Saddle River Valley Lions “$2 Million Dollar Charity Gala” Celebration
Those in attendance at the Saddle River Valley Lions Club’s recent “$2 Million Dollar Charity Gala” described the overall atmosphere of the evening both as ‘jubilant’ and ‘inspirational.’ Held by the 56 year old Club to commemorate its passing the two million dollar mark – $2,073,817, to be exact – in terms of funds raised and distributed to charity, the event also served as the presentation venue for the distribution of its charitable grants to the Lions’ 2014 recipient organizations.
Almost one hundred people were present at the celebratory occasion which, in addition to the members themselves, included representatives of most of the forty-plus charitable, civic, and educational groups supported by the Lions as well as several local community leaders and elected officials. Those present at the Gala Dinner all received warm praise in the welcome address of the Club’s president, Lion Jerry Michota. Michota spoke of the Lions’ “ongoing commitment to support the good work of those who provide the direct services to those in need” He went on to express his “deep thanks and appreciation to the Club’s members who planned and participated in its fundraising and service efforts and to Lion Gary Paton and his planning committee who organized this evening’s gala celebration.”
In analyzing the true scope of the Club’s accomplishment, Michota went on to say explain that “what makes reaching this $2 million dollar threshold so amazing is that, excepting for a few years when membership numbered fifty individuals, during its more recent history the average number of the club’s members has only ranged between thirty five and forty.” “Further,” he went on, “while it took almost four decades for us to make the first million dollars, the second million was raised in just a third of that time.”
According to the treasurer of the Lions Club, Paula Turrin, this year’s total of funds donated to it’s sponsored charities reached almost $80,000, an amount which slightly exceeded that of recent years. Turrin explained that “the Saddle River Valley Lions Club is classified as a 501C(3) non-profit entity. One hundred percent of the net proceeds we raise go directly to the charities and organizations that that the Club supports. None of the funds raised are used to meet administrative expenses as these costs are borne directly by our members themselves.”
Current Lions Governor of District 16A, Winster Ceballos, a guest at the Gala Dinner, warmly addressed his compliments to those assembled. He expressed his admiration to the Club by stating that “$2 million dollars in donations is not an achievement that many clubs could ever reach. It is because of the dedication and hard work of the Saddle River Lions during the past 56 years that they have been able to reach this milestone, while at the same time helping many families and projects within their own community and throughout the state of New Jersey.”
To the backdrop of music provided by Lion Ed Fedush, District 16A Project Chairman for New Jersey Blind Athletes, one particularly memorable portion of the evening’s program was provided by the Lions Club Secretary, Life Member Bob May. May gave those present a short lesson on the history of the Saddle River Valley Lions Club entitled “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”. “It was in the late 1950’s,” he began, “that members of the Waldwick Lions Club recognized a need for the establishment of a club for the residents of Saddle River and Upper Saddle River, then two rapidly growing communities.”
After acknowledging the presence of the current president of the Waldwick Lions Club, Randy Reveley, May went on to explain that twenty six members attended the charter meeting held on January 13, 1958. “The new club prospered throughout the 1960s, ultimately growing to fifty members,” the maximum permitted under its by-laws. By 1975, “Saddle River Valley Club helped continue the expansion of Lionism in Northern New Jersey by sponsoring the Pascack Hills Club in Montvale.”
The Lions’ continually increasing program of service activities and fundraising efforts was emphasized by Lion May as he recounted memories of some of the many projects performed by the local club over the years. May stated that “service to our local communities has gone way beyond fundraising” and offered several examples. “In the late 1970s, Club members cleared and drained a piece of ‘swampland’ owned by the borough of Upper Saddle River and turned it into the first recreational area available to all its residents. Today, Lions Memorial Park continues to serve the community and is now the site of the ‘Annual Lions Carnival.’ ”
May went on to describe numerous other community service projects including examples such as “moving the U.S.R. library to its new, current location, renovating the kitchen and building a handicapped access ramp at the S.R.V. Cultural Center.” In addition to its continuing financial support, Lions “provided countless hours of labor improving the New Jersey Camp for Blind Children, known as Camp Marcella, and located in Rockaway Township, New Jersey.” In closing, May said that “we are still a growing club whose members are comprised of a vibrant group of men and women dedicated to serving those in need. And as to the future of the Saddle River Valley Lions, well, you can take it from me; the best is yet to come.”
The highlight of the evening was the actual distribution of grants and donations. The chairpersons of five of the Club’s standing committees made the actual presentations to representatives from each of the recipient organizations. In introducing Judy Ortman, the representative of the St. Joseph’s School for the Blind and the first group of the night to receive its donation, the Sight Committee Chairman, Lion Tim Trossman, expressed a viewpoint echoed throughout the evening by Lion John Chambers (Human Services Committee Chairman), Lion Emery Duell (Education Committee Chairman), and Lion George Lesnik (Youth Committee Chairman).
