The San Marcos Lions Club, a service organization and popular tube rental facility, hosted 43 students from 23 different countries through the Julien C. International Youth Camp to promote peace and understanding of diverse cultures.
The camp was organized in 1973 and named in honor of Julien C. Hyer, former International President Lion Judge, who was an active organization member for 55 years.
The Lions Club itself is the largest international service organization with over 1.4 million members and 46,000 clubs worldwide. The club is dedicated to helping local communities, as well as fostering peace and understanding between different cultures and countries.
Bill Adams, former Lions Club president and organizer of the event, said he appreciates how the organization doesn’t advocate for political or religious reasons, but simply operates to serve the community.
“The four pillars of our mission statement is vision, hunger, education and the environment,” Adams said. “It’s about educating our young adults and teaching them about service and reaching out. In today’s environment, we hear so much negativity about each other, but we know individually that there are special qualities about us, and [this camp] fosters that love and support.”
As Youth Exchange Chairperson, Bill Hull, from the Wimberley Lions Club, coordinates the exchange of international students from Lions Clubs based in other countries.
Some students, ages 17-20, endure an extensive application process depending on their home countries. Additionally, all participants are required to speak English prior to being chosen. Participants pay their way to the United States but are sponsored upon arrival for the rest of the trip.
Isha Gajjar, 19-year-old Lions Club member, said it was her first time to the U.S. Gajjar didn’t expect to visit as many places and meet as many people as she did.
“Coming here, I’ve made a lot of friends,” Gajjar said. “When we come together, we get to know their traditions and we share our way of living. It’s a lot of fun. It’s all about bonding and giving back to society.”
Diana Ezzell, second vice president of the Dallas Oak Cliff Lions Club and longtime board member of the J.C. Hyer camp, said she enjoys watching the students learn about each other and their respective cultures.
“They come here to experience Texas and their host families, but they also experience each other’s cultures and form these relationships,” Ezzell said. “And now with social media, it’s even better because when they leave here, they’ve formed lifetime relationships with kids from other countries. There really are more things these kids have in common than their differences.”
Students took a ride on the glass-bottom boats and toured the Discovery Center in the Meadows Center. Students also participated in learning about water conservation before ending the day with a float down the river to Rio Vista.
To learn more, visit the Texas State Lions Club website to browse upcoming events and opportunities to get involved in the community.