The Edgemoor neighborhood of Wilmington, Delaware, is a community challenged by violence, especially due to the prevalence of guns, gangs and drugs — which often enter from the outside. Committed to serving their community, the Bellefonte Lions Club is doing its part to turn the area around.

The club’s involvement started with a chess club for kids. Then they created a bike club. When kids wanted to ride bikes, but didn’t have them, they secured some through donations. The Lions also involve the kids in some of their service, like picking up trash around the community. Through these activities, the children get to experience how good it feels to volunteer.

Lion Sgt. Tracey Duffy

Creating Change

As the club became further integrated into the community, Daniel Elkins, club president, past district governor for District 22 and board appointee to the Lions Clubs International Board of Directors, met Sergeant Tracey Duffy of the New Castle County Police Department, who was serving on foot patrol in Edgemoor. Elkins and Duffy quickly bonded over their dedication to creating change in the community, and soon, he recruited Duffy into their club.

Duffy’s passion for service wasn’t the only thing she brought to the club. She also brought a vision for an event that could make a significant impact in the community — and she needed the help of her fellow Lions and other community groups to bring it to life.

That vision was the Police and Princess Ball. Young women in the Edgemoor community would be invited to a special event, where they would be treated like princesses for the evening. In formal dresses, they would take a party bus to an upscale venue, and enjoy dinner and dancing — all alongside area police officers and other local law enforcement. The event would be largely covered through donations and run by volunteers, including the Lions.

“This is about building relationships and breaking down barriers,” says Duffy. “When we show our face in the community, we want the young women and their parents to recognize us as people who keep others safe.”

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Bigger Than One Event

The Police and Princess Ball has grown quite a bit since it began in 2018, and its reach supersedes the immediate community. On November 8, 2023, 120 girls from across the state — most in the 6-13 age range — attended the event. Police officers from New Castle County, the University of Delaware, the city of Wilmington, the Delaware State Police, and Delaware Probation and Parole all participated. The theme was, Stepping into Positivity and included a performance by iSTEP, Delaware State University’s award-winning step team.

“This event is bigger than me,” says Duffy. “Each individual agency or officer who attends is developing a relationship with these girls. They are creating an understanding that police are human. We laugh and cry and dance just like everyone else.”

The young women entered the event escorted by a member of law enforcement, stopping briefly to pose for photographs. Lions lined the entryway to offer each girl a white carnation — a seemingly simple gesture that carries a lot of significance.

“I don’t think that we as Lions fully understand the impact of that,” says Duffy. “The act of giving these girls a flower as a token to welcome them to the event, without asking for anything in return, is so much greater than anything else in the world.”

Mackenzie & Michelle Dobson

Opening Doors for New Lions and Leos

For Lion Michelle Dobson and her daughter MacKenzie, residents of Edgemoor, the evening is a magical experience. Michelle, who runs a community house in the area, plays a key role in spreading awareness of the event and distributing donated dresses. MacKenzie, age 15 and a Leo, has attended the event every year since its inception.

“When my mom told me about the ball the first year, I said, ‘Ehh … I’ll try it out,’” says MacKenzie. “But then I got there. I felt like a princess. I felt like I could do something for once. I felt really excited because we don’t usually get to do things like that.”

Michelle is dedicated to the event because of the impact it has on the children. “It really builds trust with law enforcement because a lot of kids are afraid of them,” she says. “It closes that gap, and helps the kids see them as real people.”

As a Leo, MacKenzie is an active volunteer in her community, helping to mentor younger children. Through the Police and Princess Ball, she has seen her neighborhood grow in its trust of Lions and Leos, allowing them to offer additional youth programming, including homework help and painting.

For the Bellefonte Lions, the Police and Princess Ball has not only brought a change in attitudes toward law enforcement, but has also exposed their mission of service to new audiences, which is helping to diversify clubs throughout the Delaware Valley.

“Early on, I felt a little like I was on the outside looking in,” says Duffy. “I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, all those things my fellow Lions are doing are amazing.’ As I got more involved, I realized, ‘Hey, I am one of those Lions, and this feels amazing.’”

Police officers photo booth

Bellefonte Lions’ Tips for Success

The Bellefonte Lions have had a lot of success inviting community members to join their club.

Here are their top five tips:

1. Have conversations, not elevator speeches. There’s a difference between talking to and talking with someone.

2. Find out what a potential Lion is passionate about and learn what gifts and talents they have. Everyone has a skill that could help increase your club’s capacity to serve.

3. Listen to their story, tell them how Lions’ service can connect with their interests, and then ask them to join the family.

4. Build partnerships with other organizations in your community to create more service opportunities. The more you serve, the more members you will gain.

5. Always be ready to recruit — don’t leave home without a membership application.