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ON THE 11th HOUR: when the war went quiet
A struggle to survive
Few things get Erica Alcock more excited than the Lions Max Simms Memorial Camp.
The young Grand Bank resident, who has cerebral palsy, has been visiting the facility for challenged individuals in Bishop’s Falls for as long as her grandfather can recall.
She’ll be going again this year, Eric Alcock says.
“All you’ve got to do is mention, well, we’re on the way to Max Simms Camp, we’re going on a road trip, and she’s nothing only squealing and dancing,” Alcock told The Southern Gazette.
Alcock says Erica knows everyone at the camp, loves socializing, and has been able to experience activities like horseback riding she might not otherwise be able to.
“Oh, she gets fully involved,” Alcock says.
The Grand Bank Lions Club has made it possible for Erica, year in and year out.
If things don’t change, however, the club’s leaders foresee a day when it will no longer be there to help the community.
That would be sad, says Alcock, a one-time member of the club.
“It would be very, very unfortunate to the town of Grand Bank if the Lions Club had to give up operations."
Not there yet
In his half century with the club, outgoing president Jim Tessier has seen membership climb so high – it approached 80 around the late-1970s – a freeze was put in place.
Today there are 22 members, officially 20 on the books. Incoming president Carl Rose says approximately 50 per cent range in age from 70 to mid-80s, however.
Some have jobs that take them out of the community for long stretches; others work in the evenings and are often unavailable.
There have even been rumours circulating the club is folding.
They aren’t true, Tessier says, though closure has been discussed if support isn't found from the community in the form of new members. The aim is to keep the club going as long as possible, he says.
“It’s the same small group that’s doing the leadership roles in all the projects and really, they’re overburdened with the amount of work they have to carry now,” Tessier says.
As a result, annual staple events like the TV auction, the winter carnival Jiggs dinner and, this year, the Mother’s Day program have fallen by the way.
“I can’t see the club surviving if we don’t have some new blood and, hopefully, younger blood coming in to help.”
Appeal for members
The Grand Bank Lions Club is among the oldest in the province, starting out as the Grand Bank-Fortune Lions Club in 1951, before sponsoring a new club in Fortune in 1970. It’s thought only the clubs in St. John’s and Gander are older.
The club has also sponsored Lions Clubs in St. Pierre, St. Lawrence, Harbour Breton and Garnish.
Countless residents and community groups have benefited from the work they’ve done.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in the community that hasn’t been touched by the work of the Lions Club,” Tessier says.
“Everything we do, really, in one way or another, reaches out and touches everybody in the community.”
Rose says the community has always been supportive of club projects, but now the organization needs citizens to sign up and become members.
In particular, younger members who can grow with the club would be ideal, to assume leadership positions so some of the de-activated projects can be started again.
“If the Lions Club were to fold, I think it would be a big gap in this community,” Rose says.
According to Alcock, it would be another blow to the town.
“A big blow, too, because you don’t realize (the club is) there until all of a sudden it shows up with help for you, and that’s the unfortunate part,” he says.
Lions Centre needs upgrades
Complicating matters for the Grand Bank Lions Club is the condition of the Grand Bank Lions Centre and costs to operate the building.
Outgoing president Jim Tessier suggests keeping the heat on is $10,000 or more a year; insurance is almost $5,000 annually.
The club needs assistance to complete necessary upgrades on the building, if it is going to continue to be used as a venue for weddings and other events, Tessier says.
There are plumbing improvements, washrooms are in need of renovating, and the club’s tables and chairs need replacement.
Rentals, a major source of revenue for the club, have taken a nose dive. A couple of years ago, there was a wedding at the centre nearly every weekend of the summer. This year, there are two bookings, Tessier says, one in July and another in October.
As it stands, Tessier says the club can’t afford the upgrades to make the building an attractive rental option on its own and needs funding help.
“Big bucks are needed to just keep the building going, but we do need upgrades,” he says.