Lions Clubs International

As you begin your spring cleaning, and are rifling through closets and drawers, you may come across an old pair of eyeglasses. The prescription is old, the frames out of style, but surely, you think, someone could use these. The Lions Clubs International knows someone who could use them, and would be happy to pass them along.

Lions Clubs International is the world's largest service organization: they have 1.4 million members, 46,000 clubs, and are active in 193 countries. The group was founded in 1917 by Melvin Jones, a Chicago insurance agent who felt that businessmen's clubs were too focused on profit and should instead be of service to the community. His personal motto, "You can't get very far until you start doing something for somebody else," also became the guiding principle for his new organization. At his invitation, representatives from other businessmen's clubs met in Chicago and formed Lions Clubs International. Lions Clubs were for neither social hobnobbing nor business networking: their purpose was, and is, "to create and foster a spirit of understanding among all people for humanitarian needs by providing voluntary services through community involvement and international cooperation," according to the organization's motto.

In July of 2004, at the 87th annual convention in Detroit, Lions Clubs International elected Clement F. Kusiak, of Linthicum, as their president. Kusiak is a retired engineer, who managed an engineering corporation in Baltimore during his career. He has been a member of the Brooklyn Lions Club since 1966, and has been club president, district governor, member of the International Board of Directors, and program chairman for the Lions Eye Health Program. Each president serves a one-year term.

The Lions' legendary commitment to helping the visually impaired began in 1925, when Helen Keller addressed the Lions International convention in Cedar Point, Ohio. In her speech, she invited the assembled Lions to be "Knights of the Blind in this crusade against darkness," an invitation that was accepted with zeal. Since then the Lions have been synonymous with sight conservation. Each year, the Lions collect over six million pairs of eyeglasses, which are then distributed to people in developing countries who would not otherwise have access to vision correction. Once a pair of glasses is dropped off at a donation site, it is sorted, separating out broken frames and incomplete pairs. Then, the prescription is read in lensometers and each pair is bagged and labeled according to its prescription. The glasses are then stored in a holding facility until being shipped abroad, where, after a free vision test, someone will receive and be fitted for a new pair of eyewear. For some people, these glasses may provide the first truly clear vision they have ever known. These glasses are also used in the United States in Appalachia and on Native American reservations, where there is typically no local doctor or optician.

The Annapolis Chapter of Lions Club International was founded in 1941. Today, President James A. Rooney, who also writes the "On the Level" column for the Capital newspaper, presides over a club with 67 members. Currently, the Annapolis Lions are holding their annual Citrus and Sausage Sale, which is their primary fundraising event. The sale runs from November through March and the proceeds help fund their local eyecare program. With the help of Annapolis optometrist and business owner JoAnne Brilliant, of Brilliant Optical, those in need can receive a full eye exam and a new pair of eyeglasses. The Anne Arundel County departments of Aging, Health and Social Services review individual cases to determine eligibility for the program and then refer each person to the Lions. The Lions also provide vision screening services at local annual health fairs at Heritage Harbour, the North Severn Naval Station, and Anne Arundel Community College.

In addition to the fruit sale, the Lions also host an annual Bull Roast at the Annapolis Armory, featuring a dance band and casino-style entertainment. This year's roast will be held on April 23 from 3-9 p.m. And each year on the first Monday after the Fourth of July, the Lions host a fundraising golf tournament, whose location for 2005 is yet to be determined.

Still wondering what to do with that old pair of frames you found in your desk drawer? Look for a U.S. mailbox, painted yellow and emblazoned with the Lions' logo, in front of the Double T Diner on West St, and also at the entrance to the Annapolis Mall closest to Lord & Taylor. You can drop off glasses there, or with your ophthalmologist during your next eye exam; the Lions routinely pick up donated eyewear from doctors' offices.

To purchase fruit or sausage from the Lions, or for more information about how you can help the Lions bring the gift of clear vision to Annapolis and the world, call 410-263-6311.


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

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