New Jersey Training School forms Leo club
Residents perform community service projects as an extension of Lions Clubs International

MONROE TWP. – The New Jersey Training School (NJTS), the Juvenile Justice Commission’s (JJC) largest secure facility, has formed a Leo club, a youth organization sponsored by the Lions Clubs International. A group of residents began exploring the opportunity in March, and their local sponsor, the Cranbury Lions Club, chartered the new club, inducting 18 residents on June 9, 2011. The club meets twice a month to plan service projects that benefit both NJTS and the neighboring communities.

The Cranbury Lions Club has had a strong relationship with the NJTS that dates back to the1930s. The NJTS was first designated as a Lions district project, and in 1955, became the first statewide project of the Lions Multiple District 16, which represents the State of New Jersey. A committee, representing each of the five districts in the state, meets several times a year to discuss projects at NJTS and oversees the funds that the Lions designate for the facility. Over the years, the Lions have generously donated equipment for the NJTS eyeglass lab, awarded scholarships, refurbished the swimming pool, purchased embroidery and sign making equipment, and donated sports equipment. Cranbury Lions Club members regularly visit and interact with residents as mentors. Residents wishing to maintain a connection to the Lions organization after they leave the NJTS are connected to Leo or Lions club members in their communities.

“The Juvenile Justice Commission sincerely appreciates the generous support of the Lions Clubs International. Their financial support has allowed the JJC to help our residents prepare to be productive members of their communities. Additionally, the Cranbury Lions Club members have dedicated their time and service directly to the residents of the New Jersey Training School impacting countless young lives,” said Dr. Gloria Hancock, Acting Executive Director. “The Cranbury Lions Club members willingness to work with youth placed in the juvenile justice system is commendable.”

”The heart of the Leo program is to provide opportunities and leadership skills for youth, and to discover the rewards of serving the community,” said Fay Kobland, Cranbury Lions member, NJTS committee member, and Leo advisor. “Our hope is that community service becomes a lifelong mission for these young men. Not only has the new Leo club provided a true service to the neighboring communities, but working with the Leo club members has been a rewarding experience for our Lions members.”

Due to the fluid nature of the juvenile correctional facility, new members are added monthly based on interest and positive behavior as current members move back into the community or are transferred to other JJC facilities. As the club has grown, membership has been opened to all NJTS residents demonstrating positive behavior. The members of the club have designated officers and are responsible for chairing meetings, taking notes, and leading projects.

“The New Jersey Training School is very fortunate to have the support of an active local Lions club,” said Greg Ackels, assistant superintendent, NJTS. “Over the years, many residents have benefited from the generosity and personal commitment of the Cranbury Lions members. With their continued help, our residents are giving back to the community in coordination with the mission of the Lions Clubs International and the Leo clubs.”

Community service projects adopted by the club members coincide with the Leo Clubs objective, ”…to provide the youth of the world with an opportunity for development and contribution, individually and collectively, as responsible members of the local, national and international community.”

The Leo club recently held a Thanksgiving bake sale raising about $500.00 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The members have also designing "pick me up" cards for residents of The Gardens of Monroe Nursing Home.

The club has designated several future projects. One upcoming project would allow residents to design and produce wooden pens for the Freedom Pen Project through the facility's wood working vocational program. This national program donates pens to soldiers stationed overseas. In conjunction with the NJTS's sign shop, the residents also hope to design a logo for the Cranbury Lions 80th anniversary that will be use on t-shirts. As part of the Lions Clubs International’s goal to plant a million trees this year, the Leo Club members are identifying trees and designing a horticulture plan that includes maintaining shrubbery and flowers on the grounds of NJTS.

The first Leo club was started in 1957 by a Lions club member, who coached baseball at Abington High School in Pennsylvania. That club established the Leo acronym – Leadership, Equality, Opportunity. Later, “equality” was changed to “experience”. In October 1967, the board of directors of Lions Clubs International adopted the Leo Club Program as an official program of the association. Community service remains the cornerstone of the program. Today there are 5,700 Leo clubs worldwide.


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