The future of Fire & Ice

By on February 13, 2014

Lititz Leos light the way

by Melissa Hunnefield

It’s pouring down rain, and has been for six hours. Instead of relaxing on the sofa and playing Xbox in the warmth of his living room – like most boys his age would be doing on a rainy day – Jacob Rissmiller is outside, drenched and dodging puddles. A member of the Lititz Leo Club, he has spent the afternoon hanging up posters advertising the Fire & Ice Festival.

“He was jumping around enormous puddles,” said his mother Dawn Rissmiller, overall chair of the Fire & Ice event. “I was laughing myself silly in the car watching him, because he always has a lot of expression on his face.”

Twelve-year-old Jacob has been immersed in the Leo Club since Dawn became the club’s advisor in 2006.

“I have been helping at all events of the Leos for what seems like my entire life,” Jacob recalls, “and have been a ‘Leo in training,’ so to speak.”

In addition to being a member of a basketball team at the Lititz recCenter, a member of of the 13U baseball team at Spooky Nook Sports, and volunteer for the tech team at his church (LCBC), Jacob also serves as a Middle School Director for the Leo Club. He’s also quite involved with the upcoming Fire & Ice Festival.

“Because my mom is the event organizer, I am unofficially consumed with Fire & Ice,” Jacob joked. “Officially I am a part of the Friday Night block party and participate in all of the other venues. Normally I put in two hours a week and on my busy weeks maybe six to ten hours. I help my mom at home do stuff for Leos.”

If Fire & Ice resonates with the kids, it’s probably due to Jacob’s input.

“We brainstorm a lot and talk about ideas,” Jacob said, “so the event is relevant to my age group.”

Jacob is the youth project manager for the Fire & Ice Friday night Block Party.

“I try not to brag,” said Jacob’s mom, Dawn, “but this kid does a lot.We spent two hours last night just going through signs, taking off rope from the signs; he does all that sort of stuff with or for me. Starting Monday he is attending the Manheim Township Lions meeting to represent Lititz. Tuesday we put the finishing touches on blocks [of ice] and Wednesday the crew comes for ice. They eat dinner here each night, so he helps prep all of that and works through all the plans/designs with us. Plus he is normally the only Leo that is at every event from before to after the venue’s start. I put a lot of pressure on him and my expectations are high but he totally meets that challenge year after year.”

Sponsored by the Lions Club, Leo clubs provide youth volunteer opportunities that inspire and support leadership in young people ages 12 to 30 by giving them the chance to learn, grow and serve by participating in community service projects.

Leo Club originated in 1957 at Pennsylvania’s Abington High School. The Lititz contingency was formed years later, on July 6, 2000 with 15 charter members.

The Lititz Leo Club and some of their adult mentors met recently to finalize plans for Fire & Ice. Pictured (front row, left to right) are: Mary LeVasseur, Natalie Rhoads, Brigham Rhoads, Jacob Rissmiller and Mike Haines; (back, l-r): Kerry Nye, Karen Esbenshade, Amanda Cassel, Bobby D Jones, Alex LeVasseur, Samson Cassel Nucci, Isabelle Lawson, Dawn Rissmiller, Alyssa Grube, Rachel Boyer and Carrie Lawson. Photo by Preston Whitcraft

The Lititz Leo Club and some of their adult mentors met recently to finalize plans for Fire & Ice. Pictured (front row, left to right) are: Mary LeVasseur, Natalie Rhoads, Brigham Rhoads, Jacob Rissmiller and Mike Haines; (back, l-r): Kerry Nye, Karen Esbenshade, Amanda Cassel, Bobby D Jones, Alex LeVasseur, Samson Cassel Nucci, Isabelle Lawson, Dawn Rissmiller, Alyssa Grube, Rachel Boyer and Carrie Lawson. Photo by Preston Whitcraft

“The Lititz Lions Club saw the need to involve youth in community service projects through a Lions Club and sponsored Leo club at the high school level,” said Tom Bender, who served as Lions Club secretary at the time the Lititz Leos Club was formed. “Our goal was to give young people, through a partnership with Lions, a chance to develop as responsible, service-minded youth, active within the Lititz community. ‘Leo’ stands for ‘Leadership, Experience and Opportunity.’ The Leo Club has grown and thrived since.

“Some of the earliest LEO Club activities included collecting food for a Christmas Basket event in partnership with the Warwick/Lititz Community Chest, assisting the Lions Club with our annual Easter Egg Hunt, Fourth of July and Halloween parades and a continuing effort to this day with food collection events for the Lititz needy through the local Community Chest,” Bender continued. “Since their forming, club members have increasingly been totally involved in creative and energetic community-service related activities.

