A Roaring Start These three new clubs chartered with dozens of members, plenty of pep and promising projects. How did they do it? by Lauren Williamson A thousand miles separate Wesley Chapel, Florida, and Tom’s River, New Jersey, described as a “war zone” after flooding caused by Superstorm Sandy. The Wesley Chapel Lions Club was chartered just last June. But within nine days of the storm’s landfall in October the Wesley Chapel Nissan car dealership overflowed with 200,000 boxes of cookies, 10,000 packages of cold and flu medicine, five tons of choco-late and bales upon bales of sweaters, jackets and hats. “It looked like a FEMA warehouse,” says Troy Steven-son, charter president. Stevenson works at Wesley Chapel Nissan, managed by Tom’s River native Glenn Gibson. Stevenson is no rookie regarding disaster relief. He began working part-time for FEMA after Hurricane Katrina wal-loped the Gulf Coast in 2005. He saw firsthand “what it’s like when people don’t have anything.” Superstorm Sandy was different for him. This time he had a new militia of volunteers to lead. In less than half a year the Wesley Chapel Lions had blossomed into a 60-member team, able and ready to serve. Stevenson took a no-nonsense attitude from the start toward building the club. “You guys got to keep up with my speed,” he recalled telling the 20 people who came to the first meeting after they elected him president. That meant spearheading service projects, inviting guest speak-ers to meetings and networking with public officials. But Stevenson doesn’t waste much time worrying about how to build membership. “Who knows, who cares?” he says. “We’re doing something right.” The club’s actions speak for themselves, he says. New members come to them, including two who asked to transfer from a nearby club. On average, 1,675 new Lions clubs charter each year worldwide. During our association’s last fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30, 205 clubs sprouted in the United States. But it takes people with a certain energy and spirit of generosity to take a club from a fledgling alliance to a trusted, reliable community institution. 16 LION MAY 2013 Tackling major projects right away, as the Wesley Chapel Lions have, is one key to success, says Tamara Ivetic, manager of membership and new club development for Lions Clubs International. “This will give members a sense of pride for assisting their community and validate why it is great to be a Lion,” she says. “Service projects can be unique and personal, and reflect anything that the members of the club are passion-ate about.” It also helps to have the mentorship of the two dedi-cated Guiding Lions, Ivetic says, which the Wesley Chapel Lions found in Claudette Henry and Cathy Walton of the neighboring Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Lions. Henry met Stevenson when she was going from store-front to storefront trying to recruit founding members for a new club. Stevenson admits he wasn’t immediately sold. “I said, ‘I’m running a business and you’re breaking my chops to join a club. I give you three minutes to sell me,’” he recalls. “Two hours later I became a full-blown Lion.” Twenty people came to the first meeting. Within six months, the group had tripled. Stevenson predicts that his club will grow by more than 100 members by the end of its first year. David Skillin, immediate past president of the neigh-boring Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Lions, attributes much of the Wesley Chapel Lions’ success to Stevenson’s charismatic leadership. “Troy is the kind of guy who throws an idea out there and asks who would like to get involved. ‘You run it as you see fit,’” Skillin says. “He doesn’t get in the middle of it. It’s all that much better for the community because there’s just 100 percent participation [in projects].” Club members range in age from 25 to 58. Many are active in the business community and were already friends before the club formed.