More than 120 special needs individuals and their families filed into the FunCity Turf on April 23, 2023, eager to get onto the indoor soccer fields.

But it wasn’t soccer they would be playing. What they were after were the more than 7,000 brightly colored Easter eggs that had been scattered there by Burlington High School Leo Club members just hours earlier.

“When you get to see all the kids run out onto the field and experience Easter, it’s pretty special,” said BHS junior and Leo Executive Board member David Hoth.

After carrying more than 120 Easter baskets — one for each participant — from a truck to the tables inside, the Leos divided into groups and dispersed throughout the fields, carefully placing the eggs to keep them from popping open. In the portion of the field where wheelchairs would be, the eggs were placed further apart. On the east end of the facility, the eggs were placed closer together for those who would be participating with siblings.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” Teresa Heitmeier, a sixth grade teacher at Aldo Leopold Intermediate School, said of the Leos as she put the finishing touches on the seventh annual Through Joshua’s Eyes Easter Egg Hunt. “They’ve always been hard workers and the families appreciate their help.”

Heitmeier, who founded Through Joshua’s Eyes to provide support to special needs families in Des Moines County, enjoys seeing her former students – some of whom are former classmates of her son, Joshua – as Leos.

“Some of them will actually help with the hunt, too,” she said. “Like if somebody has a special kid and a sibling, the hunts are at different times, so they may help keep the sibling entertained.”

It’s not uncommon to find Leos volunteering at events such as these. The club’s presence has also become a staple of Oktoberfest and Trunk or Treat, but they can be found helping out just about anywhere.

“Basically anybody who needs volunteers can contact Mrs. (Jessica) King or myself and we can offer that as an opportunity and send students out,” said Lara Kendell, co-advisor of the BHS Leo Club. “And then through participating in those activities, (the students) are gaining leadership skills, they are growing in their understanding of service to others, they’re getting more confident in their abilities and their interpersonal skills, so we see a lot of growth between we have our freshman Leos and we have our senior Leos. We see a tremendous amount of growth in our comfort levels, in our confidence levels in dealing with the public.”

Leo Club is the junior version of the Lions Club International, which is the largest service organization in the world. Kendell

said the hope is that Leo Club members will go on to become Lions or join some other community service-oriented organization as adults.

Hoth said being a Leo has already changed his perspective on community service.

“I think Leo Club in this environment has probably winnowed out some of the flaws I had with my thoughts on community outreach,” Hoth said. “Before this club, I may have been volunteering for the wrong reasons, or maybe like just so I could get silver cord hours or maybe because of what someone will say about me.”

Hoth said his first time volunteering at the egg hunt allowed him to see the true value of volunteering on the faces of participants.

That’s not to say there aren’t other benefits to being a Leo.

“I think our Leos also have a really good understanding that colleges and scholarship committees are looking for service, so it is a resume builder,” Jessica King said. “It also allows for people who are sophomores, juniors and seniors to have leadership opportunities here while they’re in high school, which is definitely a resume builder if you can put that you have some leadership experience on your college and scholarship applications and National Honor Society applications.”

Leo stands for Leadership, Experience, and Opportunities.

David King, a junior and member of the Leo Club Executive Board, said his membership has helped him to develop leadership skills in a safe environment.

“There are events where we’ll be managing stuff or we’ll be placed under stress, but it’s in a low-stakes environment where we’re able to learn how to organize things and how to make mistakes and recover from them without any serious repercussions, so that kind of helps us prepare for the

professional world,” he said.

Sophomore and executive board member Ace Whalen said he feels comfortable volunteering through Leo Club because he knows that whatever the event is will be safe.

With between 80 and 100 service opportunities each year, Leo Club offers its members plenty of experiences and opportunities to try new things, such as putting on social events.

“A lot of our freshman Leos are shy, so it’s just some opportunities to relax a little bit and get to know each other,” Kendell said.

David King said the social events are held as a way to help their peers branch out. Occasionally, those events will involve a volunteer component, such as decorating cookies to be delivered to the Burlington Fire Department.

Other events Leos often help with include running concession stands, school and other non-profit events at Camp Eastman, Safety Town, and Clean Out Your Files Day, during which the BHS Leo Club partners with the fairly new Notre Dame Catholic High School Leo Club to help people properly dispose of their files.

There are currently 71 Leos on the club roster. The Leos meet monthly except for September and May, when meetings are held twice. Students wanting to join the Leo Club should contact Kendell or Jessica King.

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