After acting swiftly and unselfishly to save the Guilford Lions Club charter last year, new club president Edward Montague and his “small, but mighty” handful of club members have also revived the annual Lions Club Summer Craft Fair and Festival.
With free admission and some 50 different crafters set up on the Green (across from St. George’s Church) selling classic craft show wares of all kinds, it’s an ideal event for families and craft fair lovers to attend. The Guilford Lions Club 2016 Summer Craft Fair and Festival takes place on Guilford’s beautiful town green Saturday, Aug. 6, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A main fundraiser for Guilford Lions Club charitable giving and a summer staple on the Town Green for decades, the craft fair skipped a season last year due to a time of transition in the local group.
That time could just have easily been the last gasp for the Guilford Lions, if not for Edward.
By 2014, despite efforts to build membership, the club’s roster had dwindled down from an all-time high of 55 to barely a handful. Edward, now a Guilford resident of 12 years, signed on to join in 2014, during a last-ditch membership drive that tried to gather 25 new members.
“At that point, the membership was down to about four, including myself,” says Edward, “I joined because I told myself that, when I reached 70, I wanted to do something to help with vision.”
Edward’s grandfather experienced blindness later in his life, and Edward and his mother also encountered vision issues in their adult lives. Since the inception of Lions Clubs International in 1917, Lions Clubs around the country and the world have worked to aid the blind and visually impaired as a main component of charitable giving. The group also assists the hearing impaired and supports many other types of humane efforts.
But, just as Edward was gearing up to help the Guilford Lions, the rest of the club was gearing down.
“They thought they should disband. They didn’t see the merit in continuing,” he says.
Upon learning that a club charter could continue to be held as long as one member was willing to remain active and hold the charter, Edward decided he would be that one member in Guilford.
With that decision, he saved the club.
The club celebrated its 65th year under his new leadership during the fall of 2015, when Edward, together with another club member, Yvette Smith, received a celebratory proclamation from the town recognizing Guilford Lions Club’s 65th anniversary, presented by First Selectman Joseph Mazza.
Of his decision to save the club, Edward simply says, “I was thinking of the men and women who had given their time over the 65 years that the club has been around. Our club was responsible for sponsoring Branford and also Madison [Lions clubs] in getting their starts. I just thought it was sort of a tribute to them to keep our club going. So I took on the task of trying to build the club.”
Edward and a tiny group of remaining members were soon joined by Brendan Garvey, a Madison resident who now serves as the Guilford Lion’s Club vice president. There are currently five active members of the Guilford Lions. One of their first jobs was to start planning to bring back the Craft Fair and Festival. Planning began in January.
Along the way to organizing the craft fair and festival, Guilford Lions Club continued its work in the community. Through Lions Clubs International, the Guilford Lions were able to give a Guilford resident high-quality hearing aids, free of charge. The devices have greatly impacted the life of a man with severe hearing loss, Brendan says.
“That was one of best single things we’ve done so far,” says Brendan. “He is still at working age and he had low hearing capacity in both ears. He needed two hearing aids that I would estimate cost about $10,000 each. Through our affiliation with Lions Clubs International, we got that done for him in about a month.”
In addition to increasing their charitable giving reach by connecting with programs offered through Lions Clubs International, the Guilford Lions are working to build up their club’s coffers to continue to contribute locally. They recently contributed $1,000 to Guilford Meals on Wheels. In June, the club gave a $1,000 scholarship to a deserving Guilford High School (GHS) graduate. Prior to that, the club donated $2,500 to Connecticut Lions Eye Research Foundation (CLERF) programs currently conducted at the Yale University School of Medicine and UConn. Guilford Lions also gave $100 to Guilford Free Library to purchase 10 children’s books.
Funds like those raised from the upcoming Craft Fair and Festival will go a long way toward helping Guilford Lions continue to assist local programs. The group works to support Guilford Food Bank, Meals on Wheels, Guilford Fuel Fund, VNA Parkinsons, Library Children’s Books, and Youth & Family Services as well as in other areas. Guilford Lions used eyeglasses collection boxes around town (such as the one at the Community Center) help the club gather about 1,000 pairs a year to send on for refurbishment and use by those in need. On the state level, Guilford Lions continue work to support efforts including CLERF, Low Vision Center, and Fidelco Guide Dogs.
New members, male and female, are encouraged to join Guilford Lions Club. The group meets about once a month, usually at a conference table in a cozy corner of the Dunkin’ Donuts at 556 Boston Post Road, for work sessions and updates. Guilford Lions also plans to continue a club tradition of holding periodic dinner meetings at Maritime Grille in Guilford.
“We had our first dinner there as a new group in June, when we gave a $1,000 scholarship to our essay winner,” says Edward. “It was a very nice night. We had [State Representative] Sean Scanlon stop by to congratulate [the scholarship winner] and her family and he also led us in the Pledge of Allegiance.”
GHS Class of 2016 scholarship recipient Kathryn Burke was also congratulated by Dr. Fraser Lawrence, M.D. of Northeast Medical of Guilford. The essay contest was offered to GHS graduating seniors seeking to enter the medical field.
Hearing him talk about the club’s recent efforts, it’s very evident Edward has the enthusiasm to keep Guilford Lions going for many years, and can’t wait to see the club come roaring back with bigger membership numbers.
“We’re looking forward to enlarging the membership, and not making the same mistake of having the same people do everything,” says Edward. “At this point, that’s what it is, but we all realize that we have to do it all in order to start out and move forward.”
He said he’s grateful to have such a dedicated group to work with, adding Brendan is the club’s “backbone.” They have been working on crafting programming and other enticing extras to enhance membership.
“I can see myself turning the reins over to somebody down the road that’s younger, and I would stay on a as a member, but we have to get to that point where we have a nice program established, and that’s what we’re working on now,” says Edward. “We want to have more programs with things that enlighten people—they don’t want to go to a regular business meeting month after month. And this small membership we have now, as we augment it, we want to continue to be a club that will work together in harmony.”
To learn more about joining Guilford Lions Club, contact president Edward Montague at 203-738-9811 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about programs of Lions Clubs International visit www.lionsclubs.org.