By SUE SUCHYTA
WYANDOTTE – Seeking to build their team and help insure future stability, the Lions – the the service group, not the gridiron gang – are seeking new members to join their pride.
Lions International, founded in 1917, is the world’s largest service organization, providing help on the community level and around the world.
In Wyandotte, Club 4471 meets at 12:15 p.m. each Wednesday at Polonus Restaurant, 1744 Biddle. In addition to organizing and running fundraisers to finance their service projects, the Lions support local, district, state and international projects, with blindness prevention and sight saving being a top priority.
Locally, the Wyandotte Lions provide eyeglasses for Wyandotte and Southgate residents who cannot afford them, and donate large print books to Bacon Memorial District Library, 45 Vinewood in Wyandotte.
They also support district projects that benefit Penrickton Center for the Blind in Taylor, Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester, the Michigan Eye Bank, and many other causes.
Russell Hunter of Southgate said he grew up watching his father volunteer with the Lions Club, and was impressed by the community service work they did and the people they helped.
“We get out in the community and everywhere we go, we make friends,” Hunter said. “We do help those who are sighted, and now we are helping with hearing aids as well.”
He said he has made many friends through the local club, which has about 20 members. He often wears the club’s lion mascot costume in local parades.
“I enjoy getting dressed up in the costume and getting out there and walking and making an impression on people,” Hunter said.
He said the Wyandotte Lions Club’s biggest fundraiser is a two-day indoor flea market and antique sale held 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 16 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 17 at Yack Arena, 3131 Third Ave. in Wyandotte. They also host an annual summer golf outing.
Hunter said the Lions Club gets him out and keeps him active.
“You don’t sit around the house stagnating,” he said. “You make friends, socialize, and it’s a lot better than just sitting around doing nothing.”
Richard Bialobrzeski, a 25-year member and the club’s current president, said the Lions have drop boxes around town to collect used eyeglasses, which are sent to a national site for sorting and disbursement around the world. He said the Wyandotte club has collected 3,000 pairs since July, the start of the club’s fiscal year.
They also collect used cell phones, which are repurposed by a veteran service organization for troops overseas.
Bialobrzeski said members represent a broad cross-section of the community, and they hope to build their membership by attracting people willing to put forth new ideas.
“The problem is we have an old club,” Bialobrzeski said. “A lot of our members are getting older. When you get old, you get static in your ideas. We need (to bring) new life into our club. This is why we need new members.”
Theresa Jamula, the club’s second vice president, joined the group almost two years ago when she retired because she wanted to stay active in community service projects.
She recently used the club’s money to buy children’s books to be sent to troops overseas as part of a national Lions Club initiative, which records active military personnel reading a book, and sends the recording and book to their children stateside.
“If you want to give back to your community and help somebody, this is the perfect opportunity,” Jamula said. “It’s not a demanding club, but we work well together, and we would just like to expand.”
Samson Park, the club’s youngest member, has been active for 12 years. He said the Lions Club appeals to him because it helps people who can’t afford things, like eyeglasses, and the members focus on giving back to people in their own community.
Park said he understands the time demands on young adults raising families.
“It is harder with families, kids and practices, and all the running around, to do things,” Park said. “A lot of my friends have other causes that they are already in. I have always given back, so to me it is second nature.”
Paul Gallagher, a 40-year member and the club’s secretary, said it’s his way to give back to the community. While their club supports districtwide Lion Club projects throughout Wayne County, he said they try to do as much as possible to help people close to home.
“We try to focus on things in the area first,” Gallagher said. “We do what we call ‘eye care cases,’ where somebody would come to us who can’t afford glasses and an exam. We send them to Dr. Dan Stein, who is a member, and we pay for it; we have a special price.”
Gallagher said they are a fun group whose requirements are not overbearing for anyone, and attendance at each weekly meeting is not mandatory.
“We wouldn’t be calling you up and saying, ‘Where were you?’” Gallagher said. “If we could get somebody who could be relatively active with some of the things we do, we are OK with that. It’s not a big obligation. It’s not like another part-time job.”
Bialobrzeski, a retired Wyandotte fire chief, said he used to see on rescue runs how people with limited incomes lived, and how many of their needs went unmet.
“I could see first hand what they were going through, and (how) the Lions Club would provide for those people that needed glasses and things like that,” Bialobrzeski said. “When I saw that the Lions could be of help, I got interested in doing that kind of work.”
For more information or to join, call Jamula at 734-282-6303 or go to the group’s Facebook page.