The Pickerington Leo Club occupies a special place in the pantheon of Ohio Leo Clubs these days.

Pickerington Leo Club members are students ages 10 through 18 affiliated with the Pickerington Lions Club. They have exhibited a laser-like focus aimed at giving back to those in need.

The 25-member youth organization recently was awarded the honor of being designated District OH7 Leo Club of the Year (in the 50-members and under category) for the second year in a row.

The Pickerington Leo Club claimed the honor at the annual Lions District Convention March 3-5 in Lancaster.

"This is the second year in a row that our Leo Club has won this honor and they won it through all of the service and fundraising projects they've been involved with," said Brian Fox, spokesman and former president of the Pickerington Lions Club.

Fox said it's a rare feat for any Leo Club to take home the back-to-back honors, which is testament to the significant achievements of the club.

He said District 7 covers a large geographical area of 17 counties in eastern Ohio and has at least 22 other Leo Clubs in the fold.

Pickerington resident Debbie Hulvey has been a Pickerington Leo Club adviser, along with her husband Robert, for the past three years. She said the Leo Club has raised a lot of money for service projects during the past three years.

"Every year we donate between $5,000 and $7,000," Hulvey said.

The organization engages in some very labor-intensive endeavors to garner those funds, she said.

"We made homemade carmel corn and sold it at the (city's) Labor Day festivities, and we partnered with the Lions Club and made homemade buckeyes and sold them.

"We raised over $2,300 for that project. It all goes back to charity," Hulvey said.

The Leo Club directs a lot of its proceeds to Columbus-based Pilot Dogs Inc., which raises, trains and donates seeing-eye dogs for the visually impaired.

But the Leo Club isn't just focused on fundraising, Hulvey said.

There are numerous projects that involve collecting and then shipping essential life-sustaining goods to those in need both in the U.S. and abroad.

"We've done a coat drive for children and adults. We've collected books to send to Liberia and we've collected hats for (residents of) third-world countries," Hulvey said.

She said people need hats in certain countries because the intensity of the sun often has a negative impact on their eyesight.

Hulvey said a great thing about the organization is members make the serious decisions about which particular charities they want to help and then they collectively mobilize to reach their goals.

"We ask the kids what they want to do to give back to the community," she said.

"The Leo Club is run by the youths, we're only advisers. We just guide them."

Hulvey said the Leos gain valuable leadership experience through this process.

She said along with giving back it is training of future adult leaders that is a big part of the Club's overall mission.

"The whole idea with the Leo Club is to get these young -- I don't want to call them kids -- young people to learn about leadership," Hulvey said.

"My husband and I see it. A young Leo comes in to the group very shy and they quickly come out of their shell.

"It's just amazing where they are going," Hulvey said.

To further its mission of giving back, the Pickerington Leo Club is sponsoring a Leo/Lions Club 5K Run/Walk to raise money for Pilot Dogs Inc. on April 2.

"It costs $10,000 for a seeing-eye dog," Hulvey said. "We're trying to hit that mark."

The 5K run will start at 1 p.m. and the one-mile run/walk will step off at 2:30 p.m. Both events will start and finish at Ra-mar Drive and Morningview Avenue, Pickerington.

Prizes will be awarded to the top three male and female finishers in the 5K and children participants in the one-mile race will be awarded medals.

Trophies will also be awarded to the top youth participants in the one-mile race.

Hulvey said it promises to be a family-friendly event for all ages.

"People can walk their dog," she said. "One of the seeing-eye dogs will come down to the race. It's a lot of fun and for a very good cause."

The entry fee is $20 for the 5K and $15 for the one-mile run/walk.

To register for the Pickerington Leo/Lions Club 5K Run/Walk, make checks payable to "Pickerington Lions Charity" and send payment to Pickerington Lions Club, P.O. Box 163, Pickerington, Ohio 43147.

Those who register by March 23 will receive a free T-shirt.

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