Texas Woman Celebrates Over Thirty Years of Service

Daily Point of Light # 6566 Jul 19, 2019
Lucy Gonzales Daily Point of Light Award Honoree
Lucy, center, supports the military in appreciation of their service, a trait her own veteran father instilled into her at a young age./Courtesy Lucy Gonzales

Lucy Gonzales says she feels the best medicine in the world is serving others. If that’s true, she may be the healthiest woman in Texas.

With over 30 years of service under her belt, Lucy was so ingrained into volunteerism throughout her Texas community that it was a no-brainer when it came to her joining the Houston Lady Lions. The Lady Lions are part of the Lions Club, an international nonprofit
organization that connects volunteers throughout their communities, and is run by women who are invited to join on inclusive invitation based on their volunteerism. After spending several years working on behalf of veterans — she is currently the Director of Government Affairs for the Veterans’ Association of Real Estate Professionals’ Houston chapter— as well as volunteering for the Ronald McDonald House, Lucy was asked to join the Lady Lions just two years ago and is currently serving as their President. The Lions’ motto is “Where there’s a need, there’s a Lion”— and that need has brought them to feed the homeless, gather school supplies for underprivileged children, raise money for the blind, pay tribute to veterans, serve families staying at the Ronald McDonald House, ‘adopt’ those in need from a sick child to a homeless WWII veteran, and so much more.

There are currently 40 members of the Houston Lady Lions, but Lucy’s goal for this year is to expand to 100. If you are interested in learning more or want to get involved, contact Lucy for more information.

For the countless ways she has dedicated herself to her community over the past three decades, Lucy is today’s Daily Point of Light Award recipient. Points of Light spoke to her to learn more about the many ways in which she volunteers.

Describe your volunteer role with Houston Lady Lions.
I got my passion for serving when I was very young. My dad was military, World War II and Korea vet, and my mom was from Italy. She did a lot of volunteer and mission work in Italy. As of right now, I am currently serving as the president of the Houston Lady Lions, I am serving
as the [director of] government affairs [for] VAREP for the veterans, so I go to Washington and speak on behalf of the veterans, and then also serve on the board for a different educational piece where we go out and teach homeowner education to … people who think maybe they can never afford a home. But the passion really from being president of Houston Lady Lions last year — I just got reelected to another term this year — was partnering with other organizations in the community to bridge them together in order to serve more people. That’s been something thats been very dear to my heart.

Just to give you an example, I was serving the Ronald McDonald House. This was my 17th year, I do it every month of May for my birthday ever year … I get stuff collected for the house and then me and my group go cook food in the house, depending on what group I’m in. I
was able to get the Houston Lady Lions to adopt that project so now there is more of us serving that house. We just went there in May and cooked for the kids and their families that are staying there, which was 65 of them. We donate all the food, we go over there, we cook, we get to visit with them, we had over 150 toys donated to the house where all the kids get toys and all the leftovers got donated to their store so that other kids can go pick up a free toy [when they are] visiting the house. Also, our 94-year-old World War II veteran’s home got flooded out in [2017’s Hurricane] Harvey. FEMA came in and gave him money and a contractor came and took the money. So we partnered with several veterans organizations. We were able to get his home rebuilt to the condition where it was livable again, safe, sound and sanitary. People came in and gave us free room, gave us free electrical throughout the house, another group donated 5,000 dollars. We’re just in awe of all the partnership and how it was able to work and it took us approximately three months to do.

We do so much with the Houston Lady Lions but all the stuff I brought to Houston Lady Lions, I was doing before I became a Lady Lion. That’s why they reached out to me. They said, ‘Hey, we see you out in the community, you’re doing all this, why don’t you become a Lion and now you’ll get a group with you?’ And I’m like, that sounds great. So I have been able to increase membership in Lionism because of my service. Now women want to join our group everywhere so they can be a part of our platform. When the [20180 Santa Fe shooting happened, we were there to set up a memorial, we got wooden roses carved for each of the families, we had over 5 million views from CNN throughout the country on their web, just from us being there trying to do that. It just speaks volumes on how smaller people can go and extend worldwide just with an act of kindness. And that’s the message that we want to send, that every little thing that
you could do to help someone is an act of kindness that can be contagious for others to want to do.

We’re part of Team Mason, who is a little boy who is five-years-old. He was born very sick. He’s already had over 16 surgeries, he’s going to have another one in August. We rally around him at every surgery, after surgery, with his family and all that. These things are really
happening right now and my only goal is [to explain] that kindness matters. And today’s world, when all you hear about is the heartache, there’s really good things going on in the world. Together, no matter what group you join, or where you want to be, you can make a difference and it doesn’t cost much.

