The story I am going to tell is one of struggle and frustration, of never giving up, but finally succeeding—this is the story of Leo MD108 Italy and its Extreme Makeover: Leo Edition service project.
What we did not know at the time, however, was that this project would become an uphill battle for us because of COVID-19.
Every year, at the Leo Europa Forum (LEF), Leos from all over Europe join forces to carry out a service project for the local community hosting them. In 2020, as LEF was going to be hosted by Italy, we were planning a service project at one of the Ronald McDonald Houses (Casa Ronald in Italian) in Rome.
This association was chosen for what it represents in the Italian and international sphere, offering help to families with children who have to stay in Rome for long periods of time to receive medical treatments, and the fact that the structure’s garden was in great need of redevelopment.
Making Use of an LCIF Leo Grant During the Coronavirus Pandemic
From the beginning, while assessing the scope of the intervention needed, we wondered if we could get the help of Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) to bring our project to completion. Because of that, back in 2019, we asked for the help of then Leo MD108 Italy LCIF Coordinator Walter Mavica who, together with Claudia Balduzzi (LCIF area leader CA IV Region G) and Carlo Bianucci (LCIF coordinator MD Lions 108 Italy), began helping our LEF Organization Team with defining clear objectives and areas of intervention of the project proposal.
We were extremely excited at the idea of being able to bring positive changes for all the guests of the Casa Ronald residence of Palidoro, which culminated with an in-person visit in January 2020 to finalize the details of the proposal to be sent to Lions Clubs International. What we did not know at the time, however, was that this project would soon become an uphill battle for us because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Finding Alternative Plans and Staying Flexible
In April 2020, looking at the aftermath of the first COVID-19 wave, not only in Italy, but also in Europe, we realized that holding the Leo Europa Forum in August was going to be impossible. That meant the cancellation of all activities of the forum, including the service project.
Needless to say, this fact did not sit well with us. If there is a reason that we exist as an association, it is to serve others. We immediately agreed that we would try to find a way to make the project take place, one way or another.
The first issue we encountered was that, because of COVID, the Casa Ronald of Palidoro could not be part of the project as initially planned. They redirected us to the Casa Ronald of Bellosguardo with which we were already in touch for a small collaboration and that also needed help with the redevelopment of their garden. One could even say, their need was greater than at the Casa Ronald of Palidoro.
The second issue was deciding on when the service project would take place. This was addressed when an opportunity to hold a shortened version of the Leo Europa Forum presented itself. Given the end of the first wave and the outlook at the time on future months, it had become possible to potentially hold such an event in late September. This was a perfect combination as the weather would still be mild enough to allow us to carry the event through as well as to have a number of European Leos on location to take part in it.
After obtaining the approval of the Multiple District Council, we worked with Service Project Coordinator Letizia Vanelli, the previous LCIF coordinator for our MD, Walter Mavica, and the new Leo LCIF Coordinator Martina Cerioni to prepare the project proposal and send it to Lions International for approval. Everybody worked hard in hope of bringing our dream to life, especially since we knew that we were working in uncertain times. The coronavirus situation was definitely not stable and we were ready to change and adapt our plans depending on the situation.
We were proven right when, due to the new increase in the number of COVID cases in the country, we had to cancel the Leo Europa Forum for a second time, and were limited in the number of volunteers we could have on site on the day of the event. Both measures were decided with the safety of the participants and the residents of Casa Ronald in mind, but it did add an additional layer of complexity to the project.
Onsite with the Ronald McDonald House
We now had the challenge of completing the work originally planned for 50 volunteers with a workforce of 15. Leos are not known for giving up easily though.
After moving the project date due to inclement weather, with great joy, on October 10, 2020, we finally saw our dream become reality. This was possible thanks to the help of many Italian Leos and LCIF, from which we obtained a Leo Grant of US5,000 to which the Leo MD added a contribution to make that day truly special.
Leos planting a garden for the Ronald McDonald House
For the occasion, new garden furniture was bought and assembled, walls were stripped, repaired and painted, and the entrance was redecorated with new flowers and the garden with new plants and vases. At the end of the day, we were tired and covered in paint, but our masks couldn’t hide our smiles, and we were incredibly satisfied with the results and to have shared such a wonderful project with so many friends.
Leos painting the outside of the Ronald McDonald House
All of the activities were carried out under a strict safety protocol: masks had to be worn at all times, sanitizing gel was available on site and all participants had their temperatures checked at the time of arrival. Also, no direct contact was allowed with the guests of Casa Ronald, but we still were able to witness the children’s joy in finding their garden completely changed, and we received drawings from them as thank yous that we will cherish forever.
This project was subjected to so many changes that it is hard to recall them all. Was it disappointing to have to give up our original idea? Was it frustrating when things just didn’t want to go “right?” Was it a rush against time to get every single change approved and in place? Were there times when we wanted to give up? The answer to all of these questions is “yes!” There were also quite a few hurdles with the ordering of the different materials needed that will probably keep giving nightmares to Letizia and I for years to come. However, we couldn’t be prouder to have seen this project through to the end.
One special thanks goes to all Italian Leos, but especially to Letizia Vanelli, Simone Guidotti, Martina Cerioni, Walter Mavica, Francesco Perrella and the Leos of Leo Club Tivoli Host, Leo Club Roma Parioli, Leo Club Roma Mare, Leo Club Roma Marco Aurelio, Leo Club Sabaudia San Felice Circeo Host, Leo Club Civitavecchia Santa Marinella and members of the Lions Club Roma Parioli New Century, without whom this story would not exist.
We changed a small part of the world that day and made a difference because where there is need, there isn’t just a Lion, there’s a Leo as well.
Check out the European Leos webpage and newsletter to discover more stories about Leos serving in Europe.
Leo Eleonora Fresia is a member of Leo Club Savona Torretta and served as the Leo Europa Forum President 2020.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted communities around the world in different ways. To ensure we’re serving safely wherever we live, Lions should follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization or local health authorities. Visit our Serving Safely page for resources that can help you safely serve your community.