For over a century, Lions Clubs International has pioneered a global focus on the importance of service in an ever – changing world. From activating immediate responders in natural disasters, to providing key community services to those most in need, Lions Clubs members and Leo youth leaders alike have continuously answered the call to serve. With a global presence in over 200 nations and territories, Lions Clubs International and the Lions Clubs International Foundation is the largest and most active service club organization in the world today.
As part of this global leadership role, Lions Clubs International and LCIF have recognized the urgency of a key theme that brings service to an even deeper level of community impact. They have recognized that this key theme is one of the most often overlooked global issues, yet one that has some of the strongest impact measures across all boundaries of economies, philosophies and ethnicities. It is a global issue that speaks to the transformative power that service can have in the most sustainable ways.
What is this global issue that Lions International have taken such a massive stand on since 2001?
Through a global partnership shared with the movement of Special Olympics since 2001, Lions Clubs International and LCIF have both transformed the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families, while also inspiring a new generation of champions to continue to answer this call to service. This commitment can be seen in the over two decades of support that the world of Lions Clubs have brought to this most marginalized group. Through vision care, inclusive sports, early childhood development, family health education, inclusion campaigns and much more, Lions Clubs and Leos have helped architect new ways of bringing inclusion to the mainstream.
Perhaps the most striking of impacts is the way in which Lions Clubs International has positioned this population subset. Rather than position the athletes of Special Olympics as beneficiaries of service, Lions Clubs International and LCIF have also positioned them as the very agents of that critical service. Through the development of the specialty Club model Champions Lions Clubs, individuals with intellectual disabilities can take the skills they learn on the pitch and in the pool and bring it to new Clubs around the world- dedicated to supporting Special Olympics- Lions Clubs International Foundation “Mission: Inclusion” programming.
One of the newest of Champion Clubs- the Centennial 100 Champion Lions Club in Great Britain- has brought together a dedicated group of Special Olympics Great Britain athletes to lead the charge. For a group that is often on the sidelines of service campaigns, the Centennial 100 Champions Lions Club plans on positioning the athletes of Special Olympics Great Britain front and center.
“My Lions Clubs really helps and supports me,” said Kiera Byland, Special Olympics Great Britain cyclist, Chairperson of the Special Olympics Europe Eurasia Athlete Leadership Council, Vice Chair of the Special Olympics Great Britain Athlete Leadership Team and Board Member for both Special Olympics Great Britain and the Centennial Champions Lions Clubs. “They have supported my passion for sports and in turn has helped me generate more awareness in the community. I’m grateful for these opportunities!”
Kiera is joined by a number of Special Olympics Great Britain athletes. “Being a Lions means the world to me because as much as I want to grow professionally, I want to make sure I can keep my feet on the ground- and Lions Clubs always reinforces the need to reach for the stars, but also to give back,” said Ian Harper, Chairperson of the Special Olympics Great Britain Athlete Leadership Team and an International Sargent Shriver Messenger for the Special Olympics movement.
Niall Guite is a Special Olympics Great Britain athlete who is keen to bring his talents to the world through Lions Clubs service. “Lions Clubs International and my Club have given me the chance to share my artwork with the world- and it’s so encouraging to know that you have this support from people in our community. Niall continues, “Being a Lion has helped me feel more positive about myself and my skills, and that’s a great feeling!”
Greg Sylvester, a long-standing advocate for the rights of individuals with intellectual disabilities and a former Special Olympics Great Britain Board member, shared his perspective: “I have seen the growth of the Special Olympics movement over many years- both in Great Britain and worldwide. I can say that this growth has been made possible by key partners like Lions Clubs International Foundation. What an honor to be a part of this Club, this partnership and most importantly, this commitment to help others.”
The Centennial 100 Champions Lions Club joins over 15 likeminded Champion Lions Clubs around the world- contributing not only to the “Mission: Inclusion” partnership but also to changing hearts and minds around the world to accept people with differences. Through the example set by individual Champion Lions Clubs, and the athletes of Special Olympics that pledge their service as part of these Clubs, a new, shared commitment is born in entire communities.
As Special Olympics and Lions Clubs International Foundation celebrate their 20th anniversary, the world is reminded of the power that comes in single acts of kindness, and meaningful acts of inclusion. From Boston to Bali, and from Paris to Sao Paulo, Special Olympics athletes and Lions Clubs and Leo volunteers offer the world a vivid manifestation of inclusion through service. With the COVID pandemic and global divisions persisting, this momentum comes at a time when such examples are needed most.
Photo credit: Special Olympics