Armstrong Students Excel In Service Through the State's Largest Leo Club

Armstrong School District students have earned a special reputation for their drive to serve and lead through the Armstrong River Hawks Leo Club, a youth service organization sponsored by the Lions Club.

More than 250 Armstrong Junior/Senior High School students serve in the Leo Club, the largest in Pennsylvania. Many of the Leo members hosted the school's annual Magical Night With Santa in December, the third year for the popular holiday event created by the club. Leos set up and operated more than a dozen drive-through stations around the school for families to visit in their cars. Each station features a treat, toy, craft, or performance for the families, with a visit from Santa through the car window serving as the final stop.

There is no charge to attend the event, although families are asked to bring an unwrapped gift for the annual Salvation Army Toy Drive. This year, the school collected more than 1,000 toys.

The Leo Club is part of the Lions International organization, offering resources, mentoring, and learning opportunities to the youth clubs. Gregg Hedglin, an AHS teacher and Ford City Lions Club member, is a co-sponsor of the AHS club, along with Erin Burkett, a 9th-grade English teacher who has served as an advisor since the club was established in 2015.

"The club is a good fit for many types of students," Burkett said. "We focus on being inclusive and understand that our members often have many other obligations." 

Students appreciate the no-pressure environment of the club, she said. "Most members find that they really enjoy serving and therefore continue to sign up to participate with opportunities. We have excellent student leaders in our officer roles, which is also a big reason why so many students want to join," Burkett said.

The AHS club has earned high praise, including having six students identified as "Leo of the Year" in the district and receiving the prized Leo Club Excellence Award in 2017. 

The AHS club also supports a number of other events and activities, including the fundraiser talent show known as the River Hawk Revue, a school-wide food drive with Life Skills classes, Thanksgiving Meal Prep/Distribution with Christmas for Kids Foundation, an annual egg hunt for local families each Spring, and an annual yearbook for four Life Skills classes at AHS.

"Many of our Leo members work one-on-one with students in these classes and participate in many of their activities/elective classes with them," Burkett said.