Lion October 2013 : Page 28
Dreamers and Doers Ordinary clubs are taking on extraordinary projects, fulfilling International President Barry Palmer’s vision of dreaming big. by David McKay Wilson Lawrie Garrett and other Malcolm Lions oversee the busy harbor in British Columbia.
Dreamers and Doers
David McKay Wilson
Ordinary clubs are taking on extraordinary projects, fulfilling International President Barry Palmer’s vision of dreaming big.<br /> <br /> Canadian Club Keeps Harbor Afloat<br /> <br /> On a tiny island off the coast of British Columbia, the Malcolm Island Lions Club runs the island’s busy harbor, where a ferry boat runs six times daily to the mainland, a commercial salmon-fishing fleet is docked and up to 150 recreational boaters visit on summer coastal cruises.<br /> <br /> Among the town’s 800 year-round residents, 20 are Lions. The harbor is the community’s connection to the outer world, and the engine for its local economy.<br /> <br /> “Our community has basic needs, we’re a service club, and the Lions have responded,” says Lawrie Garrett, 59, a business analyst for rural economic development organizations, who moved here in 1996.<br /> <br /> The club, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2013, decided to take on the harbor management in 1989 by establishing the Malcolm Island Lions Harbor Authority, a public agency independent of the Lions club, and similar to other harbor authorities along Canada’s coast. Garrett is among four Lions who sit on the board of the nonprofit organization, which has four employees, and pays the club an annual management fee of $18,000.<br /> <br /> The harbor heats up in July and August during salmon-fishing season and summer vacation. Sailboats and recreational fishing boats pay the Harbor Authority $1-per-linear-foot a night, so a 40-foot boat pays $40 a night for a slip at the dock. The Authority collects the fees and maintains the docks.<br /> <br /> “We can get filled up in the summer,” says Garrett. “We get very busy.”<br /> <br /> The Malcolm Island Lions Club’s involvement at the docks sets the stage for its further investment in the community. The harbor income then gets passed along as the Lions support Malcolm Island community organizations. The club funds youth recreational programs, subsidizing the tuitions for island youths at a weeklong soccer camp in the summer. It runs the island’s summer regatta, shoots off the Halloween night fireworks and rents out its spacious cabin by Mount Cain to youth groups for ski weekends.<br /> <br /> When residents decided to launch a $250,000 project to renovate its old community hall, the Lions club stepped up with a grant of $10,000 to help shore up the hall’s foundation.<br /> <br /> Individuals in need also turn to the Malcolm Island Lions. The club’s Friends in Need Now program–called FINN–harkens back to the community’s early Finnish settlers. It comes in handy for Malcolm Island residents, who are often strapped for cash and require health care services on the mainland. Garrett says about six residents share up to $6,000 each year to defer healthcare costs.<br /> <br /> “If you are not that well off financially, and need help with medical equipment or travel or accommodations near a health care center, the Lions are there,” says Garrett. “We try to help out.”<br /> <br /> Florida Club Runs an Eye Clinic<br /> <br /> The Bonita Springs Lions Club in southwest Florida opened its volunteer-run eye clinic in 2008. How’s that for a club project? The Bonita Springs Lions Eye Clinic served up to 600 patients a year–for free. Routine and serious eye problems were detected. Lions saved sight.<br /> <br /> But great projects don’t always mean everything is great. The need for eye care in the community remained. There weren’t enough hours in the day or space at the clinic to account for people’s need.<br /> <br /> So Bonita Spring Lions dreamed of a larger facility.<br /> <br /> Reality, of course, has a way of stifling dreams. Some questioned whether the Eye Clinic could pull off the expansion because Lions had to raise money both for construction costs and operation of the expanded facility. The turning point was receiving a $75,000 grant from the Lions Clubs International Foundation, which the clinic had to match.<br /> <br /> “When we got the grant, there was no turning back,” said Steve Blad, 66, a Bonita Springs Lion since 2003 and executive director of the Bonita Springs Lions Eye Clinic, an independent organization located in the club’s downtown complex.<br /> <br /> The expansion enabled the clinic to double in size to more than 2,000 square feet. The old clinic had two exam rooms and an administrative station. The new clinic has four exam rooms, two waiting rooms and two administrative areas. The clinic served 1,500–more than double its former patient load–when it expanded in 2012.<br /> <br /> About 70 percent of its low-income clientele are Latino or Haitian immigrants who suffer from pressing vision problems. To qualify for treatment, patients must have no public or private health insurance, and have income within 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.