DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 10, 2012) – The Daytona State College Leo Omega student club has garnered an international award for excellence in community service and youth leadership from Lions Club International.

The DeLand Campus-based club competed for the international award with more than 16,000 Leo clubs in 85 countries. This is the first time a Florida club has won the Leo Award for Excellence, which is based on community service, development of student leadership, fund-raising and accountability.

“We have amazing students willing and able to demonstrate leadership in ways that help those in need,” said the club’s advisor, Dr. Lynn Hawkins. “They have discovered how to use academic skills to better their community. We can see future community leaders right here.”

The Leo Omegas are an outgrowth of a service-learning component of Hawkins’ English Composition class. Hawkins said students find this component of her class so rewarding that nearly 100 of them became Leo Omegas in the last year. Combined, they’ve contributed nearly 4,000 hours by taking on research and community service projects.


Service learning teaches what she calls “ethical intelligence” by putting a research focus on dealing with social problems in the community. Students identify a community need, learn what non-profit organization might serve that need, then do extensive academic research to develop project proposals that will solve the problem.


A leading example is the Leo Omega’s Reading Action Program, guided by the Volusia Literacy Council Advisory Board. As part of that program, Hawkins and five of her students recently visited the Chiles Academy in Daytona Beach, where they helped sort through hundreds of children’s books they’ve donated to the charter school that serves more than 140 pregnant teens, teen mothers and children in one of the city’s most impoverished districts. The club has collected more than 1,000 books for the school, helping to establish Florida’s first Lions Club library.

Leo Omegas

From left, Daytona State students Josh Umlauf, James Madges, Ashley Burns, Stefanie Harris and Priyonka Sharum sort through donated books in the Chiles Academy library, established by the Daytona State College Leo Omega Club.

Other club activities that Lions Club International considered in its award to the Daytona State club included three stand-out projects.

  • Proposed by freshman Cole Mansour, the club created a weekend snack-pack program for children who are eligible for the free-lunch program during the week. Leo clubs adopted the snack program statewide and Mansour was named Leo of the Year for Florida in 2012.
  • After learning that 27 children were injured and two killed as they walked to and from Volusia County schools, Leo Omega member Darlene Fontanez persuaded George Marks Elementary School in DeLand to adopt the Walking School Bus program.
  • Greg Marsil’s research found that Pop Warner football coaches could use special training and equipment to help avoid concussions for young players. Those programs are now in place.

The club also conducted food drives, diabetes screenings, collections for service dogs, walks for breast cancer, reading tutoring for at-risk children and toy collections for hospital pediatric wards.

For students like Priyonka Sharum, who visited the new Chiles Academy children’s library, participating in her service-learning project not only benefitted others, it helped open her eyes to some of the grim realities in which people live. “The main thing is that I realize how much some people struggle every day and how important it is for us to help them and care about them,” she said.

Leo Omega Club members have reached more than 14,000 people and presented research studies to 28 non-profit organizations in Volusia County. The Volusia County Lions Club serves as a community partner for the DeLand Campus group.

The award for the club will be received by Hawkins, who also is chairman of statewide Reading Action and Lions Quest anti-bullying projects, at a Lions conference in Homosassa on Nov. 3.  

The Lions Clubs International is the largest service organization in the world, with 1.4 million members in 220 countries.