Please enjoy this story from our November 2018 issue. 


Some people ask 89-year-old Robert ‘Rocco’ Viera, “Don’t you just want to go fishing?” But the 49-year El Paso Del Norte Lion in Texas laughs at the silly question. “This is my fishing. This is my hobby,” he says. “This is my retirement.”

“This” is Viera’s passion for being a Lion and helping the hearing impaired. According to Barry Greenwald, clinical psychologist and Associate Professor of Psychology Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago, there are a lot of different reasons why people choose to donate their time, and a lot of it depends on where you are in your cycle of life. The person who chooses to volunteer at retirement is different from someone who may be looking for a way to gain insight and direction for a future career (like a medical student donating time at a local health clinic). Others, he says, are just those kinds of people. “It’s in their personality.”


Although he prefers to think of himself as “just a boy from the barrio that did well,” Lion Viera served diligently as chairman of the District 2-T3 Lions Hearing and Speech Committee for 41 years. He formed a partnership with the non-prof it community development center Clinica de Salud Familiar La Fe, and at Le Fe, founded the Lions’ Hearing Aid Bank. He has spearheaded Lion volunteers assisting nurses and teachers in identifying students with potential hearing loss, and personally identified, counseled, and referred countless others in need of help and hearing aids. And all this has not only benefitted his community, but inspired the Lions around him, enough so that he was nominated for El Pasoan of the Year in 2017. “I was fortunate to have good parents,” he says. “They were humble, hardworking people, and they taught me the importance of helping others.

I guess that’s why I’m a Lion. To be a good Christian.” Nina Taylor, of the East London Port Rex Lions Club in South Africa, became a Lion because she wanted to give back after so many years spent immersed in her own studies. “I decided I wanted to make a difference,” she says. “I always had a passion for people and helping others.” She joined a different service-oriented club at school but eventually dropped out. “I hated every second because it was all about raising funds,” she says. “You never saw where it went.” Greenwald says it’s common for people to begin volunteering when facing a transition in life. It gives them a chance to redefine themselves, find an identity, and gives them a sense of purpose. Especially for older adults, who tend to experience an identity crisis when they retire, volunteering gives them something new to build their life around. “It’s an excellent antidote to being depressed,” he says. Research backs this up. It turns out, by seeking to make a difference in the world, Lions may actually be making an even greater difference in themselves. The Corporation for National & Community Service reviewed research on the health benefits of volunteering. According to their report, a growing body of evidence indicates that there are significant health benefits for those who serve. The impressive number of Lions turning 100 years old endorses what these studies have quantified: Volunteering helps you live longer, and in better health.

One study found that the benefits of volunteering were actually greater for those doing the service work than for those who were getting the help.

And it’s not just the service work alone that makes the difference. One study found that membership in voluntary associations—not just doing volunteer activities—had a significant positive effect on longevity and duration of good health. It also improved a person’s sense of well-being and ability to get out and do things into old age (like go to a movie, attend church, visit friends, walk up and down stairs, or do heavy work around the house). Besides being generally enjoyable, volunteering gives people an opportunity to fulf ill something that may be missing in their day-to-day lives, says Greenwald. As opposed to paid work, “With volunteering you can be flexible, write some of your own rules,” he says. For those at risk of depression, “Doing something throws you back into the world.” It’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy. One study from the 1980s showed that those who volunteered reported higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, a sense of control over life, and physical health—including lower levels of depression—three years later. And those who had originally reported higher levels of happiness and overall health and lower levels of depression at the beginning of the study were more likely to volunteer three years later. What this indicates is that people who are healthier and happier tend to volunteer more. And, volunteering makes you happier and healthier.


“Some fear getting involved,” says Carol Marshall, of the Albuquerque Breakfast Lions Club in New Mexico. “They fear they are incapable because they haven’t done it before.” When Doug Day, also an Albuquerque Breakfast Lion, f irst visited New Mexico’s largest homeless shelter, Joy Junction, and saw the condition of the “library”—a walk-in closet stacked floor to ceiling with books, like a giant Jenga game ready to tumble—he thought “no.” He couldn’t fix that. But then he started to think “yes.” It took hours, weeks, months. Over the days at the shelter, his perception of the homeless changed. He is honored now that he doesn’t just know the clients’ names, but they know his. They greet him by name at the door. That might have never happened if his original hesitancy to serve had lingered. Sometimes, Marshall is quick to admit, she gets frustrated that other Lions don’t want to serve the way she does: Often and with gusto. Although the club serves lunch to the homeless once a month, she and Day go every Friday. They also clean up and restock the newly rebuilt library, and take on a multitude of other serving opportunities with other organizations. But every Lion has to give in their own way, she learned. “

If I see people in need of help and it’s in my capacity, I want to get it done. that’s how I feel each and every time,” says Marshall.

