2009-09-22 / Headlines

Lions Club and Appalachian Book Project Bring Joy of Sight and Reading

By R oseanna Renaud Times Correspondent

Ever wonder what happens to all the eyeglasses deposited in those Lions Club sponsored collection boxes you see scattered about your town? Maybe at the bank, optometrist office, coffeeshop, or library? At least 4,500 of them ended up on the Pine Ridge Reservation this week, brought by about twenty-five volunteers, most of them from Pennsylvania. On September 14, the group was at Rockyford School and Red Shirt providing eye screening, eyeglasses, and books. All free, to the students, elders, and community members who walked through the door. There are stops scheduled throughout the rest of the week at Wolf Creek, Batesland, and Porcupine Health Clinic. In 1925 Helen Keller challenged Lions to become "knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness," hence their active involvement in service to the blind and visually impaired. Today, Lions Club International is the world's largest service club organization with 1.3 million members in 45,000 clubs spread across 205 countries. Their motto is a simple one, "We Serve". Recycled eyewear, which is prepared at seventeen centers worldwide, is only one of the Club's many projects. They also support Lions Eye Banks, which annually provide quality eye tissue for 30,000 sight-saving surgeries, medical education and eye research. They screen the vision of hundreds of thousands of people every year, provide cataract surgeries and other eye care services to those at risk of losing their sight, and raise donations through programs like SightFirst and Campaign SightFirst. Lions volunteer Tom Fanelli was pleased about bringing the eyewear directly to the people. "We started last year at Porcupine Health Clinic and met with the schools while we were here to try to get into the schools to do free vision care," said Fanelli. "We hope to screen fifteen hundred children to see if they need glasses." Mr. Fanelli brought eight Lions Club members with him and the remainder of the group is made up of individuals who heard about the trip to the Pine Ridge and wanted to help. "It's free, doesn't cost them anything, and takes five minutes of their time," said Fanelli. "They can come out of here seeing better than when they came in. It's for every adult and every child. Even if they don't want glasses but are having a tough time reading, we have reader glasses." Large suitcases bursting with eyewear and sorted by prescription strength covered table tops as the room bustled with activity. Participants stood before eye-charts or sat in front of an Eye Refractor that determines the precise lens needed for their glasses. Maxine Rhoads, Vice President of We're All God's Children and coordinator of the event, feels the reward deeply when someone tells her they can now read after receiving a pair of glasses. "They look at you and say they haven't been able to read a book in years. One man told me he could now go back and get his driver's license. Another said he could get a job." At today's session there were free books courtesy of the Appalachian Book Project, a group that places reading materials in the hands of those who have limited access or funding such as children's medical facilities, Headstart centers, and rural schools. Appalachian Book Project Executive Director Debby Joy believes that the Lions eyeglass program and books are a natural fit. "We started the Appalachian Book Project right after 911. I just felt that there were so many people left out in this country," said Joy, whose enthusiasm for reading complements her name. "We started sending books down to Appalachia and we didn't realize how much rural poor America needed books," said Joy. "Mostly we need money because the postage is so high. I get books from library sales and have folks from all over the country that donate books to me. My basement looks like a library." So, the next time you pass a Lions Club Eyeglass Donation box or have books waiting to be explored by a child, think about passing them on. There is someone waiting.
Lions Clubs International Headquarters
Attention: Receiving Department
300 W. 22nd Street, Oak Brook, IL.
We're All God's Children
Appalachian Book Project

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