In the 20-plus years that the Three Rivers Lions Club has been honoring outstanding community servants, there are traits they all have in common. It’s a commitment to hard work and a desire to tirelessly help others.
Janene Lasswell, the 2017 honoree, has those traits but her story differs from past recipients. The tables were once turned and Janene was in need, much like those whom she helps today.
In 1988, her husband, Pat Lasswell, who was raised in Three Rivers, had a serious work-related injury. The medical bills and travel expenses for treatment were astronomical. Though Janene never expected or asked for help, suddenly hundreds of dollars materialized; all generously raised and donated by the Three Rivers community.
Pat eventually had to have a leg amputated as a result of his treatment. The Lasswell family — Janene, Pat, and their children, Beth and Barret (now 34 and 32) — made the best of some trying circumstances.
Several years ago, and with their children now grown up, Janene found herself seeking a plan to help others, a way she could give back to the community that had come to her rescue.
For ideas, she logged onto the Clinton Global Initiative. There she found an online module that participants completed by submitting a work plan to develop a program enlisting community volunteers.
“Of course, I was procrastinating right down to the midnight due date for submitting paperwork on June 30, 2011,” Janene recalled.
While she was wondering what the title would be and how the program would work, she received a phone call from her longtime friend, Janet Bailey.
Janet told Janene that she had several old boxes of checks and paperwork from the now defunct Emergency Aid Alliance. It seemed like a shame to just toss them in a dumpster.
“Do you know anyone that could use this material?” Janet asked. “And there is still $25 in a Valley Oak Credit Union account.”
Sometimes the start of something wonderful is part serendipity. To hear Janene recount the details, it was one of those uncanny moments when you are wondering what you are working on, then suddenly it all falls into place.
Janene completed her online coursework that eventful day, and for being on time she received a tank top. Little did she know then, her efforts would turn out to be a hugely successful revival of the original Emergency Aid Alliance. The early version of EAA was started and operated in the 1990s for a few years by Van and Janet Bailey and Susan Darsey.
From 2012, when EAA became a certified nonprofit organization, Janene and her dedicated board — Karen Ruhe, Kari Daniska, and Jeanie Smith — have raised and distributed nearly $75,000 mostly to local individuals who have nowhere else to turn.
Janene said once a Three Rivers resident is determined to have a financial need, the board can act rapidly because it’s all done electronically.
“My goal in reviving the EAA was to be accountable and ensure that of every dollar raised there were no questions as to how much was going where,” said Janene. “All of our board decisions are made by consensus. We all must be in agreement.”
To date, the biggest grossing event to add to the coffers of the EAA was the Three Rivers Music Festival in 2014. Janene said the $35,000 gross receipts netted more than $20,000 for the EAA.
“We have learned that the smaller frequent events are more lucrative as fundraisers,” Janene said.
Janene also said that the lessons learned in the Blue Thong Society have taught her to make the EAA volunteering fun whenever possible. The Blue Thongs are a social club, and some local women, including Janene, formed a Three Rivers chapter in 2008 and met monthly. Blue Thong members also helped out in times of community need.
Janene attributes her success as a fundraiser to all the thousands of hours donated by a legion of volunteers, including her family, who are engaged in every facet of the EAA. Though she said she could come up with a list of a number of others who are more deserving, she is extremely grateful for the Lions Club and this honor.
When asked for advice on how someone else could be successful in a start-up nonprofit, she advised, “Start looking for your replacement from day one and surround yourself with great people.”
“I am so thankful when we get any recognition at all and, hopefully, this honor will inspire others to help others,” she continued.
Next up for the EAA is running the bar concession, serving Kaweah Brewing Company suds, during the Earth Jam weekend (April 28-30).
Want to help others and have fun too? Log onto 3R-aid.org and engage, donate, and get involved.