Kelly Janowski 0000-00-00 00:00:00
The Leos who helped the Salvation Army bell ringers in a small town in Indiana bundled up against the cold. But two of them stood out. Emma Miller, 19, and her sister, Naomi, 18, wore long, plain dresses and white cotton bonnets and they moved about with the help of white canes. The Millers are Amish and they are blind. The Millers wanted to be Leos and wanted to provide service and socialize with their peers, even if that means braving the cold and drawing some second looks, according to Pat Ehle, the adviser for the Students Helping Others Leo Club in Harlan. “They wanted to work the whole four hours and it got cold that night but they were determined and said ‘We want to meet a whole lot of people.’ They stuck it out the whole time,” Ehle said. “We beat every other group in the amount we collected. We collected more in that one day than some of the Lions collected in two days.” The inclusion of the Millers as Leos represents a pushing of boundaries in Harlan and probably nationwide. Residents of this small community outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana, frequently interact with the Amish. But it is unusual for the Amish to join organizations outside the church. “The traditional Amish way of looking at this is you shouldn’t be a member of anything other than the church,” said Steven M. Nolt, an expert on Amish culure and a professor of history at Goshen College in Indiana. “They defer to one another and try to maintain fellowship with each other so that no one is doing anything too radical to break that fellowship.” But the Millers are not just another Amish family. Emma has been blind since age 4. Naomi never had sight. Both women have detached retinas. Most of their Amish peers attend Amish school and cease formal classes after the eighth grade. The Miller sisters both go to public high school. Emma graduated high school in the fall of 2009, and Naomi is on track to finish soon. Allowing the girls to be Leos was not a tough choice for the Millers’ parents. “[My parents] think it’s fine,’ said Emma. “But when I talk to my grandpa and grandma, they don’t know what to think sometimes. But they excuse me because I’m blind. That’s just how they are. I don’t think of it that way, I don’t see why it’s so wrong to join.” Naomi became interested in the Leos first and Emma joined later. “I went to the blind school, I have short course there, and they have a Leos club there,” Naomi said. “I wanted to join because I just like helping people and helping others.” The sisters do walk a fine line. The Amish do not drive cars, so Ehle picks them up for meetings. The Amish discourage displays of pride, which prevent Emma and Naomi from posing in photographs or wearing the insignia such as vests that commonly identifies the Leos. “I kind of feel shy about doing that, I don’t want to get in trouble and have Amish people seeing me wearing that,” Emma said. “I carry it right with me.” The girls have found other ways to bond with their Leo counterparts. The sisters volunteered at a benefit for the Harlan Christian Youth Center, where the Leos meet, And also helped judge a Christmas lights contest. The girls had to be bused around the community and other Leos helped describe the scene. According to Debi Knoblauch, the director of the Harlan Christian Youth Center and an adviser to the group, the girls fit in as members of a thriving, active service group. Their participation broadens the horizons of the rest, she said. “It’s been good for the girls and boys to have a blind student to work with and be able to interact with and understand on a different level what these girls are going through,” Knoblauch said. “These girls are just eager to work and help and give back. I think they understand that they’ve been given special treatment and they want to give back.” Like their non-Amish peers, the sisters will have to cope with life after graduation. “I love the teachers and I love my friends and I won’t be used to not having school. It’s just going to be hard on me,” Naomi said. But the Leos will help the girls with this transition. Ehle said local Lions are working to provide the girls a Leader Dog, which will allow them to maintain some independence after leaving public schools. Both girls hope to become Lions, Ehle said. “We’re around the Amish all the time and these girls are different. But the only different consideration we’ve had to make is I have to pick them up because they don’t have transportation,” Ehle said. “They’re excited to be able to come to the meetings and they’re excited to be Leos. But they’re goal is to become Lions.” Courtney Widdifield, 15, recently volunteered with Naomi and Emma at a youth center benefit. She said it’s a positive experience for everyone to have the sisters involved. “They don’t look at their condition as bad, they just get over it,” Widdifield said. “Amish are such a large part of our community that it’s normal. They’re a part of the community and the youth center is part of our community. We just kind of help each other out.”
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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