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Lions Club of Pago Pago celebrates 30 years of service

On the 28th day of October “in the year of Our Lord 1982”, sixty-five men affixed their signatures to a document that would herald the re-birth of a community service organization in American Samoa.

Among the signers were pillars of the community, successful businessmen, government leaders and visionaries. They would go on to serve the community as governors, college presidents, legislators, cabinet members, and military men. Attorneys, physicians, educators and authors filled their ranks.

One would eventually represent the territory in the U.S. Congress for a record number of terms. Another would become one of Polynesia’s great contemporary singers.

At their helm was a dedicated and energetic young man who claims he never sought the job, wasn’t even present when he was elected, and only reluctantly told his wife that he was, indeed, the new Lions Club president. But on that day, 64 men put their faith in him, and they were not wrong.

The newly formed club was the Lions Club of Pago Pago, and its charter president was Mike Sala. Currently holding the position as Director of the ASG Department of Homeland Security. Sala would eventually serve as club president through five terms.

Thirty years of service to the community have been the outcome of that charter. In ways large and small, some celebrated and acknowledged, others quiet and without fanfare, the Lions have chosen the path of leadership through service.

And while the Lions Club of Pago Pago began as a men’s organization, it would later be on the forefront of change and eventually include women—the first community service club to do so— electing four women presidents in the years since its 1982 charter, which was sponsored by the Lions Club of Apia.

It was at the insistence of Sala that women be included, over the protest of certain members. (He noted that a few men “walked out” when they first invited women to join.)

Best known for Project Eye Care, the group has contributed to the health and well being of the community in dozens of projects. Beginning with its original club, which was responsible for building Lions Park, the re-chartered club under Sala teamed up with the local Boy Scouts, adopting the Scouts as their first Leo Club and acting as a major contributor to the young men’s organization. The Lions charter president also served as the District Chairman for the Boy Scouts Aloha Council.

According to Sala, the first project of the newly chartered club was to build the BBQ pits at Lions Park.

Later years saw the club work in collaboration with LBJ Medical Center, Department of Health, Feleti Barstow Library and other government agencies to conduct vision screening clinics for local residents, including outreach visits to the islands of Manu’a.

Teams of doctors, nurses and technicians have been hosted by the Lions, most notably the Benevolent Missions International (BMI) team, who have traveled to the territory several years in a row to work with the local club, offering eye care, surgery, screenings, medicine and consultation to our community, all free of charge.

Thousands of residents have also received free reading glasses and sunglasses from the local club.

Concerned by the high incidence of diabetes in the population, and the many problems which are manifested by the disease — including diabetic retinopathy, an irreversible blindness — the Lions included in their outreach projects in later years, testing for blood sugar levels.

In collaboration with LBJ and the Department of Health, tens of thousands of residents have been screened, with follow up care thru LBJ’s Eye Clinic, and the head of Ophthalmology, the inimitable Dr. Oo, a dedicated member of the Lions Club.

In fact, generous donations from the Lions Club over the years have given the Eye Clinic state of the art equipment (a special camera valued at $90,000) supplies, and even a coat of paint or two.

The re-charted club has been committed to the youth from the beginning. They have sponsored young men and women, sending students to New Zealand and Alaska to stay and work with Lions there in camps set up for leadership training.

Each year for the past eight years, the Lions have sponsored a contest focused on the concept of peace. Dedicated to children ages 11, 12 and 13, they give generous awards to young artists engaged in depicting their own vision of peace. And most recently, the Lions have sponsored a LEO club at South Pacific Academy, dedicated to helping youth become future leaders through service.

The Lions Club of Pago Pago does not hesitate to partner with other community groups, and has donated to and assisted the Rotary Club, Business and Professional Women, American Samoa Humane Society, Shriner’s Club, Special Olympics, Jr. Golf and Hope House. Members of the Lions Club have also assisted the LBJ Women’s Auxiliary as well as private individuals who needed care, shelter, aid or building repairs.

The club is also no stranger to disaster recovery. Following the devastation of two hurricanes and one tsunami, the Lions went to work, putting together care packages and delivering pallets of food and first aid to families in the stricken villages.

In fact, the Lions don’t limit their aid at all, and following the tragic tsunami of Fukushima, Japan, the Lions Club of Pago Pago sent a generous donation to aid fellow Lions in that dark hour. (It should be noted that the Lions Clubs of Japan were some of the first to render aid following the March 2011 tsunami, and the Lions Clubs there are very active, with tens of thousands of members)

Around the world, Lions are known for their compassion, their leadership, their vision and their concern. As members of the largest volunteer community service organization in the world,  (1.35 million members in 207 countries and territories) Lions are rightfully proud of the work they do. They meet the needs of the world by meeting the needs of their local communities.

Although they are not a religious organization, the service they render is at the heart of every great religion.

They are not a political organization, but they believe in being good citizens.

They are not an environmental organization, but they believe in being good stewards of the earth —and this past year Lions International had as one of its goals the planting of five million trees worldwide. (They exceeded their goal).

They are not a medical organization, but they find a way to bring necessary medical relief to millions.

Under the leadership of Lions Club of Pago Pago’s current president, Isabel Steffany Hudson, the club continues to serve the territory.

With vision care outreach to small outlying villages, further donations to LBJ — the Lions celebrated their anniversary with a $10,000 check to the Eye Clinic in October — and plans to secure a van for mobile outreach, the Lions are still hard at work.

Charter president Mike Sala summed it up when he said, “The Lion’s Club of Pago Pago has come a long way. We have had numerous accomplishments throughout our 30 years, largely because of the continuity of proven leadership that successfully maintained the momentum to serve the community unselfishly.”

Thirty years of service to the people of American Samoa have given the Lions — and America Samoa — something to celebrate.