A Pickerington youth leadership and service organization recently capped a fundraiser for the fight against pediatric cancer by hosting the first Ohio Leo Club Convention.

Approximately 140 middle and high school students from throughout Ohio descended Feb. 24 on Peace United Methodist Church in Pickerington for the convention.

The event was something of a networking and leadership-development forum for members of 16 Leo Clubs, which are youth service organizations affiliated with Lions Clubs International.

In past years, Leo Clubs, made up of Ohio students aged 12-18, had gathered and shared ideas during state conventions for the adult-led Lions Clubs.

But this year, it was decided the younger generation should have their own statewide event to both celebrate their membership in "The Leos," as well as to focus on how to work for positive change.

"This is the first-ever Leo Club Convention that (youth members) put together," said Darlene Roll, Ohio youth chairwoman for Lions Club International.

"We had a meeting in September, and they developed the agenda," she said. "We're going to do some team building and fill packages for pediatric cancer patients."

The push to support young people with cancer came after the Pickerington Leo Club employed its mission statement of "Leadership, Experience, Opportunity" to spearhead a "Roar for Lauren" campaign in recent weeks.

Through the sales of items like plastic bracelets, T-shirts, sweat shirts and baked goods, the Pickerington Leos raised more than $7,000 to assist Lauren Blake, a Pickerington youth battling a form of brain cancer.

Pickerington Leo Club adviser Debbie Hulvey said the fundraiser was conceived by local club members, who hoped to boost Blake's spirits through a philanthropic project.

"The total amount raised for Lauren was over $7,000," Hulvey said. "We presented that to the family to defray medical costs."

Hulvey said "Roar for Lauren" was just one of several community service projects the Pickerington Leo Club has taken on this year.

Others include providing meals for senior citizens and supplying blankets for children in need throughout Fairfield County this past Christmas.

Roll said the Pickerington projects are indicative of the kinds of work Leo Clubs throughout Ohio and the country take on every year.

"With some of these kids, it's a project of the week," Roll said. "They do a lot."

Which brought the focus back to the convention.

Throughout the roughly five-hour conference, students were divided into groups for everything from team-building activities to discussions about how to take on leadership roles in their clubs and their communities.

They also were slated to take part in idea-sharing sessions to develop community service projects for their respective communities, as well as a larger, statewide project.

"They share all types of ideas," said Sheryl Schlater, Ohio Leo chairwoman.

Hulvey said the state convention served as a venue for young people to find niches, meet like-minded people and to plot courses toward pursuing interests and leadership roles in their communities.

She said she hoped it would shine more light on positive work young people are doing, and encourage others to learn more about the organizations.

"We're trying to build our club and we want more kids in the community to know about it and get involved," she said.

Additional information about the Pickerington Leo Club is available at www.e-leoclubhouse.org/sites/pickerington, or by contacting Hulvey at debbiehulvey@msn.com.