubs are designed for youth between the ages of 12 and 18 and focus on individual and social development. Omega clubs are tailored for young adults between 18 and up to 30 years of age, as determined at the district level, and focus on the personal and professional development of young adults.

If you would like to learn more and feel this type of service learning environment would prove beneficial to the social, personal and professional development of your teen or young adult, please contact the Lions District 22-A at lions22a@gmail.com and they will put you in contact with someone who can answer your questions and provide a greater outline of the Leo programs. If there are no clubs in your community, school or local college, an existing club can work with you to charter one.

LYLE GARITTY

Joppatowne

The writer is the treasurer for the Joppatowne Lions Club.

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