Try to think of a difficult place to start a Leo Club. How about a juvenile detention facility? The challenges of this may seem insurmountable, but that is exactly what the Cranbury Lions Club has done. Through hard work and determination, they have established the Jamesburg Leo Club at the New Jersey Training School, a secure facility in Monroe Township, NJ.
Residents in good standing are given the opportunity to join the Jamesburg Leo Club and begin to learn the benefits of reaching out to serve others. The Leo Club has proven to be very popular among the residents, especially those who want to help others in a group-oriented environment, develop leadership skills and make friends.
The New Jersey Training School (NJTS) is a facility of the Juvenile Justice Commission housing male juveniles, which focuses on providing care, treatment and rehabilitation to these young offenders. The NJTS offers several unique vocational opportunities including an optical lab program which teaches juveniles to craft eyeglasses. NJTS supplies eyeglasses to juvenile and adult residents in the state prison system. The New Jersey Lions have liaised with NJTS as a state project and provided some of the equipment for the optical lab. The Cranbury Lions Club first became involved with the NJTS (then called the Jamesburg School for Boys) in 1933 long before it became a state project.
The 20 members of the Jamesburg Leo Club held their first meeting on April 12, 2011. The club received its charter of organization on May 5, 2011.
This unique Leo Club has its challenges. The members cannot leave the facility. Their identity is kept confidential by using their first names only. The community invited to attend Leo Club meetings must undergo approval and enter this secure facility by surrendering their driver’s license and going through a sensitive metal
detector. Unity is a challenge as the turnover rate of residents leaving the facility creates constant change in membership.
Regardless of these challenges, the Leo members are eager to hold officer positions in the club and participate in fundraisers and community service projects. The first community service project was making cards for residents in a local nursing home. The second project is holding a bake sale to raise money to give a local family that has the challenge of several disabled children needing medical care. A simple bake sale was more difficult that expected to obtain approval and then make money from selling their cookies. The Leos proudly decided upon this service project and were intent on giving this family money for their children. Other projects in planning include a car wash, participating in the Lions International President Tam’s tree planting project, beautification, landscaping or other project at the NJTS, raising money for sports equipment for residents at the NJTS and organizing sports activities.
On June 9, 2011 the Cranbury Lions Club helped the Jamesburg Leo Club hold their Charter Meeting Celebration. Elected officials and Lion dignitaries from around the state of New Jersey were invited to this memorable dinner meeting held at the New Jersey Training School. Fourteen members of the Cranbury Lions Club attended. Two Leos who were in the food service program helped to provide the dinner for the meeting. After the buffet dinner, all the Leos cleared the dinner plates then served dessert to everyone.
Most impressive was the induction of eighteen Charter Members. First Vice District Governor-Elect John Kobland, standing in for District Governor Michael Hsing, conducted the ceremony by calling each resident’s name to line up in the front of the room, then the oath of membership was read and repeated in unison by each member. The Leos received their membership packet and Leo pin. The Lions who attended the ceremony all spontaneously went up to congratulate the line of Leos. This was a memorable part of the ceremony for both Lions and Leos.
After the ceremony the Leos asked if they could have their picture taken with the Charter. Each Leo took their turn getting their picture taken holding the charter standing in front of their Jamesburg Leo Banner. Some had a staff member or fellow Leo in the picture too. No pictures showing Leo’s faces were released.
The Cranbury Leo Advisors, Fay Kobland and Alex Johnson, along with the NJTS Advisors, Astrid Christiansen and Mark Myers have been dedicated to overcoming the challenges to get this Jamesburg Leo Club up and running. The Cranbury Lions Club members are determined to support the Jamesburg Leo Club. In the fall, the plan is to hold a joint meeting with the Cranbury Lions Club and the Jamesburg Leo Club at the New Jersey Training School. Per a Leo advisor, “this is a project that has warmed my heart, and should warm the hearts of anyone involved in it.” Enough