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Kingsport Lions Club: Serving others through vision enhancement

• Jul 29, 2016 at 4:30 PM

Speaking at their 1925 convention, Helen Keller called upon members of Lions Clubs International to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.” Lions, today the world’s largest service organization, was founded through the efforts of Chicago businessman Melvin Jones in 1917. And now, 100 years later, Lions Clubs are in 210 countries across the globe. They have answered Helen Keller’s call, making positive waves of change for the blind and visually-impaired communities, as well as in many other areas of need.

Lions Clubs International consists of over 38,000 clubs with 1.4 million members. Lions of East Tennessee (District 12­N) has 42 clubs and is one of five districts in Tennessee alone. The Lions Club of Kingsport, established in 1946, has taken to heart the enduring LCI motto: “We Serve.”

All Lions, from small-town locals to surgeon and TV personality Dr. Oz and former President Jimmy Carter, are doing their part in preparation for the Lions Clubs International’s 2017 centennial celebration by rising to the Centennial Service Challenge: “a humanitarian initiative to serve 100 million people by 2017.”

Locally, the Kingsport Lions Club celebrates its 70th anniversary by assisting as many individuals and families in need as possible.

“Each individual club is its own entity and independent,” said Adam Bowling, a Kingsport Lion and future 12N district governor. “We are encouraged to take care of our own.”

Kingsport Lions, committed to improving the lives of their neighbors in need, are actively involved in ongoing sight conservation projects. These include free vision screening for children 12 months and older in daycares, pre­schools and public schools throughout the Kingsport region (screening about 2,200 kids in the 2015/2016 fiscal year); free professional eye exams and glasses for Kingsport adults deemed financially in need by the Sullivan County Health Department’s Kingsport office (about 200 adults were examined and/or received a pair of new glasses in the fiscal year); and collecting used eyeglasses for reprocessing and distribution in third-world countries and at the Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Glasses are our main focus,” declared Kingsport Lions Club president Lee Bryan. “We screen anybody for free.” Alongside vision enhancement programs, Bryan said the Kingsport Lions monetarily support Lions Volunteer Blind Industries in their mission to offer “mobility training, skills evaluation, job training and employment for the blind and visually-handicapped.” The club also supports the East Tennessee Eye Bank. And a Kingsport Lion serves as board chairman for both of these organizations.

Local Lions volunteer their time and funds elsewhere, too. Whether sponsoring a child to go to diabetes summer camp, co-­sponsoring the annual Fun Fest picnic for the physically and mentally challenged, providing funding for equipment and manpower for ongoing maintenance at the Boundless Playground at Warriors’ Path State Park, donating money to the “Stop Hunger” campaign, supporting the Alzheimer’s Walk and many other activities - where there is a need, there is a Lion.

“Our programming is funded through two main annual fundraisers, our Spring Turtle Derby - in its 70th year - and our fall golf tournament held at MeadowView. One hundred percent of all money that we raise is put back into this community,” Bryan said.

The Kingsport Lions Club, which currently retains a membership of around 45 Lions ranging in age from 31 to 97, meets four Tuesdays out of the month. One may choose to be a full or an affiliate member depending upon personal time available. Meals, along with any expense incurred through social gatherings, are paid for by each individual member. Club dues are $36 per quarter. Kingsport Lions Club waives the new-member initiation fee. All men and women ages 18 and older are welcome and encouraged to join in service to the community.

“Lions Club is a first-class organization,” Bowling said. “It’s an honor to be a Lion.”

For more information on the Kingsport Lions Club, its programs or membership, visit www.kptlionsclub.org or call 423-239-­9172.

Our Join the Club series is designed to share information about local clubs and groups in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. To suggest a group for the series, please email Sunday Stories editor Carmen Musick at [email protected]