Mike Leonard 2016-07-26 09:30:29
Naomi and Emma Miller have a lot in common. A NEW LIFE FOR TWO FARM SISTERS Amish farms ring Grabil, a quaint town of 1,053 in northeast Indiana. Amish men with full beards and women with head coverings and long, plain dresses ride into town on errands. Their horses and buggies clomp through the streets. This is where Emma and Naomi Miller grew up in an Amish home. The sisters have a lot in common. They’re close in age. Emma is 25 and Naomi 23. Both are strong-willed. Both are blind. Raised in a family of nine children, Emma was the first to go blind, her eyesight taken by retinitis pigmentosa around age 4. Naomi, born less than two years later, was blind from birth. Their parents were protective but allowed them to attend public schools in New Haven. They also took part in programs and received job training at the Lions-supported Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Indianapolis. The sisters discovered Leos while at the School for the Blind, and they joined a Leo club about seven years ago. Still, they felt penned in, restricted, unable to become themselves. ‘For us, the Lions gave us that opportunity to serve the community with the people who accepted us for who we are.’ Life as Lions Jerry Smith, the president of the Harlan Lions Club, looks over the bustle of shoppers on a busy Saturday morning at a chain grocery store and chuckles at the sight of the Miller sisters, seated at a card table inside the store in Fort Wayne, an hour from Grabil. The sisters became Lions in 2012. “At first, it was kind of strange having Amish Lions because the Amish keep to themselves and aren’t joiners,” Smith explains. “But once you get to know them, they’re a hoot to be around. You know it’s hard to be blind in this world. But they just shrug off it off and get on with their lives. They’re two very independent young ladies.” The Millers moved out of their family home two years ago. They live on their own in a spacious and mostly finished walkout basement of a Mennonite family in Berne. Their entry into modernity includes iPhones. “With our old phones we couldn’t even text,” Naomi says. “Now we can text with others and socialize. It just helps us communicate so we’re not so alone.” Yet they’ve retained a crucial part of their identity. “Naomi and I both have apps on our phones so we can listen to the Bible,” Emma says. Though her parents opposed the idea, because they believed their family and the Amish community could meet their needs, Emma received a Leader Dog with the help of Harlan Lions. Naomi continues to use her white cane. “Even before she had Josie, Emma was better at orienting herself than me. She can get around a building pretty well. I’m slower and I follow her lead,” Naomi says. “But we all have our own gifts and talents. I’m a little faster with technology. I’m a little quicker on the computer. And I love to sing and I’m a little more particular with the notes. She follows me on that.” Pat Ehle, a longtime member of the Harlan club who, at age 87, is taking on a fourth term as president, has helped the Millers adjust to their new lives. Ehle says the sisters “took to being Lions right away,” whether it was volunteering to put together Christmas baskets for the less fortunate or soliciting donations for programs to assist the blind. “I’ve enjoyed my time with the girls. They’re very intelligent and fun to be around,” she says. “Sometimes there have been tears. Sometimes, laughter,” Emma says. “Pat had us through our tribulations.” “I don’t want people from the Amish community to blame the Lions for our decision to leave,” Emma says. “For us, frankly, they [the Amish] pitied us too much. It was always, ‘Oh, those poor things.’ They never wanted to recognize that blind people can do a lot if you give them the opportunity. For us, the Lions gave us that opportunity to serve the community with the people who accepted us for who we are.” Emma says the separation from the Amish community and her family has been both painful and instructive. “I don’t think God intended us to be separated from our family,” she says. “Over these last two years, while the separation has been hard, I think it’s actually started bringing us together to have a better relationship. Before, our relationship was ‘either-or’ and I don’t think any of us tried to reach a place in the middle. But being separated, being down here in Berne, I feel is making me start to grow up and not be so childish.” “I just want to get a job,” Naomi adds. “Of course, there are things a blind person can’t do, but there are a lot of things we can do, too. One thing we talked about in job training was being a receptionist. I can take calls, give out information, direct people to the person they’re looking for. I just want to be around people more and be more productive.” The values they learned growing up still remain central to them. “I don’t want people to think I’m proud—proud to have left the Amish, proud to be a Lion, proud to be independent. I try to be humble,” says Emma. “I don’t want people to think that we don’t ever need help, that we are independent.” Extra Digital Content Since their earliest days, Lions’ aid to the blind has brought all kinds of people into their circle—including humorist Will Rogers. Read how Rogers entertained 2,500 paying guests and 400 blind people at a Lions’ benefit in 1927 .
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/A+New+Life/2534229/321115/article.html.