Eighth grader Brigham Rhoads also serves as a Middle School Director for the Lititz Leo Club.

“On an average week I probably spend three to six hours on Leos,” Brigham said. “I think it gives a lot of structure to a kid’s life and gives them a sense of responsibility and support.”

In addition to golfing and dancing at Pulse Dance Studio, Brigham is serving as youth project manager for Sunday’s Dodgeball Tournament. His contributions are not limited to the festival.

“I was a sighted aid at a Vision Corps event,” Brigham said, “and I was a project manager for Cruise Night in downtown Lititz.”

Brigham discovered Leos through his older sister, Natalie.

“I love the feeling of helping people and the community,” Brigham said. “My sister told me about how they went to the Water Street Mission and that sounded really fun to me. Since then, I met a ton of new, great people, while helping others.”

Natalie Rhoads is a tenth grader at Warwick High School. In addition to her scholastic and extra-curricular activities, she serves as a High School Director for the club.

“I found out about the Leo club when I was in middle school and a representative (Dawn Rissmiller) came to talk to us,” Natalie said. “The Leo Club seemed like a really good organization to get my name into the community and give back to the great town we live in. Throughout the year we do other things like help in the Car Show for the Lions and other things like that.”

Natalie will be serving as youth project coordinator for Saturday’s Chili Cook-off.

“Right now with Fire & Ice being so soon, I spend maybe five hours a week on the Leo Club. My position is High School Director, which means that I oversee the Leos in the high school. If anyone is not a Leo I would encourage them to come to Fire & Ice or another event and see what our club is all about. Talk to one of us and see if it would interest you to join.”

Sara Rhoads, mother to Natalie and Brigham, will also be helping out on Fire & Ice weekend. Although not a member of the Lions Club herself, she’s very proud of her children’s decision to join Leos.

“They both are caring individuals and like giving to others. I love that my kids love to volunteer and help others,” Sara said. “They are not doing it for their resumes, since Brig is only in eighth grade; he’s not even thinking about his resume. It’s about helping others.”

Leo President Samson Cassel Nucci has a list of accomplishments and extra-curriculars a mile long. He’s a member of the National Honor Society, French Honor Society, Business Honor Society, FBLA, student government, has performed a leading role in several plays and musicals and runs cross country on the track team. Outside of school, he’s currently serving as a junior councilperson on the Lititz Borough Council and works part time at Tomato Pie Café.

In addition to all this, as Leos President, Samson oversees the operations of Fire & Ice, jumping in to lend a hand wherever needed.

“The time I spend picks up around Fire & Ice to maybe eight to 20 hours a week. I spend around 50 days a year doing some sort of Leo activity, whether I’m serving food at a Little League game, or operating a game at the Lititz 4th of July Celebration,” Samson said. “I enjoy the service aspect, in addition to the leadership and motivational skills I have learned being President. I love helping people, empowering them to make more of themselves, whether these people are my fellow Leos or the people affected by the various service projects the Leos do.”

Dawn Rissmiller wanted to remind everyone that, in addition to their major projects, the Leos work behind the scenes at nearly every major event in Lititz.

“The Lititz Leo Club oversees Santa’s mailbox and responds to each child with a personal letter from Santa. This is one of many community ‘givebacks’ that the Lititz Leo Club provides,” Dawn said. “The Leos work closely with the Lititz Lions Club’s Easter Egg Hunt, Halloween Parade and many other family and community events.”

Jacob Rissmiller explained what he likes best about being a Leo.

“Leo members are a group of young men and women just like me,” Jacob said. “We are dedicated to helping people in need in our community while having fun doing it. You will become a stronger individual by being a Leo member. You will receive tools and guidelines that will help you in the future.”

Samson Cassel Nucci says he’d definitely someday encourage his own kids to join Leos.

“The club is so well balanced and diverse with respect to the activities on the agenda and the friends one makes that I can’t see my children not being Leos. I want my children to become well-rounded individuals, and the Leo Club is a definite piece to that puzzle,” Samson said. “Depending on where I settle down, the Lions Club will be a part of my life too. Even if I have to form a club myself, the Lions will be roaring in my life.”

Advisor Dawn Rismiller was touched by what her young charges had to say about how the club had influenced their lives.

“That is why I do all that I do,” Dawn said. “I just adore these kids and it makes me want to give them this safe place to be themselves while also hopefully impacting on them on what it is to have compassion and a servant’s heart.”

In total, more than 160,000 young people in 140 countries are proud to volunteer to serve their local communities and to call themselves Leos. To learn more about joining the Lititz Leo Club, call 371-1846 or e-mail Adults interested in becoming Lions should visit

Melissa Hunnefield is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at or at 721-4452

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