November 20, 2012

Posted: November 9, 2012
The Winchester Star

Staci Collins, residential instructor at Grafton’s Berryville location, created the Grafton Leo Club, which was chartered on Oct. 18, with 20 members. Collins serves as the club’s adviser. It is the first Leo Club made up of individuals with special needs.

BERRYVILLE — The first Leo Club comprised of youths with special needs is up and running in Clarke County.

Teens and young adults at Grafton Integrated Health Network in Berryville are abuzz over the new group, which is sponsored by the Lions Club International — the world’s largest community service organization.

So far, 20 residents — most diagnosed with a mental health issue — have joined the club to participate in community service activities.

The facility is a psychiatric treatment center, which serves individuals of all ages with mental, intellectual and physical disabilities and problems, and one of Grafton’s five campuses in Virginia.

There are anywhere from 50 to 85 residents at the Berryville center at any one time, with the average stay being nine to 12 months.

Staci Collins, residential instructor at the facility, created the local Leo Club, which was officially chartered on Oct. 18.

“There’s so much good in these kids,” she said. “It’s empowering. It keeps me going on a daily basis. These kids face more difficult situations than adults and they have the strong desire to give back. They’re hungry to give back.”

Alpha Leo Clubs are made up of youths ages 12 to 18, while Omega Leo Clubs consist of those ages 18 to 30.

More than 150,000 young people in 139 countries are Leos.

“The one thing unique is a focus on a kid’s ability instead of a kid’s disability,” said Shweta Adyanthaya, director of communications for the club.

DeAngela, a 20-year-old resident, became a Leo because she likes to meet new people and get out into the community.

“It gives us the opportunity to show what kind of good people we are and to help others,” she said.

As part of their community service, the 20 members at Grafton have already held a children’s book drive for the underprivileged and will volunteer once a month at the Stephens City United Methodist Church food pantry.

They also plan to sponsor three families for Thanksgiving, and for Christmas will send care packages to two adopted soldiers, serve as Salvation Army bell ringers, make 250 reindeer candy canes for underprivileged children, create baskets for the elderly and interact with senior citizens at the Golden Living Center at Rose Hill.

They will also take part in the Berryville Christmas parade.

Luke, 18, a resident at the facility, said he enjoys helping people.

“I get a good feeling out of it,” he said.

Earlier this month, a group of Grafton Leos traveled to Staunton for a district conference, where they received a standing ovation for their success.

“I felt proud,” said 18-year-old resident Troy.

Grafton’s 850 employees serve about 1,000 clients over the five campuses in Berryville, Winchester, Leesburg, Richmond and Sterling. Officials expect the Leo Club to expand to include residents on the other four campuses.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com