Hélène Zanatta was already volunteering, long before she became the president of the Bradford Leos Club, a junior branch of the Lions.
She was a Santa Claus Parade volunteer, walking the lengthy route year after year as a costumed character; she helped mom Vicky Zanatta with the annual Pet Photos with Santa at Pet Valu, raising funds for Lions International Dog Guides of Canada – and, she said, “I helped out with the Lions Club.”
It was a natural progression when, four years ago, the Bradford Lions decided to introduce a Leos Club in the community – a service organization for youth between the ages of 12 and 18.
Both she, her brother and several friends decided to join.
“We wanted to start up the club, and see where it went,” said Zanatta, both in terms of providing real service to their community, and having fun.
At first, “it was a lot of fun,” she said. The Leos helped out at Lions events, like the Breakfast with Santa, and had a booth at Pumpkinfest at Henderson Park. They launched their own fundraisers, chose their own charities… but when some members began leaving, there was a sense of loss of motivation.
Things got a little “rough,” she said.
When Zanatta became president, her goal was to make the club and its events “fun again,” and to keep her fellow Leos motivated.
She instituted regular games nights, and helped plan a series of donations – to the Australian wildfire relief fund, to the Lions’ Dog Guides program.
There were a couple of big projects on the calendar for 2020.
“We had this idea of ‘The Amazing Race.’ We were going to hold it in Henderson Park,” said Zanatta. And the Leos were going to take over the MOBYSS Walk for mental health, raising money for the MOBYSS (Mobile York South Simcoe) walk-in health clinic for youth.
The Bradford walk had been launched by a local Lion, but fell by the wayside; the Leos were determined to bring it back and make it even more of a success.
“Everything’s so planned,” Zanatta said – and then COVID-19 hit. “I knew immediately that we wouldn’t be able to have the walk.”
In fact, everything has been shut down. She keeps in touch with some of her fellow Leos, but for the most part, her time has been filled with schoolwork, gardening, cooking, and her artwork.
Zanatta’s love of art has overlapped with her engagement in the Leos. When a group from the Bradford Leos travelled to Ohio for a convention, they found that the clubs all had their own pins, that they were trading.
“It was cool,” she said. The local Leos decided to design their own pin that they could bring – and trade – at future meetings.
“In our group, it ended up being a contest,” Zanatta said, with the entries being judged by club members.
Zanatta won for her design of a lion cub, looking up at a mature lion, mane and all, sitting on a crag – “because as Leos we look up to the Lions, the highest standards.”
The club may be suspended for now, but she has no intention of quitting. The MOBYSS Walk has been rescheduled to 2021, and as for the other events? They are ready to go, once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
“I think I’ll continue with it,” Zanatta said. It’s helping others - but it’s also “having fun.”
Just a note: The pin designed by Zanatta was just released and posted online last week. Within 24 hours, requests for the pin were received from across Canada and as far away as the U.K. and the state of Mississippi.