“So many people need help, and I really feel like if you’re well and you can afford to do things, you have an obligation to help others,” says Day. “But you also have to recognize that not everyone is meant to be active in serving. Everyone serves differently, and that’s OK. We all do what we can.”

Brandon Johnson, DG for district 12N in Eastern Tennessee, thinks there are some practical—and preventable—reasons people don’t get more involved as well. “Lions don’t like to publicize what they do,” he says. “I want to share what Lions do with as many people in as many ways as possible, including all forms of social media. That’s how we get other people involved in serving. We need to promote what we do so others want to be a
part of it.”


Group of kids posing for camera
The Cub program helped revive an aging Metairie Airline Lions Club, bringing in young families who see Lions as a way to teach their kids the value of giving back.

Perhaps part of the appeal of the club is the opportunity to belong. It’s possible to f ind a club in your community that reflects who you are, while still being part of a worldwide organization. “What’s so great about this platform is how flexible it is,” says Mindy Marks, Division Manager for District and Clubs at Lions headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. “Each club has the power to decide what they want to do. A group of people can see a need in their community, come together, and solve that problem.”

“It really is your club, your way,” she says. This is especially true of the growing number of specialty clubs popping up. Specialty clubs offer the opportunity for groups of people who already have something in common to give something back to the community, together. Whether it’s retirees, professionals, sport enthusiasts, cultural groups, or those united for a common cause, these people are already united under a common interest. By joining Lions, they have the opportunity to come together and use their special talents to help those in need around them. Often, these are people who might never have imagined they’d be part of a service organization, but f ind that it enhances the joy they get from what they were already doing. “This is something that I would not have seen myself doing in [my] younger years,” says Jason Nunn, from the Anchorage Racing Lions Club. “It’s a lot of fun and it’s very rewarding.” Indeed, Lions have a unique way of looking at membership. “Even though the form is so traditional, it can be whatever people make it,” says Marks. “In a way, every club is a specialty club.”


There are other ways to give back. Why do Lions choose to become Lions?

“Lions are family,” says Day. “That’s one of the benefits. Lions don’t just help others, everybody pitches in to help when a Lion needs help, too.”

Viera echoes this feeling. “My club is very much like a family club. We’re very united. We help each other. Although we might not agree, we always support each other.” For Club President Nelson Cruz, Lions are, literally, his family. Cruz is president of the Dade City Hispanic American Lions Club in Dade City, Florida. He has always been active in his community. As a letter carrier, he sees it as his responsibility to look after the neighborhood and its citizens. He always carries cards with information for domestic abuse survivors and makes sure he

Man and woman in Lions Clubs vests
Carol Marshall and Doug Day, of the Albuquerque Breakfast Lions, volunteer every week at New Mexico’s largest homeless shelter. Marshall loves the “good tired” she feels after a busy day of volunteering.

knows where all available housing is in the area. “Sometimes a small gesture is all it takes,” he says. “I might see a kid who’s out in his yard and ask ‘Why aren’t you in school today?’ Simple conversation can make a difference.” Cruz joined Lions after he saw a presentation on what the club was about and he realized he could help, given his intimate knowledge of the community and its needs. “I had to bring it back to my family though,” he says. Cruz knew he wouldn’t always be available for the meetings or service projects, and he wanted to make sure that when he couldn’t be there, a member of his family could be. “If I believe in it,” he says, “I have to educate my family to get them to also believe in it. We’re trying to make it a way of life.” And that’s just what PDG Chris Carlone, 55, is hoping to do for the kids in his club’s Cub Program. A couple years ago his club, the Metairie Airline Lions Club in Metairie, Louisiana, consisted of a dedicated group of four to six folks in their very golden years. “The youngest one other than my wife and I was 81,” says Carlone. He learned his f irst year as club president that he’d have to take it easy with them. After a can-shaking project for white cane day, they all gathered and told him what a great job he did—and to never do it again. “We’retoo old for that,” they said. And they really were, concedes Carlone. These were guys who loved Lions and who wanted to give back, but their energy was limited. Then he happened to run into a woman he had known as a little girl. She had grown up next to Carlone and expressed her gratitude at having him as a role model. “I want my kids to give back, too” she said. Her kids and some friends had decided they wanted to go read to children in the hospital, she told Carlone. However, it turned out it wasn’t that easy. “You need background checks, liability insurance, etc.” says Carlone. “They don’t let just anyone in off the streets.” Carlone suggested they join Lions and do the project as part of the Cubs Program. So his former neighbor joined—and so did 13 other moms (and one dad) with their kids. Cubs now

