By Kerri Creel
Most of us enjoyed “Lion fever” last fall with our local high school football team going to the state championships! That excitement was heard and seen far and wide as it was accompanied with fireworks, cannons, and fire-breathing lions. But there is also a different pride of Lions in our county – a quieter, behind-the-scenes pride of Lions – who are diligently serving our community and making a difference.
The Louisa County Lions Club is making things heard and seen in another way because they are a 501(c) service organization dedicated to providing help to the sight and hearing impaired. “We serve” is the motto of the Lions, and our local Lions Club has been serving this area for over 65 years. They are members of the Lions Club International which is the largest service organization in the world that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
Until I had the pleasure of attending a recent meeting of the Lions Club and meeting these warm and welcoming gentlemen, I did not know all the ways in which they work in Louisa. At the bi-monthly meetings, the Lions decide upon the actions/events/fundraisers that will progress their agenda of service. When many people hear the Lions Club name, they say, “Aren’t they the ones that collect used eyeglasses?” And yes, one of the most recognizable ways that they help is by collecting and recycling used eyeglasses.
You may have seen their bright yellow box at Louisa’s Food Lion. Through this “Lions Recycle for Sight” program, when you deposit your used prescription eyewear in the container, the Lions Club collects them and sends them to a Lion Eyeglass Recycling Center. It is there that the glasses are sorted through, cleaned, and packaged (according to prescription strength) to be distributed to those in need.
Dr. Russell Beattie, retired optometrist and former Sight committee chairman, explained that the eyeglasses are mostly distributed in third-world countries. “It’s heart-warming to see pictures of a child wearing the Lions’ eyeglasses,” said Dr. Beattie. “Even though the glasses may be a little big for their smiling faces, they are so appreciative for the gift of sight.” In approximately one year, 1,772 pairs of eyeglasses were recycled! But the Lions Club does so much more than the recycling of spectacles.
Since their main mission involves sight and hearing, the Lions spend the bulk of their money on vision/ hearing screenings, eye exams, eyeglasses, and hearing aids for the needy. Last year, the Lions spent $7,625 on eye exams and glasses, and they provided $2,400 of support for hearing aids.
The first level of this help is provided through their free sight and hearing screenings at Louisa County public schools and local community events. The SAHMSU (Sight and Hearing Mobile Screening Unit) vehicle, which is owned by the Lions District, is set up at special events and public schools to provide a cursory eye exam. Within the club, there is one technician and six to eight screeners including Lion Dr. John Hodge, who explained that they have been trained and certified by the District to conduct the screenings.
Within the first 30-60 days of the school year and on the invitation of the school nurses, the Lion volunteers and technicians spend 1-2 days at the individual schools to screen Pre-K, Kindergarten, 3rd, 7th, and 10th graders. Out of these screenings, they have had up to 240 referrals of children who need to visit their eye doctor for a full exam. Those who can’t afford exams or eyeglasses, the Lions accept applications to provide financial assistance. Lion Lee Shiflett, current chairman of the Sight Committee, said that they receive 10-11 applications per month. He reviews and verifies their applications, contacts the applicant, works in conjunction with a local eye doctor, and may even provide transportation to/from the doctor when necessary.
A similar process is used for applying for the hearing aids (which cost $400/each). Lion Mike Burns, the Hearing Committee chairman, receives audiology referrals through Rivanna Hearing Aid Center and UVA Audiology. The Club receives 7-8 requests per year for hearing aids, which they provide based on financial merit. “People who lose their hearing become disassociated with the world around them,” Burns said. “Not being able to partake in conversations, and therefore limiting social outings, it affects their overall health.” He described the Lions Club work with the hearing-impaired as a wonderful effort to increase the quality of life for many people.
In addition to their sight and hearing efforts, they also provide other financial support and relief. The Club grants $1,000 scholarships to two graduating LCHS seniors each year. They give money towards disaster relief assistance during hurricanes and local fires/burn-outs. The group contributes toward the upkeep of the SAHMSU van, and the Lions donate toward the Leader Dog Program which is a Lions International project that provides service dogs to people in need. They also collect wheelchairs, crutches, and other equipment to be given out when needed.
