Lions shine in people’s lives, giving them not only sight but also a renewed spirit. A Gift that Kept Giving Lions gave 43-year-old office manager Greg Steinmetz of California a double dose of life-changing confidence. After he lost most of his sight from retinitis pigmentosa, Lions provided him with a guide dog in 2004. “There’s the independence and confidence you get from going from a white cane to a guide dog. You feel empowered,” he says. Then he joined the Camarillo/Somis Pleasant Valley Lions Club. He shucks corn for the club’s fall festival, hands out tickets for parking at a county fair, and, in a productive presidency last year, helped raise money for two guide dog puppies, establish a Leo club and begin a project to recycle technological aids for the visually impaired. “One of the dark sides of vision loss is people might be shut-ins. They’re afraid to leave their comfort zone. I got involved with the community, and that was a real confidence builder,” he says. “You never know by helping one person how many lives you affect.” A New Connection to the World Blind since birth, 34-year-old Tammy Labshere lives with hearing impairment, chronic kidney disease and PTSD. The foster parents who raised her passed away. But Labshere is perpetually upbeat. At Riverbrook Residence, a home for women with developmental disabilities in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, she brightens up each day with her bubbly personality and beautiful piano playing. Lately, she has had even more reason to smile. Labshere had been using a 50-year-old Brailler until District 33 Y Lions gave her a new digital Perkins SMART Brailler through their Emergency Sight and Hearing Foundation. She got down on her knees and hugged it. “I love it!” exclaims Labshere. “I use it to write letters, and it would be fun to learn French.” Labshere’s world is opening up in other ways too: a teacher at a school for blind children invited her to teach students how to use the Brailler—her very first job. Lions Look Out for Her Born without eyes, Marissa Hirschman, 18, studies psychology and Spanish at Central College in Pella, Iowa. She doesn’t quite remember when the Fort Madison Lions began helping her— they’ve just always been a part of her life. They gave her a Braille ‘n Speak machine in elementary school, an accessible laptop in high school and then a college scholarship. The Lions’ unwavering moral support had a big impact. “Knowing I could count on the Lions made me feel confident,” says Hirschman, who is poised and spirited. While maintaining a 3.8 GPA in high school, she managed the cross country team and volunteered as a Big Sister. She adds, “As I’ve met students who didn’t have the support system I’ve had, I’ve really realized how lucky and grateful I am that the Lions have always been there for me.” Digital LION Watch a video of Marissa Hirschman thanking Lions at www.lionmagazine.org. Courage Comes in All Sizes Maddie Wesolowski is a spunky 7-year-old with long, beautiful, bouncy red hair and a big personality. Born with glaucoma and cataracts, she’s had so many surgeries already that her mother Theresa says, “I lost count at 35.” Lemont Lions in Illinois buy her the new prescription lenses she needs every few months as she grows. Thankfully, says her mother, they also buy Maddie harder-to-break sports glasses so she can wrestle around and play with her older brother. She loves to dance, too, but her favorite possession is the iPad Lions gave her. She rarely puts it down. “It’s done wonders for her. Her learning has grown by leaps and bounds,” says her mom. Maddie may be small but her smiles and cheerfulness in the face of hardship have earned her the first Lemont Lions Courage Award. Love Blossoms at Camp Thirty-five years ago a Lion at Camp Dogwood for the blind and visually impaired in North Carolina casually mentioned to Nathaniel Hawkins that he might want to take the open seat next to a fellow camper. Nathaniel and Blondine Hawkins have been a couple ever since. “He asked me my name. I asked him his name. We had supper,” says Blondine, 66, who married Nathaniel, now 78, in 1986. Each knows the challenges of vision loss. Blondine had failing eyesight when she met Nathaniel and years ago lost her vision completely from glaucoma. Nathaniel’s sight improved in recent years after cataract surgery. Both have attended Camp Dogwood since the early 1970s. “You meet a lot of people. You do a lot of activities–bowling, boating, movies,” says Blondine. One of their favorite camp pastimes, as when they first met, is sitting side by side in rocker chairs on a porch. The Road Rises Up to Meet Her For the past four years Wauwatosa Lions in Wisconsin have brought the gift of music to one very happy blind woman from Anchorage, Alaska. Lions pick up Susan Gillett from the airport, drive her to a hotel and then spend the day with her escorting her from stage to stage at the popular Irish Fest in Milwaukee. A medical transcriptionist at a hospital, Gillett is a huge fan of Irish music. Lions had been her lifelong benefactor, providing a book reader and making possible eye surgery. Desperate to attend the festival in Milwaukee, she emailed Wauwatosa Lions out of the blue, and they came through. Each year Gillett gratefully sends the club a Christmas card. The trips have been “a liberating experience,” Gillet, who now calls herself “Cruisin’ Susan,” told Lions in an email. “I was scared to death. But it went just fine. I know now I can travel anywhere by myself.” Reborn to be Wild Gene Wild’s favorite thing to do is hop on the motorcycle he lovingly restored, a 1983 Honda Saber, and ride for hours up the California coast on fabled Highway 1. It’s great–the clean air, the purple mountains, the glimmering ocean, the Lions. Yep, Lions made it possible. “They’re awesome,” says 40-year-old Wild, who works at a processing plant for oranges and grapefruits. “I wouldn’t even be working without them.” About 15 years ago, when he had little money, the Porterville Breakfast Lions made arrangements to fix his cataracts. Though he was young, he was nearly blind. Lion Steve Graybehl, his former high school teacher, set the wheels in motion. Now Wild and his wife, a fellow rider, are living at full throttle. A Lion Tells Her Story (Opposite) Cathy Dolles, 40, says she was humiliated when she had to depend on others after she lost vision in her right eye while living in Columbia, Missouri. “For eight years, people had to help me move around rooms and objects. They had to help me dress, and they helped me eat,” she recounted to The Standard newspaper. She received a corneal transplant 15 years ago and only learned months later that Columbia Lions had paid for it. “To repay the Lions, I traveled around and spoke with groups about my story and how the Lions gave me the gift of sight,” she said. Now a Washington Terrace Lion in Utah, she’s still a road warrior out promoting sight awareness by speaking about how Lions stepped in to give back her sight.
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