|Kousanee Chheda with Past Council Chairman Mark Lyon, District Governor 23A Lyn Meyers and District Governor 23B Robert Cormier
Kousanee Chheda, a former Leo (young Lion) with the E. O. Smith Leo Club in Mansfield, Conn., was honored as "Leo of the Year" at the Multiple 23 Lions Mid-Winter Conference on earlier this year at the Farmington Marriott with close to 600 Lions and Leos present from all over the state. There are approximately 150,000 Leos in the world and she was one of 23 students internationally — and only 12 in the United States — to be named "Leo of the Year" for the 2010-2011 year.
A Lions' district can only nominate one Leo Club member. The extensive application goes to the MD23 District State Council and then on to Lions Clubs International. Recipients must show strong leadership skills, a record in implementing successful service projects, identifiable contributions to the Leo program, distinction in community activities and high ethical standards and personal integrity.
Kousanee's first exposure to the Lions Club organization occurred when she participated and won the peace poster contest organized by the Mansfield Lions Club in 2003. Chheda and her sister, Sumaali, did some research on Lions Clubs and found that they could become "young Lions" if they joined a Leo Club. After realizing that there was no local Leo Club, the sisters decided to ask their respective school administrations for permission to start one. The high school administrators gave permission so the E. O. Smith Leo Club was formed at the E. O. Smith High School starting with 14 members five years ago, with the Mansfield Lions Club as their sponsor.
Chheda served as the charter president, then vice president and president again in her senior year. She was awarded the Gold Presidential Volunteering Service Award for 100 plus hours of community service in 2006, the Silver Presidential Volunteering Service Award in 2007, the Lion's Young Leaders in Service Gold Award/Gold Presidential Award for 250 plus hours in 2008 and 550 plous hours in 2009.
Chheda served as the historian for DECA, was a member of the National Honor Society serving as vice president, and a Girl Scout. She volunteered many hours at the Windham Hospital. She is also a choreographer and teacher of various styles of dance. She choreographed 12 Indian folk/Bollywood dances and taught them to 80 dance workshop participants in order to spread awareness of Indian cultures for which she received the Scouts Gold Award. She then organized a charity dance show as her senior project to raise money for the Bhojay Sarvodaya Trust in Kachchh, Gujarat, India, which helps mentally challenged boys and girls, raising over $7,700.
The E. O. Smith Leo Club is very active in helping the Mansfield Lions with their annual Chicken BBQ and auction, serving food and ice cream for their ham dinner, selling refreshments for an a capella fundraising performance, manning a station for the "Journey for Sight" walk-a-thon and bell ringing at the Mall raising money for the Salvation Army. With Chheda as president, the club did fund raising through candy sales, babysitting and donation boxes; organized eyeglass, food and warm clothes drives and ice skating events at the UConn Ice Rink; adopted a family for Christmas; and volunteered at many events including a Halloween evening, Lions breakfast, Rehab Center Christmas decoration, Senior Center wrapping, library, Senior Bazaar, Goodwin Fair, Vinton Fair, Easter Egg Hunt and poster making for daycare openings.
Linda Lombard, a teacher at E. O. Smith High School and an advisor to the Leo Club, feels the club is truly fortunate to have had such an inspiring leader as a role model for their club members to emulate. "Kousanee is a very focused and dedicated young lady. We are extremely proud of her accomplishments," she said.
The club now has 42 active members who have together logged in over 345 hours of community service this school year alone.
Chheda is currently attending college at the University of Connecticut and has started a campus Lions Club. She is currently serving as the charter president with approximately 33 members in the club.