How do the Lady Lions decide what areas to volunteer in?
As the Lady Lions, our motto is, ‘Where there’s a need, there’s a Lion.’ We serve. Lions have been around for 102 years. We just had our first woman international president last year. She came up with the new initiative called New Voices, which meant women in Lionism have a
voice to show that we too can do more in the community if we champion one another. We can make the world a brighter place. So what we do is we have our Facebook page — our website is being renewed right now — where the community actually can come to us and tell us of an event or something out there that’s happening and then we vote to take it on. Automatically as Lions, we do something for diabetes, for the environment, for childhood cancer and for the blind every year. Those are our four major focuses. But as president of the Houston Lady Lions, I wanted to not only do just those four main events, that was our core, but I wanted to know from the board and from the community what was it that we could do to bring change into the community.

For example, we just built over 50 purses with personal hygiene items for the homeless women so they could pick up a purse and there would be their womanly needs from toothbrush to toothpaste, to hairspray, to brushes, to feminine hygiene products and so forth, so that they have something they can at least start out with. We also partner with the schools where maybe they come in and say, ‘Hey, we need our kids read to during story time,’ or ‘Hey, these kids are really need of supplies,’ so we go out there and partner with our other Lions’ clubs to sponsor.

Right now we’ve done it for the last three years, where they fill over 10,000 backpacks for kids. The Lady Lions go and support them by stuffing the backpacks, by handing out the backpacks to all the underprivileged kids before school starts. We adopted a home where the parents are not with the kids but say their grandparents are, or their aunts are that are elderly, and these kids need underwear, socks, pens, papers, just whatever it is, haircuts, and we go partner with that group so we can provide the stuff that they need.

When Harvey hit, we were in the streets as soon as we were allowed to go through, donating food, water, whatever they needed for the kids, pampers, milk. We actually adopted families where we took families on shopping sprees during Harvey so they could have
something, the necessities of shoes, a shirt. A lot of these people lost everything. I really was in awe to see these little kids. When we’re like ‘Hey, what do you all want?’ and they’re looking for shoes or underwear, not toys, not games, but something that necessity-wise they need to get by. When you see all of that, it just makes you want to do more and we just feel like ‘stop’ is not in our vocabulary. I tell my women, we may not all be able to go to one event, but together we can make an impact. Some of us go to all events … like for the environment one, we pick a beach and we clean the beach for that day. And somedays when we go, we pick up 10, 15, 20 bags of garbage just along the beach.

Can you talk about what you do for veterans?
I got involved with the veterans because my dad was a World War II vet and Korean vet and at a very young age, he taught me how to respect our veterans by always shaking their hand, acknowledging them. As I got older, we would always go out to an appreciation veterans thing when it was Memorial Day, when it was Veterans Day, or even Wreaths Across America. On Christmas we go and lay wreaths across the veterans’ graves and Veterans Day we go put flags on their graves. So it was very young that I learned how to respect our military and I was able to bring that to the Houston Lady Lions. We do the Wreaths Across America, we go out and put the flags up. This past Fourth of July, the Lady Lions were at the Fourth of July parade, in the parade, sitting with the World War II veterans, thanking them for their service, being a part of the community, handing out the flags and candy to the kids, always making sure that people understand how important it was for our military. Even today, the ones that are serving, we donate time to put packages together to help another organization send to our military overseas.

We’re really big on our women veterans. They kind of get overlooked a lot, so this year we just now got three military veterans to join our Houston Lady Lions. So we’re excited about that. One of them just became the director of our veteran project, so we actually go out there, find out what projects are being done for our veterans, where the need is, and then we help them do that. Mental health isn’t really a big thing that people talk about with veterans, they don’t want to talk about it. So me and my vice president just signed up to take a course called mental health awareness assessment, so that when we’re dealing with our veterans, we’re learning about who we may need to refer them to. We believe through education, we become a more powerful team and we are able to help that many more people. We are trying to raise awareness from veteran homelessness, to mental health is good health, meaning that we have people that can help you. We know that veteran suicide is on the rise and right now the suicide rates are higher in women vets than men vets. We also learned that if they get a service dog, their chances of contemplating suicide go down tremendously so we’re working with and partnering up with …different organizations to try to identify veterans who can use the service dogs because they’re
really expensive.

Lucy Gonzales Daily Point of Light Award Honoree
Lucy, third from left, stands with her fellow Houston Lady Lions at the Ronald McDonald House where they serve food to the families staying there. This was the 17th year that she used her birthday month to serve at and raise awareness for the charity./Courtesy Lucy Gonzales

Can you talk about the advocacy work you do for veterans?
I’m actually the Director of Government Affairs with VAREP, which is Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals. We are an organization that will go and champion on behalf of veterans in order to change policy that would be in their best interest. For example, a
lot of the lenders and the real estate professionals try to tell the veterans not to use their VA benefits or they don’t even discuss their VA benefits. So the veterans, instead of going in with zero move-in, they’re bringing money to the closing table. They’re putting money down because a lot of people believe that the VA lending is a harder loan to do, so instead of offering what is rightfully theirs, they choose to say ‘hey, lets look at an FHA or Conventional [loan].’ We’re trying to change policy now that would put light on the lending institution, the real estate professionals, to where they gather that information if that buyer was a veteran at that closing. And if they were, they’re going to document it, and if they didn’t use their VA finances, they’re going to want to know why. And if it wasn’t explained tot them, then our people go back out there to find out hey, why wasn’t this veteran offered these benefits, because we’re trying to make them become a protected class. That’s what we’re working on now.

Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
Absolutely. Right now what we’re doing is we partnered up with the Harris County Sheriff’s Department. They are hosting a Sweat IV Vets run for October 27th that people need to start singing up now so they can do the run. It’s the sixth annual run, and veterans and law enforcement and even the community can go and sign up for this run where they’re raising money for nonprofit organizations that go out and champion the vets, which is what we do.

The other thing that we’re going to be doing July 20th … is we’re going to be serving the homeless at the Loaves & Fishes Soup Kitchen. We’re really excited about that because our newest Lion brought that to our attention last week and we have so many responses where people want to do that. We’re so excited because we had never done that before and now they’ve brought this to our attention so now we’re going to be doing that with them.

Another thing that is going to be coming up in September and October is our annual Hats and High Tea. Last year, the money we raised went to the National Federation of the Blind, The Rose and Camp Hope and we gave each of them 2,100 dollars. This year we’re trying to expand the people that were giving to and we’re also trying to increase the amount that we give them. The Hats and High Tea event is where everyone gets dolled up as if they’re going to high tea, we have raffle tickets that we sell, we have silent auctions, just to raise money for these events. The people we give the money to, the ones that we vote on [to raise money] for the nonprofits, normally are present, they have a representative there. We have a lot of fun things, we have a photo booth, we have different baskets that have been donated and then we do recognitions there throughout. It’s a real fun event that’s normally on a Saturday afternoon or early evening that everyone comes and participates in. We ask all the community to come support us. We’re normally on Deborah Duncan’s [KHOU] show, because she’s a real big supporter of us that
always talks about the Hats and High Teas.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding part is just seeing the smiles on the faces of the people we help. To give you an example, I was notified about the jacket drive the night before the jackets needed to be delivered. There were, I want to say, 50 kids in need. I put out a call to action, got 55 jackets
donated, and gave them to the lady who really needed them for the school. She goes and gives out the jackets to these kids and she’s texting me, ‘I’m crying so much,’ and I’m like ‘What’s wrong?’ I thought we got the wrong sizes. And she’s like, ‘These kids are asking me, do they give them back to me at the end of the day? And I’m telling them no, you get to keep them, and they’re just in tears.’ Some of them we asked, ‘Hey, for Christmas, what do you want?’ And they said, ‘My only want was a jacket.’ You know, we’re talking about eight-, nine- and ten-year-old kids and all all they want for Christmas is a jacket? You can’t help but be moved, because what you’ve done is give them something they’ll remember and one day they’ll want to pass that down and pay it forward.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I learned that through volunteer work, it can make you become a better version of yourself. When you thought or think you have no more energy or time left when you’re serving and volunteering, you always manage to find the time. I don’t know how to explain that. Before I
used to think, well I’ll always been volunteering, [but] I think I’ve taken it to the 10th level if you will. You always think alright, I can’t go to a meeting, I’m too tired, or I’m not going to make it or I’ve got this to do. We have brought on so many activities that the Lions in our group
are like, ‘Oh my God, you make it so easy to serve.’ And I think the key important thing is that people have work everyday, they’re moms, they’re wives, they’re families, everything — but if you say, ‘Hey, you can be a part of our group and if you can’t make it to that event, don’t worry, we’re having another event tomorrow, one next week.’ There is always something for someone to be doing and I think that’s the most beautiful thing of it all, is being able to redefine who you are when you’re helping other people.

I’ve been doing home loans for veterans and first-time home buyers, single parents, people going through bankruptcy, and foreclosures for 36 years. But … when you go into Ronald  McDonald House and you see those kids that need a liver transplant or a lung, brain surgery, there’s nothing in the world that’s more urgent than praying for someone to get through what they’re going through. It kind of brings you back into reality. So many people today are like ‘Oh, this has to be done, that’s going to be done, it’s all urgent,’ but there’s nothing more urgent than championing these little people for survival. And that’s what I’ve learned and I use that in my everyday life. I don’t let everyday things get to me because I have to put it in perspective. When you keep your life in perspective to make it a reality of what others don’t see on a day-to-day basis, it’s easier for me to tell someone that’s upset, ‘Look, I get it, you’re frustrated, but I just got back from serving kids who are waiting to go through brain surgery or have a hole in their heart.’ And you know what they say? They say, ‘Lucy, you’re right, how can we help you?’ So I think it’s important that we deliver a message to others that you don’t have to be rich to give. You don’t have to be a millionaire. You have to just have to have an ounce of care to want to do things for others, whether it’s [giving] time, whether it’s [giving] money, or whether it’s just picking up a book and going to read at the library to kids who don’t have anyone to do that.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Lucy? Click here for local volunteer opportunities.

 

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