Many parishioners have been to the Jerusalem Shriners annual circus or car show, some have even been treated at a Shriners Hospital, but few really know what the Jerusalem Shriners are all about.
The Jerusalem Shriners work together towards a common purpose: helping children in our community, and they have fun doing it.
The group, based at the Jerusalem Shrine Center in Destrehan, is the southeast Louisiana division of the national Shriners organization and it includes 11 Shriners clubs from Morgan City to Bogalusa. There are 48 members from St. Charles Parish. Also included in the division are 19 units, or activity-based groups, such as motorcyclists, clowns, dune buggies and the Shriners band.
The Shriners aim to incorporate entertainment into charitable activities that help children. The organization’s motto is “Having fun helping kids.”
“It’s always big, fun things and we’re doing good at the same time,” said John Williamson, Recorder for the Jerusalem Shriners and past Potentate, or group president.
The group’s main philanthropies revolve around fundraising so that they can make generous donations to help children, both locally and nationally.
In addition to fundraising activities, Williamson, a Destrehan resident, said that the Shriners work around St. Charles Parish for both the community and for local patients of Shriners hospitals.
They own three soccer fields that they lease to the parish free of charge as part of the Parks and Recreation Department. The organization also hosts a special Easter egg hunt, haunted house and Christmas party each year for local Shriners Hospital patients.
They also give back to the St. Charles Parish community by sponsoring children’s baseball and soccer teams and holding children’s safety fairs. They distribute safety information and teaching materials to local fire departments and boy and girl scout troops.
The local Shriners also work with local companies, like Valero, to raise money to benefit children.
The Jerusalem Shriners organized in 1889 and had an office on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans from 1895 to 1995. Since then, the office has moved to Destrehan, but it still covers the same southeast Louisiana area.
The Shriners hold multiple local fundraising events each year, including the annual Shriners Circus, a car show and a golf tournament at Ormond Country Club. The fundraising is primarily to benefit the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
In 1922, the first of the Shriners’ now 22 specialty hospitals opened its doors in Shreveport.
The specialty hospitals treat four conditions in children ages birth to 18 years old: Orthopedics, burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft lips or pallets.
The hospitals are non-profit entities and have three main purposes: to treat children, train doctors in the four special areas, and to conduct research.
“We do about 35 percent of research in the world related to the conditions that we treat,” Williamson said.
Although the Shriners fraternity and the hospitals are completely separate entities, Williamson said that all Shriners support the hospitals through donations.
One of the hospitals’ basic tenants since they began has been to offer services completely free of charge and to not bill any insurance or accept government aid, but that will change in the coming years.
“For 88 years, we have not accepted hospitalization insurance of governmental assistance,” Williamson said. “But we have made a decision recently that because of the increasing costs of medical care we will bill insurance companies for patients who have insurance, but we will not accept co-pays and we will not let insurance companies dictate to us about treatment – our doctors will always determine treatment.”
Williamson said that Shriners hospitals are always looking for children to help and that anyone interested should call (985)725-1716 for information.
“If people want to help out, they should come to our events,” Williamson said when asked how non-members could help further the Shriners’ cause of helping children while having fun.
The Jerusalem Shriners hold events throughout the year. Coming up in 2010 is a public dance featuring the music of “Bag of Donuts” on Aug. 28 and the group’s annual car show on Aug. 14. More information on the Jerusalem Shriners’ events can be found at www.jerusalemshriners.com.