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Sharing Fun with People with Special Needs

Summer in northern Illinois is a time to enjoy nature and have fun. Especially at Shabbona Lake State Park, where families get together and fish. But the lake was not always accessible for people with special needs.

Location: Shabbona, Illinois, USA

The Lions Step In

In 1979, Lions from northern Illinois saw a need for a handicapped-accessible pier. They spoke with fellow Lions and decided this would be a good project for multiple districts in the area. After contacting Lions in three surrounding districts, 14 clubs from three districts donated the $7,000 needed to build the pier. A local architect donated the pier design, and a Lion contractor and his crew did the labor. After its completion, the Lions began the Lions Fishing Derby. In addition to fishing, the annual event includes tractor pulls, boat rides, a popcorn stand, a petting zoo, a picnic lunch, face painting and more.

“Hooked” on Helping

The Lions Fishing Derby is something participants look forward to all year long. Lion Roger Lewis had an experience he will never forget. “It was about the second year that I came down. This little girl had been in an accident with her family. They were all killed. And she hadn’t spoken. And I was working with her and caught a fish. And I held the fish in my hand, and I said ‘What’s this?’ She said ‘Fish.’ This lady that was with her turns around and kind of screamed and said ‘Did she say anything?’  And I said, ‘Yes.’ And she said, ‘Well, that’s the first word the girl has spoken.’”

Facts and Figures

In 2008, the original pier was torn down and a new pier was built. The 14 clubs that built the original pier, and a few more clubs that support the derby, raised $30,000 needed to build the new pier. Lions also physically helped build the new pier.



Tips and Tools

Make It Happen: Working with People Who Have Special Needs

Where did you start? »
Local Lions wanted to make Shabbona Lake State Park accessible to those with special needs. After Lions built a new handicapped-accessible pier, they invited people with special needs in their area to come enjoy it.
How did you fund this project? »
Lions from three neighboring districts worked to raise the $7,000 needed to build the original handicapped-accessible pier in 1979. Participating Lions clubs raise money through various fundraisers during the year to cover the cost of the Fishing Derby including the popcorn machine and petting zoo.
Do you need prior experience to work with people with special needs? »
No. Even if you have never worked with people with special needs, do not hesitate to do a project like this. Our Fishing Derby volunteers look forward to it almost as much as the participants.
What resources do you need to keep this project going? »
Approximately 150 Lions from more than 15 clubs in three districts volunteer each year to help people with mental and physical challenges. We have also developed a mailing list so we can contact those with special needs through group homes, local schools and by word of mouth to invite more than 400 guests every year.
Any special words of advice? »
Invite people who are not Lions to volunteer in your interesting and fun projects. They might just want to join your club. Our volunteers include Lions, family, friends and people who have become Lions because of this. It’s one of those projects that touches people.
"My role is to make sure that each kid gets a picture taken and has a fish on the pole. And that I get a smile out of each kid."

Roger Lewis,
DeKalb County Anglers

"When the kids catch the fish, it gives them pride. Our students feel as if, you know, I caught a fish! And if this is where I’m going to catch it, this is where I want to be."

Shekeila,
Teacher’s Aide to Participants

"We can make a difference. Youngsters have been brought out of their shell by simply doing some simple little thing with our Lions."

Ed Carter,
Sandwich Lions Club

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