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  • Writer's pictureLisa Seitles

Perspective/Type 1 Diabetes


Courtesy photo Pictured (l-r): Lions Sue Milazzo, Carol Orsi, Lori Orsi, Shandy Perez (with JDRF), Mike Villani, Lisa Seitles, Rufus (the bear), Sam Seitles and Casey Seitles.

In hindsight, the best invitation my husband Sam and I ever received came in mid-2021, not long after our then five-year-old son Casey was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1). It was to join the Hammonton Lions Club. Its motto is “We Serve.” We began contributing to club projects but didn’t know much about their service projects until December 2021 when Sam did a “Pillars of Hammonton” podcast with then-President Mike Villani and two past presidents, Carol and Arthur Orsi. For decades, members of the Hammonton Lions Club have devoted themselves to improving the lives of individuals and families, especially in our extended community, who confront such problems as poor or lost eyesight, childhood cancer, diabetes, hunger, physical and mental disabilities, youth homelessness, drug-ridden parks and littered roads, humanitarian disasters, and family tragedies.


Knowing our advocacy for families living with T1, Mike asked Sam and me a life-changing question: Would we like to co-host an annual, family-oriented Spring fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) on our five-acre preschool and camp property? “Yes, absolutely!!” Spring-Fest was born. Our first three Spring-Fests have truly been community events, each drawing hundreds of people. Around two hundred local businesses and individuals sponsor the event, contribute services or activities, or provide gift cards and merchandise for our raffle. Food trucks donate a portion of their sales. Volunteers come from various organizations, including a radio station, the Hammonton police and fire departments, and JDRF. Other Hammontonians contribute their time, expertise, and artistic talent. And per usual, around two dozen Lions members helped organize, set up, and manage this year’s event, and twenty members of the High School Leos Club assisted with the raffle and children’s activities.


The Lions-READ Preschool Spring-Fest has netted over $30,000 for JDRF during its first three years. It is the largest annual public event that either we or the Hammonton Lions Club has ever held, or the Leos Club ever assisted with. It illustrates how a relatively small group of dedicated individuals can mobilize diverse resources throughout a community to produce a family event, which draws many attendees and volunteers who happily provide further support for a worthy cause. This is how the Hammonton Lions Club multiplies its ability to help people.


Take, for example, its projects to protect, correct, and restore eyesight. Sight has been a top priority since 1925 for the Lions Club International and its local clubs, now numbering 49,000 worldwide. One of the Hammonton Club’s four Sight initiatives is to screen the vision of all children in preschool thru first grade in the local schools, public and private. Trained club members and/or a school nurse test the children’s vision with the Club’s Plusoptix vision screener, the school reports pass-fail results to parents, and the school nurse identifies families who likely can’t afford needed eye care. Those families are referred to a designated eye doctor, and the Lions Club pays the bill.


One of the Club’s Childhood Cancer projects with St. Christopher’s Hospital is yet more personal but still anonymous: individual members of the Lions Club buy Secret Santa gifts and a $500 Shoprite gift card for the entire family of the child being treated for cancer. The hospital lists items on Amazon that the child and its siblings want, and a school wraps and delivers Santa’s bag of gifts to the family. It’s all the more powerful for giver and recipient when serving others is so personal, whether it’s stranger to stranger or neighbor to neighbor. Giving joy when times are difficult. Letting people know they are not alone.


That is why Spring-Fest has done far more than raise money for JDRF. It’s an opportunity for individuals and families living with T1 to meet others who know instantly and intimately what they are going through, and to not feel so alone. It means a lot for our son Casey to have met other children with T1 and been befriended by adults living with it.


Spring-Fest proceeds have consistently launched our family, Casey’s Clan, to one of the top six fundraising teams each year at JDRF’s October South Jersey One Walk for T1 families. The Lions Club thereby contributed to our family being designated Family Team Champion at our first One Walk in 2022. There, we welcomed attendees to the event, and Casey addressed the crowd too. Casey is honored by the recognition he receives and is proud to advocate for others with T1.


Hammonton Lions are justly proud of what they accomplish, but they join in helping others because it’s intrinsically rewarding. Current Lions president Lori Orsi describes volunteering as more than a good experience. “[I]t’s a transformative journey that fuels the soul, sparks joy, and creates lasting memories of compassion and connection. I’m grateful to my parents who taught me at a very young age the value of service, and to the Lions Club for the opportunity to be of service to people in my community and throughout the world.”


When our town’s Lions describe why they serve others, they invariably mention doing it together, as a family. “Being a LION, especially a Hammonton LION, is summed up in one word “family”. Our LIONS family is dedicated to supporting not only our community but those outside our community and doing it together without hesitation or needing a reason why. It’s an unwavering dedication to each other with a single goal in mind, “We Serve” (Mike Villani). “The saying goes ‘it takes a village’. With the Lions I get to help my community with a group of like-minded individuals who know what it means to serve and together we can” (Rebecca Villani). “We are all there for one reason: Where there’s a need, there’s a Lion. We all use our strengths to do good in our community, both small and large. We all roll up our sleeves, work together, and do what we can to help others in need—best feeling in the world” (Ann Cicatiello). “The satisfaction of knowing how much we as a group work together and accomplish so many endeavors and projects! And yes, we are a family that works and plays together and helps the community and our own. The Lions will always be a part of my life” (Sue Milazzo).


Lions include their own children in their service activities, who then often become Lions or other service volunteers as adults. Our children, too, enjoy serving with us, for example, helping other children in our school and camp, participating in various fundraisers every year, and teaming up with children with disabilities to round the bases in the Lions-supported Field of Dreams event. Casey has already become a spokesman for T1 and service animals in his own and other schools.


As the Hammonton Lions Club shows, you can make a significant difference in people’s lives, and your own too, when you team up with other people and organizations in common cause. Many small donations of time, effort, and money can add up to something really big. As Alan Cicatiello says, “Any opportunity we can take to help each other is well worth it.” I couldn’t agree more.


If you are interested in becoming a Hammonton Lions Club member, please contact Lion Arthur Orsi at (609) 561-7012.


Lisa Seitles

Hammonton


Lisa Seitles and her husband Sam are the owners of READ Preschool and Camp Tuscaloosa. They have four children and are active members of the community.

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