Three young Leo Club members will break boundaries by crossing boarders Tuesday-June 28 to represent northeast Indiana at the 95th annual Lions Clubs International convention in Busan, South Korea, where Wayne Madden of Auburn, Ind., will become the new international president.
Indiana State Leo Chairman Doug Rodenbeck says Indiana Leo Club members have attended international conventions before, but this is the first time they are traveling overseas.
Madden, who is currently the International First Vice President, invited Lucas Lengacher of Leo-Cedarville, Caleb Raber of Woodburn and Coltyn Miller of Auburn to be ambassadors of goodwill at the symbolic transfer of power on June 26.
Madden will be the organization's 96th international president, replacing 2011-2012 President Wing-Kun Tam.
“Our international presidents usually end up being very distinguished individuals,” Rodenbeck said. “I have every reason to believe Madden will be one of our best.”
While in Korea, Lengacher, Raber and Miller will participate in special Lions Club summits, seminars and events. Most of their trip expenses are funded by a $5,000 donation from a third party source in gratitude for the Leo Clubs' work.
Leos Clubs are for men and women ages 12-30 dedicated to improving their local and international communities. There are more than 150,000 Leos in more than 6,000 Leo Clubs in 139 countries worldwide, according to LionsClubs.org.
Of the eight Leo districts in Indiana, Rodenbeck's District B is one of the most successful, representing half of the state's total number of Leos with 17 active clubs.
“Part of the reason we were asked to attend the convention is because we have one of the premier programs,” Rodenbeck said.
One of District B's most prominent projects was helping raise $170,000 in 10 months in 2010 to build the Burn Family Suites of Northern Indiana at St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Wayne. The suites provide a quiet place near the hospital for families to eat, sleep and shower while loved ones are treated in the regional burn center.
“It's the largest Leo project in the history of Lionism,” Rodenbeck said.
President Tam and Madden toured the suites when they came to Fort Wayne on April 25 to celebrate the Fort Wayne Central Lions Club's 90th anniversary.
“They thought it was an outstanding example of what kids could do when they set their mind to it,” Rodenbeck said.
Lengacher, 18, is vice president of the Leo Students Sharing Hearts Club at Leo Junior-Senior High School. He has been a club member for four years.
Raber, 17, is president of the Lions-affiliated Woodlan Service Club at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School, where he will be a senior next year.
Raber's friends inspired him to join the Leo Club at the beginning of his junior year when he saw them doing community service projects around town.
Raber has traveled out of the country once before on a mission trip to Uganda, Africa, to install a solar-powered well pump for a water-deprived village. He looks forward to meeting the people of Busan in their home country.
“I already met Dr. Tam at the St. Joe burn center,” Raber said. “He's just as excited as we are.”
Miller, 16, has been a member of the Auburn Classic Leo Club for one year. He looks forward to convening with other Lions Club members in Busan who are passionate about community service.
“I feel more confident now that I'm meeting more adults and kids my age who want to improve their community,” Miller said.
Caleb's dad, Rick Raber, 48, is chaperoning the trip. Rick has never been involved with the Lions Club, but when Caleb approached him about the trip to Busan, he was impressed with the organization's progress and goals.
“I think it's significant that an organization like the Lions Club is extending effort to develop the younger generations because, obviously, if we don't pour into the generation that follows, the organization will die,” Rick Raber said.
The Lions Club is the world's largest service club organization with 1.35 million members and more than 46,000 clubs worldwide, according to the organization's website, www.LionsClubs.org. But membership among younger generations is low.
According to a survey conducted by the Lions Club International board of directors, only about 5 percent of Leos worldwide go on to be Lions.
“That's part of the reason (the) boys are going to Busan,” Rodenbeck said. “They're having a big Leo to Lion summit. This is the first time they're inviting people all over the world to be a part of it, and asking: What can we do to change that?'”
Miller's Leo Club is only five people. He hopes to increase interest in community service is by co-leading a ministry called Youth Working for Christ through County Line Church of God. He plans to kick off the ministry on Aug. 4 with a service project in DeKalb County.
“Leos has been a base for my ministry,” Miller said. “That's one reason I want to go to Korea. It's important for people to understand that Lions Clubs do a lot.”
Miller encourages young people interested in community service to act and join an organization.
“Some people think we're 16, so we can't do anything. My goal is to say we can do something,” Miller said. “When I joined the Leos, I never imagined I could go to Korea someday.”