Jay Copp 0000-00-00 00:00:00
It’s three hours by car to Mexico City, nearly nine to the Texas border and an even wider gap in lifestyle and culture for the expatriates who relocate to San Miguel de Allenda. Chuck and Jean Yeager retired to San Miguel a decade ago after raising four children in Wisconsin, Texas and Delaware. Besides a moderate cost of living, the historic, hillside city offers quaint, narrow cobblestone streets, gorgeous 16th-century Spanish architecture and warm, sunny weather. It’s a good life, and like other members of the San Miguel De Allende Lions Club, many of them also expatriates, Chuck counts his blessings and gives back. Formerly its director, Yeager volunteers at the Clinic, the Lions club’s eyeglass clinic. Every Thursday from about 8:30 a.m. to noon the doors swing open, and children and adults receive eye exams and eyeglasses. Children are not charged, and adults pay 25 or 50 percent of the cost or pay nothing, too, if they are impoverished. Since 1992, the club has overseen 17,000 eye exams and dispensed 14,000 recycled eyeglasses. Most of the Clinic’s clients get there by bus from a 15-mile radius. They hear about it from word-of-mouth or radio announcements, aired free of charge to the club. Without the clinic, “they’d do without glasses. They don’t have any money… You have kids who couldn’t see the blackboard,” says Yeager, 75, who was an engineer for a food processing company that supplied McDonald’s. “I’ve traveled all over the world. So many people live in sheer misery. I’m so lucky to have been born in the United States. It’s just a good feeling when you can help someone.” Six to eight Lions, including optometrist Alberto Carrera, staff the clinic when it’s open. Members leave little to chance. Donations and grants undergird their volunteerism. The Lee Page Memorial Children’s Eyeglass Fund takes care of the purchasing of lenses. The Optical, Computer Software and Hardware Fund accounts for the optical refractor and technology equipment. The John Carper Memorial Fund accepts donations for miscellaneous needs. Then there’s the rent for the clinic. That’s handled by the Schickel Haen Fund. The Lion that powers that fund is Jean Schickel, a retired sales representative from the Chicago area. She leads three-day tours of Mexico’s cultural, architectural and archeological sights. The fee charged to tourists covers the monthly rent of 5,000 pesos. Volunteering at the clinic can be routine: the people file in, get examined and go home with their glasses. Then there are the days of tears and joy. “It can get very emotional,” says Yeager. “Some people can barely read one line on the eye chart. They’re basically blind. When they put the glasses on, their eyes light up.” View a video on another remarkable Lions’ eyeglass mission in the digital LION at www.lionmagazine.org. Commenting on this photo, Chuck Yeager says, “Yes, that’s our [typical] customer.” The man is from outside town and probably raises horses. If not destitute, adults pay for a portion of the cost of the glasses. “We ask them to contribute. That helps them respect the glasses and take better care of them,” says Lion Skip Palmer, 65. Carrera writes a prescription. Lions say the grateful humility of the Mexicans makes their service at the Clinic particularly gratifying. “I like people who are nice. The kids are so bright and cheery,” says Palmer, formerly a musician and owner of an air conditioning company in Hawaii. “There’s a payoff every day. I remember one couple. They must have been in their 70s. They both were fitted and they both were happy with their glasses. They looked at each other and got a kick out of it.” The club tries to find a frame a patient likes. “It’s no different here. The older people are not so picky. The young people can be picky,” says Yeager. Back at his office, at no charge, Carrera will cut a lens to fit a frame that a youth wants. Christine Eyre, clinic director, brings glasses to a boy. Eyre was once an office manager in England, where she organized a fair in the moat of the Tower of London to raise funds for a children’s charity. Before coming to San Miguel, she taught math in California and helped build homes for the poor in Tijuana. The club has 35,000 eyeglasses in its computerized inventory, made possible by the Texas Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center and by the individual collection efforts of Lions and others. The computer is programmed to provide the four closest matches to the prescription. Glasses are stored 40 to a box, and a pair can be found in under a minute. Adults will be given eyeglasses that may not be a perfect match to their prescription. If the club cannot perfectly match the prescription for a child, its Lee Page Memorial Eyeglass Fund pays for the cost of the lenses.
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