Making a Difference with the Charlestown Lions Club

January 12, 2012
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Lion’s Club members Moe Gillen and local banker Tom Coots are shown holding a recent flyer passed out by the organization which they love.

With 45,000 clubs in over 200 countries, The Lions Club is a humanitarian organization that provides support to people in need worldwide. The motto that the 1.36 million members adhere to is, “we serve.” The Lions Club in Charlestown does exactly that.

“The best thing about the club is that we help people,” said Charlestown Lions Club President Maurice Gillen. “Most of the members are private people. There’s nothing self-seeking about them. They’d rather the focus be on the service.”

The most recent event the Charlestown Lion’s Club hosted was their first annual coat drive, where 225 gently used coats were collected for  babies, children, and adults from November until January.

“The coat drive has been very successful,” said Rosemary Kverek, a chairperson of the drive and dedicated Lions Club member. “Anton’s Cleaners cleaned the coats free of charge and then they were distributed to the needy. We have a lot of support from the community.”

“I was excited to see such a big turnout,” said Tom Coots, Assistant Vice President of the Charlestown Cooperative Bank, where the coats were donated.

Originally conceived in 1917, 38-year-old Melvin Jones believed there should be an organization to help people. The Chicago business leader turned the Lions Club into a worldwide sensation after only three years. Canada was the first international country to start the club, with Mexico following a few years later, and then clubs started popping up all over the globe. At a Lions Club convention, Helen Keller addressed Lions Club members, challenging them to become knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.

The Lions Club has since served the blind and visually impaired.  “We have also expanded into supporting diabetes research,” said Gillen, who has been president for about seven years.

“We collect eyeglasses and we have them in boxes all over town,” added Kverek. “And now we’re collecting hearing aids. We also have the Eyemobile, a van that’s paid for by Lions Club District 33K. The Eyemobile comes to Charlestown in November, and they test people free of charge, with eye tests conducted by optometry students from the Massachusetts School of Optometry.”

The purpose of the Eyemobile is to provide free neighborhood health screenings emphasizing vision care and the preservation of eyesight. Last year, over 2,000 people received screenings in Charlestown.

“We used to have volunteers who would go in with a little eye test, but now the equipment is more sophisticated,” Gillen commented. The $180,000 vehicle was purchased after two years of fundraising, and is equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment.

“All the money we raise absolutely could not be done without the full support of the Charlestown residents and businesses,” said Gillen. “Different clubs have different ways of raising money. We run raffles maybe about four times a year. We also have an annual Veterans Day pancake breakfast.” One of the ways in which the Lions Club dispenses their money is through an organization that conducts $1 measles shots for impoverished people in third-world countries.

While they continue to raise money, the biggest challenge facing the Charlestown Lions Club is recruitment. “It’s very difficult to get the younger people involved,” said Gillen. “We have to increase the membership. We’ve replenished our work in the past few years and have just gotten two new sisters. But nowadays, there’s a problem of getting people to come out and participate. People don’t assemble the way they used to. We need to regenerate ourselves so that 15 or 20 years from now, there will still be a Charlestown Lions Club.”

The core group of 28 members meets on the first Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Zelma Lacey House. At the meetings, they work hard to produce new ideas for potential fundraisers and also develop new ways to reach out to people in need.

“If you get some assistance from us, there’s a certain dignity to it,” Gillen said pridefully. Although they are not one of the wealthier clubs, their service has earned the Charlestown Lions Club an award of excellence. They were one of four clubs chosen out of a possible 132. To learn more about the Charlestown Lions Club, or get involved, contact  Rosemary Kverek at (617)-242-3716.