By: Megan Blank, Staff Writer
There are only three Leo Clubs in Montgomery County, and Souderton has two, thanks to W. Dennis Krauss and about 50 dedicated youth. Krauss, 67, is the Harleysville Lions Club representative to the two Leo clubs, and chairman of the Harleysville Lions’ Leo committee.
The Leo Club is the youth branch of the Lions Club International, a community-service oriented program dedicated to serving those in need in their communities.
Leo stands for Leadership, Experience, Opportunity, as participants, ages 12 to 18, aim learn these character traits early on.
“I tell the kids, ‘the older you get, the more personal responsibility you assume,'” Krauss said. “We have to serve the community.” Of the two Leo clubs in the Souderton Area School District, one operates at Indian Crest Junior High School and the other Indian Valley Middle School. Krauss had been a principal for three years in the Twin Valley School District, in Berks County, unsuccessfully trying to get a Leo club started there.
It was after he decided to go back to teaching at the middle school that he was able to help start clubs at that level, and eventually the high school level. He taught middle school for six years.
He began substitute teaching in the Twin Valley School District, as well as the Souderton Area School District. It was his involvement with the students he was teaching, as well as his personal ties to the area, that helped get the SASD Leo clubs started.
“I grew up in Souderton, and am also a graduate. Class of 1959,” he said.
Krauss retired four years ago, and while he still occasionally substitutes, he has since devoted most of his time to seeing the Crest and Valley Leo clubs succeed. He’s been involved with the Harleysville Lions since 1969, having grown up with the organization.
“They used to meet in my father’s hotel, the Mainland Inn,” he said. “It was formed in 1945 or ’46, and I was born in ’41 so I’ve always been involved.”
The Indian Valley Leo Club was formed almost two years ago with the help of science teacher Jennifer Odenwald.
“Mrs. Odenwald talked to the kids on her team, and helped spread the word,” Krauss said.
There are about 20 students currently involved.
The Indian Crest club was actually chartered last spring, but because of scheduling conflicts, the charter night was not held until this past October. Currently there are 25 kids involved, many who had been involved first at Indian Valley.
“It’s very strong,” Krauss said, “and now we’re working to rebuild the Indian Valley club again.”
Indian Crest student Elizabeth Breen is the president of the Indian Crest chapter.
“I’ve been involved for three years, since joining at Indian Valley,” she said. “I thought it was a good opportunity to join the community, and I like doing stuff for the community. It’s a fun thing for young people to get involved in.”
Natalie Carbone is another Indian Crest student involved in the club, which she has been involved in since sixth grade.
“I though it sounded interesting, and it seemed like a lot of fun to help people out,” she said. “We’re doing a lot for the community; I definitely think [the Leo club] is a good idea.”
Due to the Souderton School District teacher’s strikes, with teachers not taking on supplemental activities, Krauss has also been the in-school advisor to the two clubs, and they meet at the same time a couple times a month at the Indian Valley YMCA.
Krauss said he appreciates the evening meetings, as it’s generally easier for the kids to make it to them.
“I don’t force the kids to have to choose between this organization and band or sports,” he said. “I want them to be involved.”
Many of the Leo clubs service projects center on sight-related impairments, which has been a staple of the Lions Club outreach, ever since 1925 when Helen Keller encouraged the Lions to become “knights of the Blind in the crusade against darkness.”
Recently former district governor Barry Koffel, a member of the Harleysville Lions, who raises leader-dogs with his wife, brought in a puppy to a Leo meeting.
“The kids will get to meet the dog again in the spring after it’s been trained,” Krauss said.
Through work with White Cane Day at Henning’s Market in Harleysville, last year the Leo Clubs at Crest and Valley worked with the Lions to raise $1,500. They decided to donate to several site-related causes, including Leader-dogs for the Blind, Beacon Lodge for the Blind, and the Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley. They also gave money to the YMCA for letting the clubs use their space.
Right now the Lions club is helping the kids decide where to use their fundraising money, usually with projects already underway by the Lions, but Krauss said as they grow up and become more involved, they’ll have more say.
Past projects for the Leos have included working with the Lions at the Harleysville County Fair selling funnel cakes, soda and candy.
Right now the Leo Club at Indian Crest and the Harleysville Lions are selling hoagie coupons, with Henning’s Supermarket, a portion of which will go towards the club’s treasury.
Upcoming events for the Leos include a used glasses drive, where students bring in used glasses to be redistributed in the community and beyond. Last year the two schools collected over 200 pairs.
“They’re also talking about hosting a car wash, and having a dance in the spring, maybe around St. Patrick’s Day,” Krauss said.
There is also a Leo club for the high school in the works, with one student having filled out the paperwork to start a new club in 2009.
“In conjunction with the new [high school] building,” Krauss said. “And also, all those 20 kids at Indian Crest will then descend to the high school.”
Krauss said he has been grateful for the support and cooperation of all the school administration’s he’s dealt with in the district.
“Every level has been wonderful,” he said. “They’re making it possible.”
One of the pragmatic benefits of being in the Leo club for students, Krauss said, is that Leo service projects can be used towards their senior graduation projects.
“It’s just a good program for them to sink their roots into, and work together. And we try to make it fun,” Krauss said.
As adults the students can then decide whether to join their local Lions Clubs.
“If you get young kids involved, and get them enthused, you’ve got them for life,” he said.
Krauss laughed when asked if he’s enjoying his work with the Leo clubs.
“It’s been fantastic,” he said. “But you’re talking to someone who chose to be working with kids since he was out of high school. And these kids are just terrific.”
“It’s a no brainer,” he said.
There are more than 5,700 Leo clubs in more than 139 countries with approximately 144,000 members.
Learn more about the Lions and Leo Clubs at www.lionsclubs.org.