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Friday, May 24, 2024

Downtown San Diego Lions Keep Roaring

PHILANTHROPY: Club Celebrating 100th Anniversary in 2022

Celebrating 100 years of community service in 2022, members of the venerable Downtown San Diego Lions Club are in good company with millions of people looking to make a difference for some of the world’s most vulnerable individuals.

Douglas Wahl
Downtown San Diego Lions Club

The Downtown San Diego Lions Club is part of Lions Club International, the world’s largest volunteer service club organization − with nearly 1.5 million members who are part of more than 48,000 clubs around the globe serving in 200 countries and geographic areas.

One of about 60 Lions clubs countywide, the Downtown San Diego Lions Club isn’t letting the century of service milestone it has reached allow it to rest on any laurels. Comprised of close to 100 San Diego County residents of all age ranges (including one in his 90s) with only a handful of the club members actually living in downtown San Diego, the group shows no signs of slowing down.

Originally formed in 1922, the group continues to stay true to its original mission of “improving the world one human being at a time” through programs that teach and promote empathy, fellowship and service, doing so with compassion and activism.

While Lions internationally are known for assisting the blind, the Downtown San Diego Lions Club supports a wide variety of projects, helping nonprofits that assist veterans, those experiencing homelessness, seniors, disabled residents and underserved youth.

Between July 1996 and June 2021, the club granted more than $5 million to more than 450 charitable and nonprofit organizations in the San Diego community.

The gifts included $400,000 to the UC San Diego Shiley Eye Institute’s Downtown San Diego Lions Club BioBank for Vision, $9,000 to the San Diego Center for the Blind, nearly $6,000 to Paralyzed Veterans of America, California-San Diego, $5,000 apiece to Promises2Kids and Armed Services YMCA in San Diego, $4,000 to Travelers Aid San Diego, $3,000 to San Diego Rescue Mission and nearly $3,000 to Angels Foster Network.

During the past year, among other community groups, the Downtown San Diego Lions also supported Fresh Start Surgical Gifts, the San Diego History Museum, Fern Street Circus, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego and Elder Help.

Patrick Stalnaker
Downtown San Diego Lions Club

Downtown San Diego Lions like 25-year member Patrick Stalnaker say club members work as a team to strengthen the local community with compassionate hands-on service, working with partners on humanitarian projects and positively impacting the lives of thousands of in-need, at-risk children.

“It’s in our motto – to serve the community, and that’s the real important thing to know about the Downtown San Diego Lions,” said Stalnaker, a former public information officer for several government and educational entities.

“We have people who are like minded who really want to serve the community. These are people of mixed politics, of all stripes. The people in this organization are wonderful. We band together for the common good, to do good things for the community and I am really proud of that.”

Founded in 1922

The Downtown San Diego Lions was launched by a group of more than 50 local business leaders – all men – in 1922, five years after Lions Clubs International was formed in 1917.

While the membership is less than half of what it was at its peak of 244 members in the 1940s, the Downtown San Diego Lions remain a mighty and strong group, says its President Douglas Wahl.

A retired Navy Commander and oceanographer originally from Atlanta, Wahl took over the Downtown San Diego Lions Club presidency earlier this summer. He first joined the Downtown San Diego Lions Club in 2009.

“The way I describe the club is simple – a bunch of San Diegans who want to make San Diego a better place,” said Wahl, who believes the club has the unique distinction of being the only Lions Club in the nation, and possibly world, that has a paid position of executive director.

Executive Director with the Club for Almost 40 Years

Downtown San Diego Lions Club Executive Director Victoria Wierig-Sandefur has been with the group nearly 40 years. She handles day-to-day needs, including overseeing the club’s paperwork, runs meetings of several boards under the club’s umbrella, keeps the club’s committees on track and monitors its foundation, which has about $5 million in its coffers.

Victoria Wierig-Sandefur
Executive Director
Downtown San Diego Lions Club

“Everything that the people in this club touch and handle on their own succeeds,” Wierig-Sandefur said. “This club has always had a good core of professionals with their hearts in the right place. It’s been a joy to work for them, a true labor of love.”

Wahl said another unique aspect of the Downtown San Diego Lions Club has to do with its membership offerings.

Like all Lions Clubs, prospective members must be sponsored by a current member. But in addition to active members, active-duty military members, young executive members, family members in the same residence and associate members who belong to another club, the Downtown San Diego Lions have one special category not seen elsewhere.

“We offer corporate memberships, and we’re the only Lions Club in America that I know of that does,” Wahl said, noting that there is currently only one corporate member, the Shiley Eye Institute.

But the Downtown San Diego Lions’ uniqueness doesn’t end there.

“We are also unique in that we own our own building, the Lions Community Manor, at Fourth and Market, a 14-story building with 128 apartments for low-income seniors.”

Wahl said that the building was proposed, planned and developed through efforts in the 1970s and with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approval and funds in 1979.

“We broke ground in 1980 and opened in 1981,” he said.

Wahl said the group is quite proud of its scholarship fund, where in-need students can earn up to $1,000 for college. The Downtown San Diego Lions work with a retired teacher as well to mentor and keep track of student scholarship winners.

The group also runs a student speaker contest, with successful students able to move on through regional contests within the Lions and earn money along the way.

Wahl said that the club plans to grant more than $100,000 this fiscal year, and for scholarships, the Downtown San Diego Lions Club’s plans include $12,000 in scholarships for high school students and $5,000 for the speakers contest.

“We do give away a lot of money,” Stalnaker said. “We are fortunate that our funding keeps growing and we are able to spend what we earn every year. The money lets us do a lot of good things in the community. It makes you feel good helping people out. I like that. We’re just a bunch of middle-class people, ex-military guys, judges, lawyers and doctors. We’re people who just want to help.”


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