ROCKWOOD – For 52 years, the Rockwood and District Lions Club has served local, national and international communities.
Lions Club members create community spaces, organize social events and raise funds to support people in need.
The club’s current president, Darryl Nichol, has been with the Rockwood club since its inception in 1972.
It all started when a group of fathers and business people “saw a need in the village,” Nichol told the Advertiser during a recent interview at Eramosa River Cafe in Rockwood.
The club’s initial objective, he explained, was to build an arena and community centre in Rockwood.
So the charter members banded together, purchased Rockmosa Park, built the community centre and tennis courts there, and turned it over to the municipality (now Guelph/Eramosa Township), Nichol said.
The project was paid for in part by Ontario grants and money raised by the Rockwood and District Lions Club through community fundraisers.
Nichol said the rest was covered by a joint bridge loan signed by about 20 local Lions. Within five years, the Lions had paid off the loan, he noted.
The Rockwood Lions are also responsible for Waterside Park, which past Lions president Jim Milne once owned and sold to the Lions club, Nichol said.
The club rebuilt the original pavilion and continues to maintain the park.
“It’s the only place you can walk up to the river and fish that’s not private or Grand River Conservation Area,” he noted.
The Rockwood and District Lions Club has “got their hands in everything,” said Eramosa River Cafe owner Leo Jacot, describing how the club provides “real support” in the community whenever it’s needed. “I see their work firsthand,” he said.
“We do what the community thinks needs to be done,” Nichol said.
The Rockwood club is part of Lions International – the largest membership-based service club organization in the world, with over 1.4 million members globally, according to Lions International officials.
Lions Clubs are based on the belief that people can change the world by serving the needs of their local communities and “responding to local and global challenges with kindness and care,” officials state.
Between July 1, 2022 and June 20, 2023 Lions Clubs supported more than 530 million people globally.
In Rockwood, the Lions club is a non-profit, volunteer-run organization with about 21 current members.
Its mission is to “serve the community by promoting and encouraging civic, cultural, social and moral welfare, primarily through charitable endeavours.”
The Rockwood group is the parent club of the South Wellington Community Lions Club, which has an additional seven members.
In the early days of Lions Clubs there were also groups of “Lionesses,” Nichol said, which in Rockwood was mostly wives of Lions. But today, Lions can be any gender, and there are both women and men in the Rockwood and South Wellington Lions clubs.
Anyone over 18 years old can join and Nichol encourages young people to become members. One of the current Lions is in his 20s, he noted, and he’s hopeful more young people will get involved soon.
The Rockwood and District Lions Club does much of its fundraising by offering catering services for events such as weddings and open houses at schools.
Nichol said it focuses on fundraising through catering because other methods like raffles and auctions can be hard to sell tickets for, but “people always eat – so the easiest way is to cater.”
For school-run events, the club donates a portion of its catering proceeds directly back to the school.
Since about 1985 the club has organized annual pancake breakfasts in April.
This year there will also be a pancake breakfast on Feb. 19 for Family Day.
This will be a special pancakes and pyjamas breakfast to fundraise for the Paediatric Oncology Group of Ontario (POGO), a non-profit organization that works to support people impacted by childhood cancer by improving access to care and support.
Since 1983 POGO has advocated on behalf of children with cancer and their families.
“Everyone is invited to come (to the pancake breakfast) in their pyjamas,” Nichol said.
He is hopeful the pyjamas and pancakes event will become an annual Family Day tradition in support of POGO.
The club also organizes Tack Shows twice a year, in the spring and fall, at which equestrians can browse vendors with a range of horse-related products.
The Tack Shows raise funds for the local Lions club.
December is a busy month for the Rockwood Lions, who organize multiple Santa-themed events and have a presence at the Rockwood Farmers’ Annual Santa Claus Parade of Lights.
The club kicked off last December with Photos in the Park with Santa in a Sleigh on Dec. 2 and 9, and Santa’s Breakfast on Dec. 3.
Nichol said Elle Chic Photography in Guelph donates services for the Santa photos at Waterside park, and sends the photos to each family electronically.
Donations for the photos are welcomed but not necessary, with all proceeds going to the Lions.
The Santa’s Breakfast was extremely popular this year.
Organizers expected around 100 people to show up, and prepared for 120, so things got hectic when about 300 people showed up at the Rockmosa Community Centre to enjoy the meal.
“There was a little bit of chaos,” Nichol said. “But in general people seemed to be quite happy.”
The Rockwood Lions also arranged Santa visits to 41 homes in Guelph/Eramosa this year. For a $25 donation to the club, Santa visited children in their homes between Nov. 22 and Dec. 22.
The Lions also organize Santa visits at schools, day cares, and municipal staff luncheons.
Money raised by the Rockwood and District Lions Club goes to support local, national and international initiatives.
Community organizations that receive support from the Lions include the Acton and Guelph Legions, Groves hospital, 4-H Ontario, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Rockwood Soccer, the Rockwood Eramosa Minor Ball association, and Sunrise Therapeutic Riding and Learning Centre, Nichol said.
He added all four schools in the township are supported by the club: Eramosa, Sacred Heart Catholic, Harris Mill and Rockwood Centennial.
The club also raises money for the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides as well as a range of summer camps, including:
- Lions Camp Dorset, for dialysis patients and their families;
- Campfire Circle (formerly Camp Trillium) for kids and families affected by childhood cancer or serious illness;
- Camp Kirk, for neurodiverse kids; and
- CNIB Lake Joe summer camp for people with sight loss.
Nichol said the Lions often provide international support in response to world disasters such as wars and natural disasters.
After an earthquake in Mexico, Nichol said the Lions Club helped family members contact one another.
The Rockwood and District Lions Club also ships containers full of donations overseas. The donations include wheelchairs, walkers, computers, clothes, air conditioning units, bicycles and hospital beds, Nichol said.
The club shipped its first container to the Dominican Republic between 10 and 15 years ago, Nichol said, packed full of about 400 bicycles.
The bicycles were mostly distributed among Haitian people working in small Dominican villages, Nichol noted. The Haitians were spending many hours every day walking to and from work, he explained, so the bicycles offered them much-needed transportation.
When the Wellington Terrace Long-Term Care home was renovated, the Lions picked up the old beds, mirrors and curtains to send to the Dominican Republic.
“We refurbished one complete hospital with new beds,” Nichol said.
Last summer, the Rockwood Lions launched a Community Pantry Project that provides groceries, clothing, kitchen items and hot soup to people in need every week.
The Lions also have a collection of accessibility aids including wheelchairs, walkers and canes that they lend out to community members in need, free of charge.
For more information or to join the Rockwood and District Lions Club, contact Nichol at 519-856-4566.