Freshman-led Leo Club proves to be active, engaged service club

March 12, 2019 — by Elaine Sun and Jeffrey Xu

During the summer of 2017, current freshman Anouk Yeh, then 13, traveled through San Diego to Tijuana, Mexico, for a service trip. She was shocked how poor the people in Tijuana were compared to those in San Diego, only a 20-minute drive away.

She realized the gap was similar to the one separating Saratoga from neighboring areas like East San Jose.

To help combat this kind of inequality, she founded Leo Club while she was an eighth grader at Redwood Middle School to spread awareness to local kids “about the things happening outside of their own bubble.”

Leo Club is a non-profit youth-led service organization and a branch of the Lions Clubs International. LEO stands for Leadership, Experience, Opportunity, and the Saratoga Leo Club is just one branch.

The club proved so popular at Redwood that she decided to continue at the high school. She also got a lot of support from Redwood teachers, especially adviser Alexis Nesper, Yeh said. “[The teachers] were like, ‘Hey we can write you recommendation letters,’ and there was a lot of support so we were excited,” she said.

Club meetings take place every Thursday at lunch in English teacher Susanna Ryan’s room 003. Yeh said that the club has roughly 40 to 45 registered members.

While the club partakes in service projects across all different areas, its main focus is on helping people with special needs, as reflected in service projects such as the Celebrating Differences Carnival in September. While the club was started based on Yeh being inspired by socioeconomic gap between neighboring areas, the club’s main focus has evolved into helping special needs children.

The event was a three-hour carnival consisting of a band and activities for the children.

What differentiates Leo Club from other service clubs is its focus on student-initiated and student-created projects. Students are pushed to create and plan their own events.

Yeh thinks that one of the keys to Leo Club’s success is the wide variety of events the club organizes, which always brings back members for more service projects. The club also does activities like helping at food packaging events to working with senior citizens and elementary school children.

Yeh credits the members of the club for creating a welcoming, tight-knit community that emphasizes sharing.

“This year, the officers and I have definitely emphasized inclusivity, through making sure that club meetings are a safe and welcoming place for everyone,” Yeh said. “Our pre-existing members have definitely stepped up to make new members feel welcome. We realized that for someone to want to step out and go to different volunteer activities they have to be comfortable with the people they are volunteering with.”

Freshman secretary Selina Chen was one of the organizers behind a Dec. 7 Christmas Caroling service project, in which members of the club dressed up in Christmas costumes and went around the neighborhood singing carols, accompanied by various musical instruments. They then asked for donations.

Chen said that they were able to raise $200 from that event alone. In the end, the money was donated to victims of the Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise, Calif.

As a follow-up project to their performance at the senior center, members of Leo Club are now going there every Friday to help serve dinner, Chen said.

According to Yeh, Leo Club has recently been implementing a new system of brainstorming service projects: The membership is divided into five groups, each led by an officer. In these groups, the students begin brainstorming projects by finding a global issue that they are passionate about, ranging from hurricane relief to visiting orphanages and of course, supporting children with special needs.

Yeh said that while the club is pretty close-knit, with most freshman members having known each other from years of volunteering together, the club is always open to having new members join.

“It's a nice community, and we're open to new people too,” Yeh said. “So if you want to join, just join!”

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