Q & A with Shoreline Leo’s Club adult advisor James Harris
By Chris Cicchiello
Mr. James Harris has been the adult advisor for the Shoreline Leo’s Club of East Lyme High School since 2002, and with his help, the club was revitalized and has been on an upward trend ever since. Being a member of the Leo’s Club myself for almost seven years, I wanted to interview him. Here are some of the highlights of the interview I had with him:
Viking Saga So how did the Leo’s Club get its start?
James Harris: So in 1992, the President of the Lion’s Club, Robert Senkow was given the challenge of starting a Leo’s Club. Myself and Robert Tanguay along with Mr. Senkow, were put on a committee to try and charter one. So in May of 1993, the Shoreline Leo’s Club was chartered as an approved Leo Club and approved high school club. That first year, most of the members were actually Key Club members though. The first Leo’s Club President was actually Michelle Han, the daughter of the owner of The Shack. But after that, as for me, I didn’t do too much with the Leo’s Club.
VS: Now how did you get involved in Leo’s and become the advisor?
JH: Unfortunately, I had a job assignment in Atlanta, Georgia so I actually disappeared for two years while I was inspecting nuclear power plants for the United States and Karachi, Pakistan. Then, in 1999 to 2000, I was President of the Leo’s Club. And, about a year and a half later, we had a situation where the Leo Club advisor moved from the area and when we went to see the status of the club, the club was almost inactive. there were only a few members left. That’s one of the reasons we keep pushing membership because all you need is a year to go by with no recruitment and membership begins to dwindle fast. So in 2002, we basically started it back up again, and I became the new advisor.
VS:What is the current membership?
JH: There are 97 official members currently in the club. But when we started, because we were one of the only Leo Clubs in this part of the state, we had kids from all over the state. We had members from Fitch, Deep River, Fisher’s Island, Stonington, Marine Science High School, Groton, and Old Lyme. And we still get members from nearby towns because we have over 30 activities big and small, that any town can participate in.
VS: Over the years, what have you been most proud of the Leo’s Club and their achievements?
JH: I’m proud of several things. The fact that we are the only student group that has a scholarship at the high school. I’m proud we’re one of the only Leo Clubs that gives out service awards. As of 2004-2017, we have had 286 qualified recipients for these service awards. These are internationally recognized awards. I’m proud of what our students have accomplished. Typically, we donate around $4,000 a year. And the other thing is we don’t just stay in East Lyme. We now have two events in Waterford. We help out at one of their regional craft shows and we also go and help clean windows and do landscaping at the Twin Haven. We also do the Salem book drive when asked to help, and we travel up to Colchester to work at the Colchester-Salem Lions Easter Egg Hunt.
VS: I understand you were on the Board of Education. Were you involved in the decision to not make community service a graduation requirement?
JH: Yes, I served on the board for five years. Now the dichotomy was, when I was on the BOE, we had some very spirited discussions about requiring community service to graduate. I voted against it. I did not want to have that as a commitment because when I was a student, I did not like being told I had to do something that wasn’t relevant to my studies. East Lyme High School though has one of the most active community service clubs because virtually every club is involved in community service. And I think that’s because people genuinely want to do them and be immersed.
VS: My final question is simply do you have any goals for the future of the Leo’s Club?
JH: I would like to get a few younger Lions to get involved in the program. What I found is that my goal in life is that guys like you and others in the Leo’s Club stay involved in community service, whether that’s being involved in politics, serving on a board running for office, being involved in Rotary. Any activity that is helping the community. You know if you have that sense, you have the capability to do it. But I find that most young adults when they’re starting out take some time to get settled in and are focused on their job and buying a house. That was true for me. When you get a little more settled in, like in your forties, that’s when people get involved in the community. But I want to find a way to get some of those young adults to become members of the Lion’s Club. I would also like to see more younger siblings in the middle school get involved in the Leo’s Club by maybe even just coming to some of the meetings.