Trossman stated that “there is so much to be learned from these organizations. First and foremost is the knowledge that there are places out there where blind and visually impaired people can go for support. Their expanded use of technology especially is really taking off and improving people’s lives. But today, the very groups that offer formal hands-on training and assistance are more in need of our support than ever before. What a great thing it is, then, to give the resources that these fantastic organizations need in order to go on improving lives year after year.”
The feeling expressed by Trossman clearly was reciprocated. In her acceptance of the Lions’ donation to her organization, Ortman acknowledged that “the support of Lions Clubs from all over New Jersey is a key element of the fundraising efforts of the Concordia Learning Center at the St. Joseph School for Blind. The Saddle River Valley Lions Club has been a consistent and very generous part of that funding for well over 15 years. The funds we receive from Lions Clubs allow us to offer our students a unique integration of skill sets. Provided by our educational and specialty staff are services such as physical, occupational and speech therapy, as well as orientation and mobility instruction.”
But Ortman continued, stating that the most important contribution that can be made to an organization isn’t necessarily about money alone. “Sometimes overlooked,” she said, “is the volunteer time and commitment of Lions throughout the state. The sheer knowledge that there are groups out there that care about our students and their success is encouraging for all of us and every bit as vital as the funds they donate to us.”
In making the Youth Committee’s presentations, Chairman Lesnik, who also is a Past Governor of Lions District 16A, re-emphasized remarks made by several others during the evening regarding the Lions’ support of youth activities. “The impact of our youth programs,” he said, “cannot be overstated.”
Lesnik continued, stating that “over and above the continuing financial support we provide to tonight’s charitable recipients, one of our major achievements during the past year has been the establishment of two Leo Clubs,” an accomplishment which he credited largely to retired school administrator and fellow S.R.V. Lion, David Verducci. Chartered by Lions International, the new clubs are based at Northern Highlands Regional High School (Allendale) and the Cavallini Middle School (Upper Saddle River). The Leo Clubs fulfill an important function by providing middle and high school students opportunities and activities designed to inculcate the values associated with service to their communities.
In a warmly addressed thank you speech, current Upper Saddle River Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Monica Browne, seemed to sum up the feelings of many when she said that “as important as the Lions’ financial support is to our schools, the establishment of the Leo Clubs do something even more important. They provide another vehicle through which we can teach our students the importance and meaningfulness of service to others.”
Lions President Michota closed the evening’s program by speaking about Lions Clubs International. He described the club as the world's largest service club organization with over 1.3 million members in approximately 45,000 clubs in more than 208 countries and geographical areas around the world. Founded in 1917, membership is by invitation and although the organization is best known for fighting blindness, the Club also performs volunteer work for many different kinds of community projects – including caring for the environment, feeding the hungry, and aiding seniors and the disabled.
The Club’s achievement of reaching the $2 million mark has not gone unnoticed by the larger community, garnering praise from local elected officials. Earlier in the month, the Mayors and Borough Councils in three of the towns served by the Saddle River Valley Lions, Mahwah, Ramsey, and Upper Saddle River, each honored the Club by passing Official Proclamations recognizing the groups service.
The Upper Saddle River presentation, the first of the three, was made by Mayor Joanne Minichetti at a public meeting of the local governing body. In her reading of the actual recognition text, the Mayor noted the many noteworthy accomplishments and activities of the S.R.V. Lions Club. She thanked its members “for all the good work you do and for helping to build a greater sense of community among the residents of Upper Saddle River.”
Similar comments were made by the second and third presentations held just a week later. In Mahwah, Council President John Roth spoke on behalf of the governing body offering “thanks for the many noteworthy accomplishments and activities of the S.R.V. Lions Club.” He also expressed “appreciation to the members of the club their significant contribution to the community and for helping to improve the lives of so many who live and work in Mahwah.” This sentiment echoed that of by Mayor Christopher Botta who also expressed gratitude to the Lions “for their invaluable contributions to the community of Ramsey.”
Reflecting back, S.R.V. Lion Jim Murphy seemed to capture the overall tenor of the Lions’ current state of affairs, describing it as “a simply fantastic feeling.” When asked to elaborate, Murphy immediately quipped that “in the 15 short years I have been a member of the Lions we have raised and given away another million bucks to people in real need! How cool is that?"
For further information about the any aspect of the Saddle River Valley Lions Club, including membership opportunities, please visit www.SRVLions.org. To learn more about the Leo Club Program, go to the Youth Programs section of the Lions Web site at www.lionsclubs.org.