The prospect of teenagers showing up at the door Halloween night asking for canned foods as opposed to sweet treats may seem unusual.
However, that is what the Wesley Chapel LEO club has set to do – stand out in the community in a positive way.
As part of the Wesley Chapel Lions Club youth division, the LEOs – which stands for leadership, experience and opportunity – is a group of teenagers ranging from age 12 to 18.
This fall, the LEOs placed flyers door to door in their Wesley Chapel communities informing residents they would be back, hoping for a liberal donation of canned goods.
Sure enough, on Oct. 31, they kept their promise — putting an entirely new spin on ‘trick-or-treating.’
They collected more than 190 pounds of food, which was donated to the Helping Hands Food Pantry at Atonement Church in Wesley Chapel.
The youth division of the Lions Club is nothing new. The first one began in 1957, with the help of the Glenside Lions Club in Pennsylvania.
It since has grown to have an international presence — with more than 6,500 clubs in more than 140 countries. In addition to encouraging good deeds, the organization has a scholarship program for its members.
Tom Mavor, president of the Wesley Chapel Lions Club, has witnessed the great work the youths have done. He hopes their parents will see them as contributing and competent young adults.
“Their kids are engaged, they’re fun, they’ve got great ideas and they want to do great things,” he said.
LEOs can either be organized through a school or a local Lions chapter – the Wesley Chapel club chose the latter.
“We wanted something that would bring kids from different schools and different cultures together in a place where they can work collaboratively,” reasoned Mavor.
The Lions Club encourages the LEOs to brainstorm ways to help their community, and then take the initiative to put the plans in motion.
Fourteen-year-old Jillian Tokish is president of the Wesley Chapel LEOs, and her grandparents have been Lions Club members for as long as she can remember.
Her grandfather initially approached her with the idea of starting the youth division. She liked the idea and over the summer the club began.
“It’s a really cool experience,” she said.
It gives youths a chance to put aside their phones and gain a greater appreciation of nature, and people, in general, she said.
One Sunday morning in early November, the youth club, along with the assistance of the Lions Club, cleared trash and debris along a 2-mile stretch of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
The experience gave the youths a chance to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of maintaining a safe and clean environment, Mavor said.
After Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida Panhandle, the group joined with other LEO clubs to assemble personal hygienic kits for those needing help.
“What really drives them is seeing success,” said Mavor. “We’re helping children to learn that giving back is important.”
They also have started visiting local nursing homes to spend quality time with the elderly.
“You see the smile on people’s faces – that just brings so much joy,” Tokish said, describing the responses that club members receive.
The group now has 15 members, and they wear their club T-shirts to club gatherings, as well as to school, to advertise their cause.
In the future, they plan to deliver baked cookies to the Wesley Chapel firefighters to thank them for their service.
The Wesley Chapel club also wants to partner with local schools, to implement programs aimed at anti-bullying and also helping youths to interact socially.
They expect to send a representative of their club next year to a U.S.-Canada Leadership Forum, which will be held in Arizona. The forum will give club members from both countries a chance to learn in various workshops.
Mavor sees a difference between how his generation grew up and current millennials, but he said they have something in common: A willingness to help mankind.
Published December 12, 2018