<br /> <br /> Patients are given comprehensive eye exams. Some just need glasses. Others are treated for pterygium, caused by excessive exposure to strong sun. Yet others have debilitating diseases, such as glaucoma, which can led to blindness. About once a month, an uninsured patient walks in with undetected glaucoma. These patients may be treated with eye drops or surgery. Others are referred to a local ophthalmologist, who provides frames and glasses for less than $40, or the local Lenscrafters outlet, which has a program to provide free glasses to the indigent.<br /> <br /> “Right now we’re serving patients from a five-county region,” says Blad. “And we do it without any marketing.”<br /> <br /> The clinic is run by a nonprofit that’s independently incorporated. Lions play central roles in the clinic’s management and its volunteer staff. Lions help with fundraising and volunteer at the clinic. The Bonita Springs Lions Club membership has remained steady at about 125 members.<br /> <br /> The clinic attracts volunteers from other associations as well. The ladies of Delta Gamma Fraternity have adopted the clinic as one of their community projects, and its members now comprise about half of the clinic’s volunteers.<br /> <br /> The extra exam rooms required more doctors–both paid and volunteer–to conduct the exams and prescribe treatment. Blad oversees an administrative staff of three part-time employees, and a staff of contract physicians, who supplement the pro bono service provided by several local physicians, who either see patients at the clinic or perform procedures in their offices. Volunteers include a core group of retired doctors, whose ages range from their late 60s to 90.<br /> <br /> The current annual budget is about $110,000. This year, the clinic set a fundraising goal of $150,000 to provide a financial cushion for future years. By mid-July, near the beginning of the 2013-14 fiscal year, the clinic already had pledges for $85,000. Lions contributed $40,000 in 2012-13, and local foundations are generous donors.<br /> <br /> “It’s a great challenge to run a small business with volunteers,” says Blad. “We don’t charge for services, but we need money to operate, just like other businesses. It’s a constant effort: recruiting new volunteers and maintaining our fundraising.”<br /> <br /> Clubs Collaborate on Camp Lodge<br /> <br /> When Mark Durnford became district governor in 2010 for a region that covered the province of Nova Scotia in Canada, he wanted to a launch a major project to elevate the Lions’ image across the district and provide a long-lasting contribution to the island’s betterment.<br /> <br /> The project was ambitious: the construction of a lakefront camp lodge for children with chronic illnesses at the Brigadoon recreational facility on Aylesford Lake in Annapolis Valley. The Nova Scotia Lions needed to raise $250,000, and Durnford hoped to find support from most of District N2’s clubs to do so.<br /> <br /> Lions like to dream big.<br /> <br /> “There hadn’t been a district project that made a difference for a long, long time,” says Durnford, a member of the Colebrook N2 Lions Club. “We needed something big to bring everyone on board, to convince the ordinary Lion that this was the right thing to do. It was for the long haul, and that building would be around for 50 years.”<br /> <br /> In 2011, the project was approved at the district convention in Yarmouth. Under the agreement, the Brigadoon Children’s Camp Society would fund the lodge’s construction while Lions pledged to raise $250,000 by 2018 to pay for the facility.<br /> <br /> Durnford traveled the province for more than two years, speaking about the project and seeking support. Having a big dream, like the Brigadoon lodge, made it easier to ask for help. The project generated loads of publicity with reports on local television and newspapers as well as nonprofit newsletters.<br /> <br /> Over time, the Nova Scotia Lions stepped up to back to project. Fifty-five of the province’s 70 clubs got involved, with $202,000 either raised or pledged including a grant of $37,500 from the Lions Clubs International Foundation.<br /> <br /> The lodge was completed in the fall of 2011. The 2,500- square-foot lodge opens on the lake, with large windows on its spacious common room opening up on the spectacular view. Five bunk rooms and four bathrooms accommodate 28. The year-round facility serves up to 24 kids for a few days or as long as a week.<br /> <br /> “The project put us on the map,” says Durnford. “It helps to think big. Big lasts for a long time, and once we’re paid off, we are still connected.”<br /> <br /> When first conceived, it was a seven-year project, with the Lions agreeing to pay off the $250,000 construction project by 2018. The outpouring of support has been so strong that District Governor Wayne Little, District N2, expects the Lions will reach the goal in 2014.<br /> <br /> “Our clubs are all about youth, especially kids with disabilities,” says Little of the Colebrook N2 Club. “We took it on as a seven-year project, and it looks like it will be wrapped up in three.”<br /> <br /> Oregon Club Does What It Can<br /> <br /> When you redeem 360,000 bottles and cans a year, the nickels sure add up.<br /> <br /> They add up to about $18,000 a year for the Brookings Harbor Lions Club in southern Oregon, where the club has several containers around town that get emptied twice a day and brought to the redemption center on Friday.