Club celebrates quarter century
By Maggie Schiller
As members of the Lutz-Land O’ Lakes community for 25 years, the Lions Club motto is “we serve.”
After becoming one of the first mixed gender Lions Clubs in the United States in 1987, the group’s priority is finding members who are community minded and want to donate their time to make a difference in their town.
“I am very proud to be a Lion,” said Catherine Walton, public relations director for the District 35-I Lions, and a longtime member of the Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Lions Club. “We are the oldest service club in the world.”
According to Walton, one annual duty of the club is assisting families in need during the holiday season.
“Around Thanksgiving and Christmas time, we contact the police and ask them what families need help, and then we take them food and toys,” she said. “Many families have a better Christmas.”
However, what the Lions Club is best known for is their work for the blind.
“In 1917 Helen Keller spoke at a convention and asked the Lions Club to take up the cause of ‘Knights of the Blind’,” Walton said.
In an effort to stay true to their promise, The Lions Club has created multiple community programs to help the blind.
As the founders of The Lions Institute For Transplant and Research in Tampa, they have contributed to building the largest Eye Bank in the world, the only Eye Bank that is associated with a research center and formed a foundation to raise funds to support the organization and those visually impaired.
Kelly Sims, Foundation Director at the Eye Institute and Research Center, said that what she loves most about working with the Lions Club is the balance.
“We have this wonderful institute here based on the foundation of legacy and history, but it’s also a scientific research center so it’s the future and cutting edge,” she said. “It is a great partnership; you can’t have one without the other.”
Each year, The Lions Club and The Eye Institute and Research Center host the Eye Ball, a black-tie event to raise funds to support sight-related outreach, education, treatment and research. The event brings together ophthalmic specialists and surgeons, business and community leaders and friends in the community.
“We are very fortunate this year,” Sims said. “The event will be held at the new [Tampa] Museum of Art. Scott MacIntyre, the only visually impaired contestant to appear on American Idol, will be performing and making a speech.”
Along with the creation of the research facility, the Lions formed South Eastern Guide Dogs, a program that trains guide dogs and provides them to people in need for no cost.
“People come from all over the world for help,” Walton said.
CLUB MEETS TWICE A MONTH
Along with running events throughout the community, the Lutz-Land O Lakes Lions Club meets two times a month – the second Monday of the month for a social gathering, the fourth Monday for business, at 19002 1st St. SW, Lutz.
Local Lions members range from men and women in their mid-20s to their mid-90s. Membership is by invitation only, Walton said.
“In order to become a member, the person needs to show interest in the club and then they are invited to a meeting. They must have good moral conduct, serve the community and be 18 years of age.”
The membership fee is $80 annually, with all dues going straight into the administration of the club.
According to Walton, any surplus money is reinvested into the aforementioned community service projects.
John Carbaugh, current governor of the District 35-I Lions, said that the club feels more like a family. The district is comprised of clubs throughout the Tampa Bay area.
“Every second and fourth Monday of the month you know where you are going to be,” he said.
Carbaugh, who has held every office position except for two, said he joined the club to help people.
“I had been helped as a child,” he said. “I spent 25 months at Shriners Hospital and it didn’t cost a dime because it was all paid for by Shriners. I wanted to pay back the community and The Lions Club was a good way.”
Aside from paying back his own community, Carbaugh has been instrumental in earning Tampa the title of host for the 2012 USA/Canada Forum, a leadership forum for Lions.
“The forum is where Lions from Canada and the U.S. get together. It is training along with different seminars on fundraising and advertising to moving up the ladder in the Lions. There is even a seminar on quilting,” Carbaugh said.
The event, which lasts for three days and attracts 3,500 to 4,000 Lions, must be bid on five years in advance for any city that wishes to host.
“Every year it is a different city,” Carbaugh said. “You bid five years in advance. The site committee tours the bidding cities and it takes a year and a half before they name the actual city. It was the first time Tampa bid, and cities are not usually awarded the first time.”
With the U.S./Canada Lions’ Forum approaching and their continued strives to help the community, the Lutz-Land O Lakes Lions’ club stresses the importance of reaching out to new members of the community.
LOOKING FOR LION CUBS
Since the Lions are an aging group, Carbaugh said they are doing what they can to reach out to the younger generations.
“We contact local schools and try to get an adviser from the school that is willing to give up their time to help manage the club,” he said “We have the Leo Club [for middle and high schools] and the Campus Club, which is located on college campuses and universities.”
Looking into the future, Walton said the Lions goal this year and the next five years is to build the club up and to gain more public awareness.
“I truly believe there is a whole generation out there that has never done service work,” she said. “They don’t know how good it feels to help someone in need. It’s not for money or anything, but a simple thank you. It warms your heart.”
Local Lion Skillin wins website contest
In the Lions Club International contest for the best state website in the world, Lutz-Land O Lakes Lions Club member David Skillin has been voted No. 1.
Judged by the public relations department at Lions Club International, each contestant’s
website was judged on content and creativity.
“My most important goal was to make our multiple district website accessible to anyone that wanted to find information about the Lions Club in Florida,” said Skillin, webmaster for both the district and state sites. “I also wanted people to see the services that we provide.”
As an active club member for five years, Skillin said that he joined because he wanted to help the community.
“I decided to become a Lion simply because I wanted to give back to the community for all of the assistance that my family and I may have received in our lifetime,” he said.