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Pocono Lions Club invites veterans and more to kayak event at Tobyhanna Lake
Pocono Record - 6/10/2021
Jun. 10—The Pocono Lions Club launched out onto the waters of Tobyhanna State Park Lake with former military service members, first responders and visually impaired individuals for their first PA Veterans Rowing and Kayaking event on Wednesday.
Through a partnership with the U.S. Veterans' Rowing program, the Pocono Lions were able to establish their own group focused on taking veterans and first responders on a relaxing and picturesque tour of the lake. About 50 volunteers and participants showed up for the event, including guests from Sights for Hope — formerly known as the Center for Vision Loss — which provides resources and support for those with vision impairment.
The parent program for the rowing and kayaking initiative began in Trumbull, Connecticut about five years ago, and has quickly spread to other locations, especially in the northeast. PAVRAK aims to "engage Veterans and First Responders in fun, therapeutic, outdoor physical activity," and to "promote safe socialization and education," according to the group's website.
"The purpose is to thank all veterans, and also first responders, police, fire and EMTs," Pocono Lions Club President Mike Kummer, who also chairs the PAVRAK group, said. "What we're doing is getting out on the lake for a little while, some recreational paddling around and things like that."
The Pocono Lions, who started their group in 1949 and received their charter from the Lions Club International the next year, are an incredibly active volunteer group in the community. Supporting education efforts, food banks, beautification projects, and assistance for those with vision impairment are just a few of their altruistic endeavors that are near and dear to members' hearts.
For those with vision impairments, the experience of canoeing, kayaking and rowing is "very therapeutic," Kummer said, as "they're out on the water, they can hear the water lapping on the boats, and a breeze on their face."
Kummer added that veterans and first responders "are not quite getting the respect that they deserve," and that he hopes the program shows them some appreciation and offers some therapeutic relaxation at the same time.
"This is a great program, so the Lions Club signed up to help. As you can see here, it's a dedicated group that really likes to help the community and give back to the community." Club Secretary George Barthelenghi, who served in the Navy as an aviator, but "didn't spend much time on the water," said.
After a quick lesson in safety protocols, Lions and participants were loaded into their vessels and set out on the lake. Juliet Dunham, who serves as the marketing and communications chairperson for the Pocono Lions, said that about 25 people took to the waters on Wednesday.
Conditions were absolutely ideal for the event, Lions member and lifeguard Peter Sadowski said, especially after the wild afternoon storms that hit the area on Tuesday.
"It's just beautiful — the rain is gone, the sun is out, a little bit of a breeze to keep any of those flying insects away from us," Sadowski said. "An absolutely perfect day; nice temperature, no humidity, it's just awesome."
Participants spent about 20 minutes to half an hour venturing around the lake, taking in the sights, sounds and the soothing feel of the water flowing by their vessels.
"It was grand; I haven't been out on a canoe in years. The sensation of going around is great," Army veteran and Sights for Hope member Howard Dickinson said.
Following the rowing sessions, participants were welcomed to the picnic pavilion to grab some sandwiches and refreshments. Navy Veteran and Sights for Hope member Peter Sunshine said that he was thankful for the Lions' efforts, especially since he has volunteered in such community efforts throughout his own life.
"It's just a lovely day out here, and it'll be nice to sit here and enjoy a little lunch and to talk to the other people," Sunshine said. "We certainly appreciate that this is being hosted for us."
Sights for Hope driver Byron Jackson said he was very pleased with the event, and that he hopes to bring even more members out to enjoy a day of relaxation in such a beautiful and calming environment.
I look forward to doing something like this with the other members. I understand right now, with the pandemic on the run, we can't really bring a lot of people out, but believe me, there are other people that would like to take advantage of this type of activity," Jackson said.
Dunham and the Lions members noted that they would love to see rowing sessions set up on a monthly basis, and perhaps even more, if the club can secure additional funding and attention for the future.
"I thought today was a great success. It was wonderful to see so many people out on the water. It was wonderful to see so many veterans and so many sight-impaired participants here with us today, and the Lions helping them in every capacity," Dunham said as the group enjoyed some lunch and socializing. "We are so fortunate to have so many veterans in our Lions Club, but it's nice to have the community outreach as well. So I can't wait for this to continue for at least once a month, every month and growing the program. For first event, this was outstanding."
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