The Lions fundraise for these worthy causes in two major ways: a spring golf tournament and their tri-annual yard sales.
In April, August, and November (usually the first Saturday of the month), the Club hosts a yard sale at their two-acre location on School Bus Road. Last year’s combined yard sales raised over $20,000. Before the Club’s two buildings and pavilion were built, David Martin, a Lion since 1986, remembers having previous yard sales in the parking lots of the current McDonald’s and CVS locations.
“The biggest difference that I’ve found,” he said, “is the increase in the proceeds of the yard sales. Back then, we took in around $1,500, and now we bring in $7,000-$8,000 per yard sale.” Martin also explained that 90 cents out of every dollar goes right back into the community through the Lions’ programs and decisions. The other ten cents is used for insurance, electricity, and anything else that owning a building requires.
Martin described one particular yard sale on a very snowy Saturday in April. Three and half inches of early spring snow had fallen, and all the other yard sales and events in the area were cancelled. The Lions’ members just brushed the snow off of the yard sale items and decided to take a chance and keep it open. They ended up having quite a crowd and made $7,000 that day.
Each spring, the Lions Club hosts their annual golf tournament at Tanyard Golf Club in Louisa. This year, the Captain’s Choice tournament will be held on April 28, 2018. Most years, the club meets their maximum of 80 golfers. The cost for the tournament (including mulligans and lunch) is $300/team of four or $75 per player, which covers the Lions’ expenses.
Lion Byron Mehlhaff, who is the primary organizer of the event, states that the real fundraising occurs through local businesses sponsoring holes. “Our fundraising goes very well, and we sink that money back into Louisa,” he said. “We are very cognizant of investing the proceeds into Louisa County, and we take a lot of pride in helping the people and causes right here in our community.”
The 35+ members of Louisa Lions Club continually give of their time and energy to the community. Besides the chance to serve their community, what do they get in return? They share friendship and fellowship with one another: picnics, cook-outs, fish fries, and dinner meetings. They also share information, as different speakers are invited to each meeting to discuss important topics. Lion David Martin commented that he enjoys the camaraderie and socialization. Byron Mehlhaff, who re-located to Louisa over 35 years ago, remembers joining at that time so that he could both get to know people in his new area and participate in the community.
For some members, being a Lion is a family affair. Alan Marshall, who has been a Lion since the 1980s, joined because of his father Howard. “I saw what my Dad did as a Lion and as a district governor, and when I became of age, I joined too.” Howard Marshall, Alan’s father, was the Club’s last living charter member and passed away last year after a lifetime of helping the community in which he lived. Howard and his wife Frances traveled to Lions International Conventions all over the world. Now, their son and grandson carry on the family tradition.
David and Troy Martin are also a father and son duo involved in the Lions. David is a former president and Troy is the current president. “Dad had a lot of inspiration in it,” Troy said. “Plus, at the time I worked for Virginia Community bank that requires some type of community involvement, and so it was a perfect time to join.”
Like many service organizations and churches, Lion Mike Burns says that the greatest challenge in the Louisa Lions Club is to get and keep younger members engaged and active. “It’s a real purpose of serving people in need,” he said. And so here is a challenge to all Louisa County community members: help the Lions Club in whatever way you can. This could include donating eyeglasses to the big yellow box, attending the golf tournament, donating items for the yard sales, or shopping at one of their three yard sale events. Or if you’d like to work with a service organization that enjoys each other, helps their fellow neighbors, and serves a worthy purpose, then talk to a Lion about joining. Let’s help our community to be known for both prides of Lions!
If you are interested in helping the Lions serve the sight and hearing impaired in our community, please join them at their meetings, which are held on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at 7:00 p.m. at Roma’s Italian Restaurant in Louisa.
For more information, visit the Lions Club International website at www.lionsclub.org or the local website at www.e-clubhouse.org. If you would like to donate items toward their yard sales, please contact the Lions at 540-967-0000, particularly if you have larger items so that a drop-off or pick-up can be arranged.