Jane has lived in North Haven, Conn., her whole life. She is currently a senior at two high schools: North Haven High School and the ACES Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven, where she studies theater. Because of her busy schedule, Jane doesn’t have the opportunity to participate in school clubs.
When she was first exposed to the local Lions Club, she instantly resonated with their mission and wanted to create an opportunity for middle and high school kids to participate in a volunteer capacity. This led to Jane founding the North Haven Leos (a youth extension of the Lions Club) whose motto is, “Where there’s a need, there’s a Leo.”
What inspires you to volunteer?
My family has always been big on recycling. When I was in elementary school, I realized that neither the cafeteria nor the classrooms had any recycling bins at all. I immediately took action. I talked to the school’s principal, inquired about bins at a local recycling plant, created posters with my classmates and gave a speech at my school about the importance of recycling. This was instrumental in my school getting a recycling bin. This instilled a “can do” attitude in me.
My family has always been involved in community service and supporting causes we believe in through helping others. As a sophomore, I founded an extension of the local Lions Club just for middle and high schoolers called the North Haven Leos which is an entirely youth-led organization that empowers kids to do good in their community.
Describe your volunteer role with the Leos Club.
The Leos Club is similar to the Lions Club in our dedication to community service. Leo members help out at club events, are encouraged to attend meetings and bring their own ideas of what kind of projects they want to pursue and causes they want to support. Students are encouraged to bring their own ideas for service projects and to be in leadership positions.
As president, my duties include fundraising and organizing service projects. For example, we raised money to deliver Valentine’s Day gift baskets to nursing home residents, sold recycled can-tab bracelets at Earth Day events and donated the profits to a Ukrainian relief organization, and had a successful toy drive for the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital during the holidays, among other activities.
This year, I was elected vice president, and so far this school year we have created chalk murals for the local elementary schools, fundraised for the Diaper Bank of Connecticut and held a drive for resources for the North Haven Animal Shelter.
I also help with running and assisting with meetings, reaching out to local organizations, coordinating with the Lions to plan activities, serving on committees and frequently attending service events.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Seeing teenagers and young people make connections and friends and become empowered through youth-led community service has been wonderful. We decide which projects to take on and when we can’t find ways to help, we create them. If members are passionate about supporting a cause or an organization, or have an idea for a service project, we as a club make it happen.
The power of the club comes in giving resources to kids and teenagers to do what they love, while also helping the community in the process. Leos are very involved. We jump at every opportunity! In fact, in our last meeting, we had to get more chairs because so many more people showed up than we expected. Seeing people rally around a cause and be part of that enthusiasm and energy is amazing!
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I have learned how to advocate for myself and for our group, how to run a club, how to rely on others and how to follow up on responsibilities. It has really helped shape me as a leader and as a person. It makes me feel more connected to other people in my community.
I am more confident in myself now. Also, it’s really incredible how much people will help you when you’re supporting a good cause. I’ve met some wonderful people who are doing great things, and it makes me so happy to know that we’re all in this together.
Are there any future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about?
Yes! There are three projects I’m especially looking forward to this year.
First, the Leos will be collecting coats/winter items at the schools. What we collect will go directly to IRIS, an organization that helps refugees find shelter and resources to recover their lives.
We also plan on partnering with a local conservation committee and other groups for a town-wide Earth Day event. Last year was very successful! There are clean ups happening all over town, as well as information booths and service events set up at different places, like the high school. All town residents are encouraged to come and help out, or just support the people who are doing so. It’s a huge event with a lot of different opportunities for us (and everyone) to do community service and make our Earth a little greener.
Finally, this summer our town is hosting its first-ever Pride Month. We will work with the Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion to organize this event. The Leo Club is very excited to take the lead in planning something that means a lot to so many people and we can’t wait to see what will come out of it. We don’t know what it will look like quite yet, but we have lots of ideas, and we can’t wait to see how everyone else celebrates Pride Month, too.
Why do you think it’s important for others to get involved?
Volunteering makes the world better for everyone. If you have the privilege to help, you should absolutely try to do it. Volunteering benefits you through increased confidence and empathy, and there’s something special about knowing that your actions have directly and positively influenced the lives of others and made them better. People sticking together makes the world a better place.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
It doesn’t matter how young you are, you always have the power to make a difference and create positive change. If there aren’t opportunities to help, make them yourself. You are strong and capable enough to do that for yourself. There are many resources available to you, more than you may think, so use them if you can and create the change you want to see.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Jane? Find local volunteer opportunities.