Sandra Gurvis 2016-02-09 05:37:47
Three clubs in Ohio partner with a Girl Scout troop to collect eyeglasses. A half dozen, green-clad Girl Scouts are gathered on a rainy Saturday morning in the parking lot of a faded-looking strip mall in Chillicothe, Ohio. Despite the drizzle, they perform for passersby a short skit they wrote—“Seeing a Need.” The girls theatrically cup their hands over their eyes and loudly proclaim: “We’re Troop 1263 and we’re seeing a need!” Cars that drive by also grab the girls’ high-spirited attention. The Scouts shout and wave a huge pink sign that reads “Drop your eyeglasses here.” Then a silver Chevy van pulls up. “We’ve got our first customer!” exclaims Melanie Blaney, the leader of Troop 1263. The girls rush forward to receive a bagful of glasses. Leaving the protection of a canopy, several Lions help them with the glasses. Age, socioeconomic and even gender differences melt in the warmth and sunshine of a common cause. The Saturday morning drive is the culmination of an unusual collaboration among the Scout troop and three Lions clubs to collect eyeglasses. For the girls, the project is a major undertaking, the opportunity to earn the prestigious Bronze Award, the highest honor available to a Junior Girl Scout. The award requires 20 hours of working as a group to create projects “that can be life-changing and have a major impact on the world around them.” For Lions, it’s a chance to connect with children and to introduce them to Lions and their sight mission, as well as to enhance their own longstanding eyeglass recycling efforts. Collaborating with the Scouts also is just plain fun. “Well, this is awfully cute,” Mike Hathaway, a Chillicothe Evening Lion, remarked about the skit. Retired from the U.S. Forest Service, Hathaway has been a Lion since 1970. A dozen girls ages 10 to 12 belong to the troop, drawn from two school districts in Chillicothe, a town of 22,000. Lions in nearby Waverly and Circleville also are partnering with the Scouts, in addition to the Chillicothe Evening Lions Club. Chillicothe is a slice of Middle America, an interesting mix of state prisons, manufacturing plants, abundant hiking trails and Hopewell Native American earthworks. Unseated as the state capital by Columbus in 1816, Chillicothe tips more toward the blue-collar and frayed white collar than its more hip, diverse neighbor. The Lions clubs have supported Scouts but partnering with them is a new venture. The clubs are traditional-minded. They run fish fries and rummage sales. The signature project of the Chillicothe club involves leasing American flags and mounts to local businesses. “Over 750 flags are displayed in the community during the eight national holidays,” explains Hathaway. So what brought the Scouts to the Lions? It was the result of pure chance—and then Google. While working on a Scout project, “we helped a homeless man get eyeglasses,” recalls 10-year-old Claire Latham, a soft-spoken blonde. “It was great to watch him” when he put on his new pair. Dutifully inspired, the Scouts talked to an eye doctor and a Braille teacher. “They heard about how expensive eye exams and glasses can be,” adds Blaney. Because some of the girls also wear prescription lenses, “they know how frustrating it can be” when the world around them becomes blurry and misshapen. The Scouts learned about the Lions’ commitment to sight during a visit to the Havener Eye Institute at Ohio State University. At Havener, they learned about vision treatments, eye research and VOSH (Volunteer Optometric Service to Humanity), which distributes donated eyeglasses to underserved countries. Among other clubs, Chillicothe Lions sort glasses and deliver them to VOSH as well as to the VOSH chapter at the Ohio State College of Optometry. Lions also help sponsor students on VOSH mission trips, most recently to Honduras and Peru. Intrigued, the Scouts did a Google search on the Lions, locating Ron Barber of the nearby Leesburg Lions Club and then inviting him and his wife, Georgia, to tell them more at a troop meeting. “Hearing everything that the Lions do for vision care really sparked the girls’ enthusiasm and they came up with the idea for an eyeglass drive,” says Blaney. After the meeting, the troop went into full Girl Scout mode, creating and rehearsing the “Seeing a Need” skit, figuring out the logistics of the drive and putting together a publicity plan. Prior to the Saturday morning drive, the Scouts had already collected dozens of bags and boxes of eyeglasses and parts. They presented their skit and talked about vision care at churches, schools and other venues. They wrote letters to local businesses, asking for donations and support. They set up additional collection boxes to complement those already in place by the Lions. The initial donations were sorted and stored at the clubhouse of the Chillicothe Lions. “We take just about anything but the [eyeglass] cases, which are bulky and difficult to ship,” explains Chillicothe Evening Lion Roger Geise, eyeglass collection chair. Piles of sunglasses and baseball caps slated for VOSH Ohio share space with stuffed animals for area children and out-of-commission hearing aids and cellphones to be revived for local homeless and elderly. “People give us whatever they have and we usually find a use for it,” Geise adds. Back at the Saturday morning collection drive, the Scouts and Lions, who don’t yet really know one another, generally stay in their own clumps. Then an enormous white service van drives up. Two gentlemen wearing bright-red, button-laden Lions vests jump out and throw open the back doors, revealing huge containers of glasses. The Circleville Lions are in the house. “Look at all those boxes!” gushes 11-year-old Olivia Barnes. Clustered around the back of the truck, chattering excitedly, the girls are all for unloading them on the spot—nothing like seeing the immediate fruition of one’s hard work in a single place. But Circleville Lions President Leroy Brookins takes the long view. “These are really heavy,” he points out. “It would be hard to unpack them here and then find another vehicle to take them to the Chillicothe building,” a few blocks away. “That is true,” agrees Latham. “We have a lot of glasses now and what if we get even more? Then we have no place for them.” One of the youngest in the troop, she is a quiet yet effective presence. The others agree with her, and off the men go to unload the booty, which requires not only a dolly but much heaving and hoeing by Brookins, his companion Circleville Past President Paul Meadows and Geise, holding down the fort at the clubhouse. By now, everyone is buzzing about the success of the drive. “Our goal was to have enough eyeglasses to fill a box truck. I think this might do it,” enthuses Ashley Hibberty, 10, who acts older than her age. Actually, added to some glasses the three clubs had already collected, the Scout’s project resulted in 7,600 eyeglasses. It required one large pickup truck, loaded to the brim. The eyeglasses were sent to VOSH. So that trash bag full of glasses just handed over from a passing car could end up helping folks in El Salvador, where the VOSH Ohio team has scheduled a mission in early 2016. “We can’t thank you enough for being here,” Hathaway tells Ashley and the other girls. “We were thrilled when we learned that you wanted to team up with us.” They beam with satisfaction at the compliment. Then, as an aside to the adults, he adds, “We see this as a great opportunity to acquaint young people with helping others.” While the Lions may be thinking they are grooming future Lions, the girls are more than halfway there, with life lessons lasting long past the shine of the Bronze Award badge. Both groups say they look forward to next year’s drive and possibly making it an annual event. It’s a good bet that they’ll have even more to say—and share—with one another. Based in Columbus, Ohio, Sandra Gurvis is the author of 16 books; her current project is “Close Enough for Government Work: America’s Presidential Libraries.” Digital LION As Girl Scouts enters its 42nd year, Lions clubs help it grow. Read the story from the April 1953 LION at lionmagazine.org.
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