Most of us rise each morning and can gaze at the morning sun and simply see all the scenic views and the people who are a big part of our daily lives. However, some cannot and dwell in total darkness all of their lives. They still survive and learn to do most things that the rest of us do. These are the people who are blind.
There are many people throughout the world who are blind or visually impaired but fit in quite well with their role in life and don't feel sorry for themselves. Their pride is unmatched, but often they appreciate the tireless efforts of a volunteer service organization acting on their behalf called Lions Clubs International.
The Lions Club is strictly a service unit with membership of 1,355,133 worldwide that makes up 46,178 clubs in 747 districts and 208 countries and geographical areas. They are not the oldest, but certainly the largest of service clubs.
The Lions began in the United States in 1917, founded by a young Chicago insurance agent by the name of Melvin Jones. The idea was one of service as a group to their fellow man without regard to politics, religion, race or in any way the personal interests of the members. In 1925, Helen Keller addressed a Lions International Convention in, of all places, Cedar Point in Sandusky, and challenged the Lions to take up the cause of the visually handicapped by becoming "Knights of the Blind" in the crusade against darkness. Since then, service to the blind and the visually impaired has been the Lions' most significant activity.
Lions clubs and their members support many other sight related activities, providing more than 600,000 free glaucoma, depth perception and other eye screenings, not just for adults but for children in many schools as well. Just lately, many advances have been made in screening preschool children using a new type of camera.
Locally, you will see the Lions at most county fairs, especially Canfield, where they are involved in the medical building.
Our local Lions Clubs are in District 13-D, which is comprised of some 53 clubs in the counties of Trumbull, Mahoning, Columbiana, Stark and Portage. They have their own eye care foundation that provides free eye surgeries for the needy who have no insurance or funds to pay for the surgeries. Money for the foundation is raised in many ways by the Lions Clubs within the district.
Local Lions Clubs also usually pay for eye exams and eyeglasses for the needy. Lions also collect an estimated 20 million pairs of used eyeglasses annually and send approximately 6 million pairs to Lions eyeglass recycling centers for recycling and distribution at no cost to those in need in developing countries. District 13-D has one of those recycling centers in Uniontown under the direction of the Uniontown Lions Club.
Pilot Dogs Inc. of Ohio, located in Columbus, was established in 1950 to train and furnish pilot dogs to guide the blind. Since its first class of four students, the program has grown to serve more than 150 individuals each year. The original mission has not been changed, and that is to provide the finest of dog guides to the qualified sightless. Pilot dogs are professionally trained to offer greater mobility and independence to the visually impaired or sightless. Pilot Dogs is a non-profit organization. Lions Clubs within Ohio make much of the donations needed along with private donations to keep this project intact.
In summing every thing up, Lions do, in fact, bring rays of light to the darkness of countless people throughout the world and have helped hundreds of thousands of visually impaired people develop the skills needed to live very productive and independent lives.
These are just a few of the things Lions have accomplished. They are champions in many other fields including disaster relief and community needs among many other programs.