This is the first in a series of features exploring the world of service club organizations. They all have familiar names, but do you know what they really do? The name of each service club organization may evoke a particular memory from your past that describes what you think is their main activity in the community. This series will examine aspects of these groups that may not be as well-known to all of us but are very important to the people they serve.
You might remember them selling light bulbs a long time ago.
Maybe you remember them selling brooms that were made by blind workers and sold to help the blind. Or maybe you remember their annual car raffle, but most remember them because they collect used eyeglasses so they can be given to those who can’t afford to pay for them. I’m referring to the Lions. Lions Clubs International is proud to claim 1.35 million members all over the world and they say that makes it the largest service club organization in the world. That tells you about their current numbers, but how did it all get started?
It began June 7,1917 in Chicago, Illinois when a 38-year-old businessman named Melvin Jones told members of his business club that they should reach beyond business issues and address the betterment of their communities and the world. Within three years Lions Clubs International was born. A major turning point in the direction the organization would take place on June 30,1925 when Helen Keller addressed the Lions Clubs International convention in Cedar Point, Ohio. Her words say it best: “Will you not help me hasten the day when there shall be no preventable blindness; no little deaf, blind child untaught, no blind man or woman unaided? I appeal to you Lions, you who have your sight, your hearing, you who are strong and brave and kind. Will you not constitute yourselves Knights of the Blind in this crusade against darkness?” Those words were so powerful that Lions Clubs International took her challenge seriously and adopted Hellen Keller’s attitude toward helping the blind and the deaf as the organization’s mission.
There are some 46,000 local Lions Clubs throughout the world. It takes quite an organization to be able to lead that many clubs as one entity but they still have local rule. Another one of the most important milestones in Lions history came in 1968 when they established the Lions Clubs International Foundation which assists Lions with global and large-scale local humanitarian projects. One example of such assistance was after the earthquake and Tsunami in Japan money was sent almost immediately to help those in need. The money was not given to governments, international agencies, or individuals but instead, as per Lions Clubs International rules, was given to local Lions Clubs. They know the local people and have “boots-on-the-ground” already. The money comes from the Lions Clubs International Foundation and from the generous donations of local clubs all over the world. In 1990 Campaign SightFirst was launched.
It’s purpose was “to fund high quality, sustainable projects that deliver eye care services, develop infrastructure, train personnel, and/or provide rehabilitation and education in under-served communities.” The concentration was on the main causes of blindness and vision impairment including cataracts, river blindness, trachoma, uncorrected refractive error and, especially in developed nations, diabetic eye disease and glaucoma. The program was unique in that most of the funds pledged and collected came from the Lions themselves as the contributions were collected by each club and given to Lions Clubs International. It was such a success that Campaign SightFirst II was initiated a few years ago to continue the work started by the original Campaign SightFirst.
Besides the Lions Clubs International Foundation there are other regional foundations like the Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation (OLSHF) which been named one of the 100 Best Nonprofits To Work For in the small organization category in 2010, 2011, and 2013. Founded in 1959 it serves as the nonprofit arm of the Lions Clubs of Oregon. Some of the foundation’s programs include free health screenings for children and adults, providing cataract surgeries (Mission Cataract Oregon), corneal transplants, hearing aids, eyeglasses, plus vision and hearing treatments. The foundation is in partnership with more than 175 Lions Clubs in the state of Oregon.
The Eugene Downtown Lions Club was chartered in 1924 and has built a reputation on living up to the Lions motto “We Serve.” I am partial to this particular club because I am a member, but ask any Lion in Oregon and they will say that the Eugene Downtown club is fun-loving and gets the job done while making it enjoyable for both the Lions and those who are being helped. Originally Lions was just for men and they had the Lioness Club which was their auxiliary group for women, usually the wives of the Lions. Not very long ago women started becoming Lion members and in the case of the Eugene Downtown Lions Club there have already been two female club presidents with another as 1st Vice President who should become president next year.
The following are just some of the programs of the Eugene Downtown Lions Club. Club members volunteered for work projects such as “Honor Flight” for WWII veterans, Amazon Pocket Park maintenance – mow grass, clear weeds, Delta Ponds Restoration Project- clear debris and plant trees, Food Rescue Express – repackaging food for Food For Lane County, and the “Meals on Wheels” program- delivering meals to needy seniors. A short list of Community Service Projects includes Children’s Miracle Network/Lions Guest House- for families with longer-term patient in the hospital, Flags for First Graders, Alert Disaster Preparedness Committee, vial of life, and Peace Poster Contest for elementary school students. More well-known services include used eyeglass, hearing aid, and cell phone collection (from about 40 locations in the Eugene), and public fundraising projects like the annual Pancake Breakfast with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and an annual raffle to help fund club projects.
Now that I have mentioned it, this year’s Breakfast With Santa and Mrs. Claus is being held Saturday December 7th from 8:00 AM until Noon at St. Thomas Episcopal Fellowship Hall 1465 Coburg Road, Eugene. Kids $5 Adults $8. All are welcome and please bring the whole family.
The club has many committees that help delegate the funds we distribute. The Community Services Committee supplies grant application forms to club members to submit nominations for individuals or groups that are looking for assistance. The Environmental Services Committee oversees the Delta Ponds Restoration project. A long-time chairman of that committee, the late Frank Alderson, presented a “walking stick” award each year to the club member who showed the most dedication to the Environmental Services Committee. He custom carved
the walking sticks himself for each recipient and also sold some as a way to earn money for Lions. The club’s Sight and Hearing Committee is charged with deciding on a case-by-case basis which people will get new eyeglasses, hearing aids, or possible cataract surgery on the basis of their personal and financial need. One of the Club’s newest innovations is providing three $1,000 scholarships for Lane Community College students in health-related fields.
Lions also have events just-for-fun for members and guests including the annual Summer picnic, an Oktoberfest celebration, the annual Officer Installation and Awards Banquet, and events like “An Evening with Abraham Lincoln” as an actor portrayed Lincoln at a press conference with the audience asking the questions.
A serious issue for the Eugene Downtown Lions Club has been the sudden loss of some of its most active members. I have been a member of the club for over twenty years and this is the first time 5 members have died within the same year. Lions and every other service club in existence have to deal with aging members and not enough younger new ones to keep the membership to levels high enough to ensure continuing the long-time legacy and good works of the Club. The membership committee is continually evaluating ways to increase the numbers. One avenue is to partner with groups like the Active-20-30 Club so their members will consider joining Lions when they pass the age allowed to be a member of their group.
Now you should have a better appreciation of who the Lions are and what they do for the people of our community, the state, the country, and the world. I personally feel that it is the service club organizations, all of them that are doing their works day-in-and-day-out, that will fill in the gaps to serve those who fall between the cracks of government and other aid programs that are out there.
If you would like more information about possibly joining one of the area clubs or otherwise helping Lions continue their work check out the Eugene Downtown Lions membership page for contact information.
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