Lions Club member
Nelson Cruz, President of Dade City Hispanic American Lions, sees being a Lion as a family affair.

come to the Metairie Airline club meetings regularly with their parents. Each child is challenged to come up with a project of their own and lead the other kids as they do it. “This is not a babysitting job,” says Carlone. ” It’s designed for kids to learn what it’s like one of these kids had the philanthropy blood in them. They just needed an avenue to do it.” The older members are proud of their club’s new life. “They do all kinds of stuff,” says Carlone. “It has been the life-saving boost of our club.”


“I don’t know, I’m not a scientist,” says Carlone. “Everyone has a different story as to why they join. But kids are smart, they listen. And if you come home and talk about how you got one over on someone else and how you’re winning, well, they’ll learn that. But if you come home and you talk about how you went to a homeless shelter that day and fed 300 people, then that’s what they’ll see.” Greenwald says there are some people who just have that desire inside them to help. “They are the ones in your church or synagogue who are the first to bring a meal if you’re sick,” he says. They recognize that there are a lot of needy people in the world and they can lend a hand. “They’re alert to it,” he says. “They do it. They don’t wait for others to do it.”

Lions Club. member giving thumbs up with two kids
Brandon Johnson knew he was a Lion when he was able to help a young single mother find a blender to puree food for her baby after a fire destroyed their home.



Every time DG Brandon Johnson in eastern Tennessee inducts a new member into Lions, he says, “Welcome to our family.” The youngest district governor in the organization, 24-year-old Johnson officially became a Lion on his 18th birthday. But it wasn’t until November of 2016, when high winds spread a wildfire from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Gatlinburg, 80 miles from Johnson’s hometown of La Follette, that he had his “come to Jesus” moment, he says. People were dying. Homes were being destroyed, and Johnson, then a second vice district governor, was lying in bed at 3 a.m., watching live tweets of the devastation. “I’m a Lion. Why am I lying here?” he asked himself. The next day there was a US$10,000 emergency grant from LCI, Lions were serving on the ground, and Johnson had begun fundraising efforts that would net them another US$40,000 for f ire relief. Among the Lions on the ground was Johnson, who met a young single mother with four or f ive children who lost their home. Their basic needs were being met with food, clothes, and shelter, but she needed a blender to puree food for her smallest, a special needs child. “That’s not something you would think about in a f ire,” says Johnson. “A blender? But I was able to get this for her, and that was the moment.” “That was the moment,” he says. “For the f irst time I really knew, ‘Wow. This is what it means to be a Lion.’ Those kinds of stories happen all the time, all over the world.”



Man in Lions Club vest
The late Robert ‘Rocco’ Viera became a Lion and dedicated himself to helping those with hearing impairment.


Viera grew up in El Paso’s Second Ward, El Segundo Barrio, a historic Hispanic neighborhood that is often called “the other Ellis Island” because so many people immigrate through the area. They had no water and no electricity. He had to go outside to brush his teeth, and walk wherever he needed to be. In 1952, he married his high school sweetheart, Grace, and he joined the U.S. Air Force. Years later, Viera found himself unable to communicate with the deaf people who worked for him. He noted how segregated, isolated, and underserved they were, so he went to school to learn sign language. Admired for his dedication, he was invited to join Lions. Over the years Viera grew more and more involved in assisting others. Now, he says, what stands in the way most often is the lack of f inancial resources. “It’s hard. Money is very limited, especially for the hearing impaired,” he says. “But we are very united in our cause. And we help each other. We always all support each other. You have to have the heart, the passion to do what Lions do.”