Zionsville Alpha Leo Club Creates Community Leaders

Writer: Suzanne Huntzinger
Photography Provided by Zionsville Alpha Leos

There’s a pride of young Zionsville lions and lionesses who are becoming leaders and doing whatever it takes to protect the territory of those in need.

Zionsville Alpha Leo Club is a group of about 40 to 50 kids aged 12 to 18 who are dedicated to community service, just like their parent organization, the Lions Club. Zionsville Alpha Leos have been around since 2011, but in the past year, these cool cats donated a ferocious $1,300 to seven different community services and logged an astounding 600-plus hours of community service. They’ve also won the Leo’s Excellence Award for excellence in community service and membership growth, the Spotlight on Children Award and the Serving Together Award for collaborating with the Lion’s Club on joint activities.

The Zionsville Leo chapter sets itself apart from other Leo chapters by not limiting its membership base to affiliation with one specific school. Other chapters, which are affiliated with schools, hold their meetings at the school and limit their membership strictly to its students. Zionsville Alpha Leos opened its membership to any kids ages 12 to 18 in Boone County.

Although the Zionsville Leos aren’t affiliated with a specific school, they do collaborate with schools for projects. Just last year, the Zionsville Schools Superintendent reached out to the Leos to ask for their help in their Strong in Every Way campaign.

“The school’s initiative was to develop and foster not just academic excellence but to be strong in developing connections, assets and resources and cultural understandings,” says Leos Advisor, Jayne Stone. “Since the Leos already have an established support system with adults in the community, they provided an excellent example of how to build connections and webs of support with adults.”

Members come from all different backgrounds, but they all share one comment goal: they all want to give back to the community. In the club, kids learn Leadership, gain Experience and provide Opportunity.

“These are smart kids who will do great things,” Stone says. Stone’s kids were both charter members of the group, and she had such a passion for working with kids that she wanted to become an advisor.

The club spawned seven years ago from Lions Club members bringing their children to the Lions Club meetings. But the Lions mentors have largely allowed the Leos to function autonomously.

“The Lions mentor them, but we let the kids run their own meetings and their own elections,” Stone adds.

Many of the kids have joined because they’re just as passionate about serving the community as their Lions Club parents.

“I joined the Leo club because I wanted to give back to my community by getting more involved,” says Sara van de Sandt, newly installed Alpha Leos President. “I’ve enjoyed volunteering all my life and was really excited when I found a club whose sole purpose was serving the community. I love being in a group of people my age who share my passion for giving back to the community and helping others, and I’ve made life-long friendships with many of them.”

The Leos help in many Lions club projects like the Fall Festival and the Easter Egg Hunt, behind the scenes beautification efforts in the park like raking leaves and cleaning away mud after heavy rains. But the group was eager to launch their own project. They got the idea to apply for a grant from the Boone County United Way Youth as Resources to raise funds for Birthday Boxes for the Caring Center Food Pantry in Lebanon. These boxes, put together by The Caring Center for deserving children, come complete with a birthday cake, pajamas and socks. The Leos were granted the requested $900 and were gifted even more money by the grant committee to purchase additional items for the box.

The following year, in connection with the club’s literacy initiative, the Leos applied for a grant to support the Indiana United Methodist Children’s Home. When the school’s principal approached the Leos about their needs, they decided to apply for a grant to provide books for the school. But the group didn’t want to stop there with a nameless, faceless donation.

“The kids were determined to connect with students their own age,” Stone says. “They organized a book fair and ice cream social so they could interact with the kids and find out what books they liked best. The kids find it more meaningful when they take on a project in which they can help and connect with other kids in their own age group.”

The project made an impact not just on the Children’s Home but for the Leos.

“It was my favorite project,” van de Sandt says. “I talked to some of the kids when we brought the books, and I could hear the excitement in their voices when they realized they had new books to read.”

The Leos’ creativity and generosity is endless.

“When they hear of a cause, they take action,” Stone says.

One month, they held a meeting at the Zionsville Fire Department and got an idea to help with one of the department’s outreach programs. ZFD has a fund that awards money to send deserving kids to camp, and the Leos decided to donate funds to help. They also made a charitable donation to the Deputy Jacob Pickett fund.

The Leos are always looking for more kids to join their forces. The group just lost several members after high school graduation in the spring.

“These kids were charter members of the group and we’ll miss them dearly,” Stone says. “But we continuously put a lot of effort into recruiting. Although most of our recruiting is by word of mouth, we do have a booth at school club fairs, we do back to school nights, and we always encourage kids to bring a friend.”

All the Alpha Leos can agree that the club is what you make of it.

“We all try to make the biggest impact with even the smallest project,” van de Sandt says. “Like when we sold snow cones at the Fourth of July event. Sure, we sold a lot of snow cones and made some money but seeing the joy on kids’ faces when we hand them a snow cone bigger than their face is what made the difference. I’m proud that the Leos have grown in size and reputation by making a difference.”

Help your teen find their roar. Visit zalc.org for membership information, the latest about upcoming meetings or volunteer service opportunities. You can join online by completing the application, and an advisor will contact you.

Annual membership dues are $35, which pays for administrative fees including dinner at the monthly meetings. Monthly meetings are held on the third Tuesday of every month from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Lions Club building at 115 South Elm Street in Zionsville.

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