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Lions, students and service, oh my!

With over 200 Contracted Independent Organizations on Grounds, why would a fourth year with only a few months left at the University endeavor to start something new?

"Honestly, I was intimidated by the idea of beginning a club," said Cathy Crawford, fourth-year Architecture student and founding president of the University's branch of the Lions Club. "It seemed like it would be tough to initiate, but there were so many incredible volunteers at U.Va. that finding students to get involved ended up being the easy part."

Two years ago Crawford was recruited for the Charlottesville Host Lions Club by William Coppage, a blind man who her sorority, Delta Gamma, takes shopping for groceries as one of their philanthropy projects.

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    "Mr. Coppage is so much fun to be with that I couldn't say no when he asked me to go to a meeting with him, and I have had a blast with their club," Crawford said. "They had been wanting to start a club at U.Va. for a long time, and once I joined they had a liaison who could give them information about the University and help to spread the word about the Lions Club at the University."

    Lions Club International began in 1917 when Chicago insurance entrepreneur Melvin Jones decided business clubs should expand their scope from purely business matters to volunteerism within the community. He gathered 12 business associates at the first organizational meeting, where they established "We Serve" as their motto and termed their club LIONS - which stands for Liberty, Intelligence, Our Nations Safety.

    Now with more than 44,500 local clubs and 1.4 million members serving in more than 180 countries, the Lions Club International's main purpose is to help provide aid to the blind, deaf, those with diabetes, as well as to promote drug awareness in younger children.

    Crawford held the Lions Club's first meeting at the University this past month, and said the organization already can boast over 25 members.

    An honorary Lions Club member since her childhood, first-year College student Kirstin Cooney said she saw her father's involvement with his local club as she was growing up and was excited she could now get involved with Lions at the University.

    "Often I was a tagalong to projects with my dad," Cooney said. "They adopted me as the Lions mascot so I could be in parades with them."

    One of the projects she said she remembers participating in with her dad is "white caning." Cooney described white caning, a Lions Club trademark, as "basically panhandling in front of grocery stores. It's similar to what the Salvation Army does at Christmas time, but without the bells."

    Lions Club chapters are able to select what projects they want to work on. At the most recent University meeting, Crawford said members began to look into projects such as testing children in elementary schools for vision disorders and hosting a picnic for people with diabetes.

    Crawford said she thinks it would be fun to have a picnic for people with diabetes "because not only would we get to meet new people and learn more about the disease, but we also have to research and learn what foods they can eat. It's going to be a little trickier than just throwing a picnic."

    According to the Lions Club International Web site, diabetes and its complications affect more than 200 million people worldwide, and Lions support research into the treatment and detection of diabetic retinopathy, a complication of the disease that is the leading cause of adult-onset blindness in many countries

    As for the eye testing, University Lions Club members plan to help take photographs of elementary school children's eyes with a special camera and send the prints to optometrists who volunteer their services. From these photographs, optometrists can detect early eye problems and with proper treatment can actually save the child's sight.

    "The reason I joined Lions Club is because it was the only club at U.Va. I knew of that worked to help the visually impaired," said Ann Gamble, a first-year College student who said she feels strongly about the issue since her older sister is legally blind.

    Nationally, Lions Clubs have established glaucoma screening clinics, eye banks and rehabilitation institutes, and their Sight First program has become the world's largest blindness prevention program.

    Crawford said the club also hopes to go into the elementary and secondary schools to talk to the schools about drugs - a reinforcement of the DARE program.

    "It's always easier for younger kids to relate to people who they don't see as their parents' friends," Crawford said.

    The Lions Clubs help young people resist the lure of drugs and alcohol through educational programs such as the "Skills for Adolescence" - a curriculum that gives 10- to 14-year-olds the skills they need to make decisions about important substance abuse issues facing them now in and in the future.

    Now Virginia Tech and Roanoke College are in the process of starting their own Lions Clubs, and Crawford said she hopes to join them and create a major project which they can work on together.

    "One thing about Lions Club that I think is really neat is that once you graduate, you are still a Lion and can automatically join any Lions Club wherever you go," she said. "It is a club you can stay with for life."

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