<br /> <br /> “We had a celebration for our one millionth can,” said Areta Schock, 77, of Harbor. “We’re trying to keep these bottles and cans out of our landfill. And we get to raise money to help our local children and community.”<br /> <br /> The project began with a receptacle on Route 101, the major state road that runs through Brookings Harbor. There are now six more receptacles around town for returnable bottles and cans for water, soda, and beer–at the Elks Lodge, two fire stations, two grocery stores and a local park. Businesses participate as well.<br /> <br /> The Lions collect about 7,000 bottles and cans a week– almost 60 a year for each of the 6,300 residents of Brooking Harbor.<br /> <br /> “My husband, John, and I have the big run when we go down to the port of Brookings, where there are two restaurants, an RV park, and plywood mill that save their cans for us,” Schock says.<br /> <br /> The 32-member Brookings Harbor Lions Club keeps busy with the collection project. Each day, a different Lion has responsibility for all the receptacles, which they stop by twice a day to collect the plastic bags filled with empties. They store the bags at home, and then bring them on Friday mornings to the Fred Meyer Recycle Center to redeem. Up to 14 Lions arrive at 7:30 a.m. to process the returnables. They are usually done by 9 a.m. On one Friday this spring, they finished at 10:30 a.m.<br /> <br /> “It depends on how much is donated,” says Schock. “We had a lot this week.”<br /> <br /> The project has made Lions well-known in their community. “People appreciate what we do,” she says.<br /> <br /> The monthly income helps support the Lions philanthropic program in their community, with most of the proceeds benefiting the region’s youth, with summer camp scholarships and a vision screening program in the local schools.<br /> <br /> The club has its own vision screening equipment, so the club screens schoolchildren from first grade through high school, as well as those who are home-schooled or in Christian schools. If students need glasses, and their family qualifies under income guidelines, the Lions purchase them for the students. About a dozen students a year receive glasses.<br /> <br /> “The Lions are always looking for projects,” she said. “We do whatever we can do, especially for our youth.”<br /> <br /> Lions’ Vision Brings Sight<br /> <br /> For years dairy farmer Orville Trettin and his wife, Elvera, traveled from Stewart, Minnesota, to Honduras to deliver food, hand out clothing, bring walkers and otherwise help those in need. A decade ago, their volunteerism took on a new dimension. At a minister’s home one night, a woman asked Orville if she could borrow his glasses to read her Bible. The next day, he bought her a pair of glasses. As he looked around, he realized that few rural Hondurans wore glasses. That’s when the Lion in the Trettins roared.<br /> <br /> By 2007, Trettin and Elvera, both past district governors, had founded a non profit organization, Vision Honduras. For the past six years, the Trettins have led a group of volunteers to Honduras for four weeks with support from 40 Minnesota Lions clubs. The Eyeglass Recycling Center of the Wisconsin Lions provides thousands of eyeglasses.<br /> <br /> Bob Wacker, the Trettin’s son-in-law and also a farmer, also played a key role in the yearly trips and now in Vision Honduras, as do other volunteers. “We’re family who are friends and friends who are family,” says Kay Wacker, Bob’s wife. “That’s how we make this work.”<br /> <br /> Trettin’s group needs to raise about $5,000 each year to finance the trip, for which volunteers pay about $600 for airfare and another $900 while in Honduras for a month.<br /> <br /> “It takes stepping outside the box and doing something for somebody else,” says Trettin, 77, now a retiree who has been a Lion since 1968. “We come home each year so tired, and say, ‘Never again. That’s enough.’ But after a couple of months, this thing works on you, and you start planning for next year. And that’s what I’m doing right now.”<br /> <br /> Last February, the nine-member Vision Honduras team flew south with 6,100 pairs of glasses and an autorefractor. That’s the machine that can measure the proper eyeglass prescription for individuals, which Trettin and others on the team have been trained to operate. The group travels in a van to remote villages, where they hand out up to 125 tickets a day for people who need glasses. The clinic opens at 9 a.m. The line typically starts forming at 7:30 a.m.<br /> <br /> “Finding the right pair of glasses can take five minutes or it can take a half hour,” says Trettin. “The Hondurans don’t care so much about the color of the glasses frame. They just want to be able to read or sew. Some people haven’t read for 40 years.”<br /> <br /> He likes the small towns in the mountains of northwest Honduras, where people stream into the clinic from the hinterlands. They are grateful when they can see again.<br /> <br /> “It’s such a great experience,” he says. “There are lots of hugs, so many thank yous.”<br /> <br /> Or sometimes the silence speaks volumes. One man donned his new eyeglasses and teared up gazing at the distant mountains that he had been unable to see for years.