Juneau Lions members talk club experience

With the coming of the Gold Medal Invitational Basketball Tournament to prepare for, the Juneau Lions Club has been busy. Some members took some time to tell the Juneau Empire about their experiences with the club and why they think volunteering is important.

William Andrew, 43, is a recent member of the club who joined a year ago. Born in Juneau, he left for a time and returned in 2009. A colleague of his told him about the club, and thinking it was an opportunity to give back, Andrew joined.

“When I was a kid in the 80s, my dad lost his job. I needed glasses and we couldn’t afford it,” he said. Fortunately, Andrew received the much-needed glasses from a donation.

He said for him one of the important, more personal program’s the Lions do is the eyeglass drive. Every year the club collects old glasses which can be refurbished to be given to people with eye sight issues but who otherwise couldn’t afford them. The program averages between 1,500 and 2,000 pairs annually.

Currently with the Lions, Andrew has taken on the role as ad manager for Gold Medal. He said he wanted to make it a special ad sponsorship campaign, and thinks it has. For all the local businesses willing to work with them, Andrew said “a big thank you to them.”

Gold Medal has been an important event for many people, particularly Steve Brandner, 55. He came to Juneau in October of 1974 when he was about 15 years old. He and a friend saw Gold Medal teams playing. They didn’t know exactly what it was at the time but became interested. Brandner ended up playing basketball at Juneau-Douglas High School in the spring, and they both ended up participating in future Gold Medal events.

“I was hooked,” he said. So hooked, in fact, that when he learned that Gold Medal was searching for volunteers, he stepped up. “Why wouldn’t I want to give back?”

Now he is in the Juneau Lions Club and has been for 11 years. He has held many different positions in the club, he said. Brandner said he enjoys the Christmas family sponsorship program, where Lions sponsor a large family who is having financial troubles to make their Christmas special. The club prepares all meals, brings a tree and gifts for the family.

“When you see their faces and eyes when it comes in,” he said of the Christmas tree, “it’s really pretty incredible.” Brandner said some children have even recognized him around town.

Volunteering is important to him because he has not only benefitted from similar programs the Lions Club offers but he has seen how many programs from many different organizations have benefitted the community, he said.

Current 1st vice president of the Juneau Lions Club, Edward Hotch, 60, has been in the club for 16 years. He was asked to join by the late Dr. Walter Soboleff and Bill Tompkins.

Hotch echoed what Andrew and Brandner said about the Christmas sponsorship and eyeglass program, mentioning that the Lions also help the Salvation Army ring their bells for donations during the holidays, as well as helping other non-profits when they can.

“A person who might want to join the Lions Club has to want to help others, as that is what the Lions Club is all about,” he said. “There are annual meetings held in the state where all the Lions Club members come together to share on what activities they did during the year and what visions they might have to move forward in other areas the Lions Club can go to help those in need.”

The biggest fundraiser the Juneau Lions Club does is the annual Gold Medal Invitational Basketball Tournament, bringing communities from around Southeast Alaska together. The Mendenhall Flying Lions Club and individuals in the community also step forward to help with this event, said current president of the Juneau Lions Ted Burke. He said membership is always a work in progress.

Hotch also added: “We are always looking for new members to come in and experience what it is like to be a Lions Club member in doing what we can to help others out.”

For more information on the Juneau Lions Club, go to juneaulions.org.

• Contact Clara Miller at 523-2243 or at clara.miller@juneauempire.com.

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