Lions in danger of extinction

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Though Charlie Kennaway and Barry Leavett-Brown are members of different service clubs, they both share a common woe.

They sit before me, struggling to come up with a word to describe just how desperately their clubs need members, just how much the community will suffer if clubs like theirs are forced to close.

But no word is strong enough.

“We are stretching ourselves too bloody thin. We are desperate, desperate for people to help out,” Mr Kennaway said.

For many years membership in local service clubs like Rotary and the Lions Club has been dwindling, as members who once joined in their twenties have passed away or are forced to leave because age has left them unable to assist their fellow members.

The legacy of these clubs however is not passed on, as the younger generations in today’s society choose themselves over helping out others.

It is the community that bears the brunt, that feels the hurt when clubs like Cambridge Park Lions Club, of which Mr Kennaway is a member, are forced to reduce their assistance, whether it be monetary or by physically running a barbecue or mowing a lawn, because they just don’t have the manpower.

“Locally, if we don’t get some more young, active members… we can’t…. I’ve already had to knock back barbecues at Bunnings because I can’t get members to help at it. We used to do two barbecues at Bunnings, they were worth about $900 each in donations that we would give back to the community,” Mr Kennaway said.

“We can’t do it because we just don’t have the staff. I have to beg, borrow and steal people to come and help me. By missing out on that, the needy in this area are now missing out.”

With just 14 members, Mr Kennaway makes up around seven per cent of the Cambridge Park Lions Club and in today’s society, finding a service club with just a handful of members is the norm.
Penrith Lions Club, for example, has 20 members on the books but according to Mr Leavett-Brown, 14 or less regularly attend meetings and not even all of those are able to help out.

“The youngest one is 23, that’s one and one only and it is an exceptional case. He wanted to join Penrith because his grandfather was a charter member. At that stage he was only about 15 or 16 and wanted to join the club that his grandfather founded – it was unusual; you don’t normally get people down that age,” he said.

Encouraging younger people to get involved in their clubs has been right at the top of the to-do list – behind supporting the needy in the community – of most service clubs in the area, with Penrith Rotary only recently inducting a local engineer as their youngest member.

Emu Plains Lions Club, Penrith Lions Club, Cambridge Park Lions Club and Mt Druitt Lions Club regularly hold membership drives, but have recently come up with an idea that could change the way their clubs work forever.

Leo Clubs are sponsored affiliations of Lions Clubs that take people from 12-years-old to 23-years-old and introduce them to volunteering and supporting the community.

Until recently, there had never even been talk of starting one up in Penrith but desperate times call for desperate measures and the local Lions Clubs think this may be their only way of keeping their clubs alive.

“Leos is one of the things we are clutching at. We don’t know if we can afford it, and maybe we can’t but we have to see what the interest is first. If the interest is there, then I have every intention of finding people to see if they will sponsor a Leos Club locally,” Mr Kennaway said.

“It could also help us expand into some other projects. We will be able to help someone that needs their lawns cut or garden worked on, where now, we are not fit to do it.”

“The other week there was a family that lost their mother, father and other family members. We could have done something to help them around the house, if we had the man power. We don’t have the man power though. If we had more of the younger manpower, we could do all these sorts of things,” he said.

Mr Leavett-Brown agreed.

“They will give us that leeway to do extra jobs. Someone comes along and asks us to do things, and it takes man power, sometimes we have to say sorry,” he said.

Though a Leo Club would help the local Lions Clubs continue supporting the community, the adolescents and young adults who join are set to benefit too.

“You would be surprised by how it sorts kids out, helps them to find their way. Just by watching or helping, they would learn things, which might give them a bit of a hand in sorting out their future,” Mr Leavett-Brown said.

“They will meet people, they will exchange, they will be able to talk to people. Quite a lot of students and young people are faced by an adult and will probably say hello, but that’s it.”

And the experience the students get through supporting the community, according to the Clubs, will instil values in the children that they may not get elsewhere.

On Saturday, August 30, the Cambridge Park Lions Club are holding a membership drive at St Marys Village Centre to attract new residents, and hope to be handing out information about the Leo Club to young families too.

The following month, they are planning to introduce the idea to local schools, teachers and P&C members at a special dinner meeting.

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