Lionism in Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park and Beyond


Secretary, Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park Lions Club, Inc.

During the past eight years, the residents of Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park, were introduced to the Lions Club and have seen the Lions in action.

Lionism came to us in this part of Queens when the Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park Lions Club (RHSOPLC) was chartered in June 2012. After the initial meeting, the 25 charter members never looked back, and the RHSOP Lions Club took the community by storm, making its presence felt by implementing various service projects. Today the Club is home to 65 member Lions, and despite the slowdown caused by the Covid 19 pandemic, continues to serve and make an impact in various aspects of life in New York City, and elsewhere.

The parent organization of the Lions is Lions Clubs International (LCI), which is one of the leading providers of humanitarian service worldwide. LCI has grown over the years to an organization comprised of 1.4 million members in 47,000 Lions Clubs, serving in more than 200 countries. This year the Lions will celebrate their 104th Anniversary, and Lionism’s longevity is a testament to the masterful creation of its founder, Melvin Jones, and the strong commitment of its leadership to the provision of humanitarian service to the disadvantaged and needy.

Melvin Jones was born in January 1879 in Arizona and moved with his parents to Chicago, Illinois, where the family settled. Young Melvin Jones became associated with an Insurance company and joined up with a business luncheon group which looked for various ways to generate business for its members. Jones is quoted in his biography as asking, “What if these men, who are successful because of their drive, intelligence and ambition, were to put their talents to work improving their communities?” He then invited prominent business leaders in Chicago to meet and setup the groundwork for just such an organization and on June 7, 1917, Lions Clubs International was born.

In Queens, home of one of the most diverse immigrant communities in the US, many residents were familiar with the activities of the Lions in their home countries. The Lions Club was well known to be a charitable organization comprised of successful businesspeople who combined their resources to provide social assistance to various communities without favoring one over the other. It was surprising, therefore, that as late as 2012 there was no Lions Club in the Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, Woodhaven areas. But we fixed that.

The RHSOP Lions Club was established by a group of business owners from the community, under the guidance of the District Governor and Cabinet members of Lions District 20-K1, which covers Brooklyn and Queens in NYC. RHSOPLC was the 78th Club admitted to the District which, by this time, had made a name for itself as one of the most vibrant districts in the New York & Bermuda Zone. The District’s Clubs drew much of their membership from the immigrant communities of NYC, and so immediately, the RHSOPLC members felt right at home and found it easy to interact with fellow Lions, many of whom came from the Caribbean Islands, Central and South America. The Club installed an Executive Committee headed by Lion Romeo Hitlall as President and scheduled monthly meetings on the first Monday at the Villa Russo. The first few weeks were spent in orientation, attending District membership events and organizing small to medium sized projects such as Parks Cleanups, distributing backpacks and school supplies etc.

Then Superstorm Sandy hit NYC, and parts of Queens and Long Island were severely affected. Along with all the known charitable organization, the Lions were in the forefront of providing hot meals, blankets and clothing and general support to those affected. Working along with teams from LCI and District 20-K1, RHSOP Lions dug deep into their hearts, and pockets, and gave a good account of themselves from the point of view of providing selfless service to the victims of the storm. For many of them, if there was any doubt about what they wished to do in the community, Sandy provided clarity and helped them to understand what it means to stand up for one’s community. This was a fulfillment of the Mission of Lionism, and we were in the thick of things.

THE RHSOPLC used the next few months to develop service projects within the community, and participated at all events sponsored by the District, both business and social. In May 2013, a contingent of RHSOP Lions attended the State Convention in Binghamton and participated in the event along with Lions from every corner of NYS and Bermuda. It was an unforgettable experience for the whole team, and several friendships that were forged then are still going strong. Our members have attended every State Convention that were held since then, there was none in 2020, and will continue to support all International and District events.

The year 2020 saw some very heart-rending occurrences, all flowing from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are immensely proud of the response of our Club to the crises created by the ravages of Covid-19. There was widespread uncertainty, fear and terror in the populace. The first response from the RHSOPLC was to deliver hot individually packaged meals to the medical workers in the major Hospitals and Nursing homes of Queens and Long Island, and the Precincts of the NYPD and Fire Stations of the FDNY. Our selfless Lions bravely made deliveries to these front-line heroes and recounted touching stories of their emotional thanks and gratitude. Medical workers were putting in much longer hours on the job daily, and greatly appreciated even the smallest act of kindness from community organizations. The Club also organized grocery hamper distributions and thanksgiving turkey giveaways, all designed to alleviate the sufferings of the average resident. The pandemic is still on and the RHSOPLC is not finished. Our service also touched hospitals in New Jersey and families in Guyana, in the latter case receiving requests for help through Face Book. One of our latest service projects is the shipment of much needed medical supplies to an NGO in Gambia. The shipment is yet to arrive, but we are confident that the supplies will bring much relief to the citizens of Gambia.

The 2020/2021 Executive Board of the Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park Lions Club is comprised of: Lion Romeo Hitlall, PMJF, President; Lion Motie Phanisnaraine, MJF, 1st Vice President; Lion Johnnie Walker, 2nd Vice President; Lion Naidoo Veerapen, MJF, Secretary; Lion Devindra Persaud, MJF, Treasurer; Lion Todd Greenberg, Membership Chairperson; Lion Mary Diakite, MJF, Leos advisor /Asst. Secty.; Lion Joylyn Wheeler-Persaud, Leos Co-advisor; Lion Jasmine Hitlall, Club Marketing & Communications Chair; Lion Nirmala Singh, Member- Board of Directors; Lion Narzim Mohamed, Member – Board of Directors; Lion Raj Deen, Member – Board of Directors; Lion Mitch Budhram, Member – Board of Directors; and Lion Vernon Kubair Member – Board of Directors.


Naidoo R. Veerapen

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.