Heather Frank, executive director of the Society for the Blind in Sacramento, California, says she admires Lions so much she became one of them. She joined the Sacramento Senator Lions Club one year ago. “I wanted to give back to the group that gave us so much,” she says. In April, the Society for the Blind opened a new multimillion dollar Low Vision Clinic after a four-year fundraising effort that Lions helped spearhead. California Lions have been involved in helping the society for more than 40 years, beginning in 1967 when Sacramento Lions helped purchase a lot and build a 4,200-square-foot facility for the society to operate a Low Vision Clinic. Past International President Kay Fukushima (2002-2003), a Sacramento Senator Lion, says the sum of $1 was charged “in exchange for them to provide the badly needed services to help the visually challenged people with their daily living skills. “Over the years, other Lions clubs within District 4-C5 helped to equip and maintain the upkeep of the facility used to teach, train and help conduct many of its services from the six- to seven-county area around Sacramento.” After four decades, it became obvious that the clinic had outgrown its old quarters. Fukushima says Lions were enthusiastic about supporting an expansion effort. “It piqued the interest of everyone concerned when a local philanthropically-minded developer purchased a 20,000-square-foot, two-story building at a downtown location.” More conveniently located, “This building would provide four times the space and accommodate many more people in need. Since it’s close to public transportation, interest quickly grew.” The developer offered the society the building at two-thirds of its market value for a new clinic. Lions received a $200,000 Core 4 Grant from LCIF to help renovate and supply the new clinic, and Fukushima represented Lions as a group spearheading the total $5 million investment in the building. A local foundation gave a $1 million lead gift and the developer helped with financing and gave other assistance. Building suppliers, tradespeople and professionals donated “in kind” support as the new clinic took shape. “Many Lions clubs and individual members made donations as well as personal pledges to support this worthy project,” Fukushima says. “Lions clubs are now recognized as one of the top contributors of this wonderful establishment.” The building’s interior previously functioned as office space and had to be gutted to be turned into a space suitable for rehabilitative teaching. Minor changes to the exterior were needed, including accommodations for service dogs. The 42-member staff is assisted by 400 volunteers who serve more than 3,000 clients each year. More than 600 of those clients need intensive and individualized rehabilitative services. The Low Vision Clinic quadrupled not only in size, but in opportunities for the visually impaired. A space for a youth program will help young blind people develop their skills, learn more adaptive technology and socialize with their peers or mentors. Technology is a key Learning tool today, and the new clinic now features a library dedicated to computers, scanners and other high tech tools not available—or affordable—to clients. Frank says, “At first, we won’t see much expansion in the number of clients we serve, but we hope to double the number of clients we see one-on-one within the first few years. After that, there is room to triple and possibly quadruple the number of clients we serve. Our main advantage right now, however, is that the quality of each class has gone up. Instructors are no longer required to teach in crowded spaces and noisy conditions. Each has an office with a door that can shut, which allows their students the benefit of quiet and concentration. “Apart from financial and volunteer support over time, Lions have recently helped us to acquire equipment for our new Living Skills Kitchen. Now we can teach our clients the basics of cooking, cleaning, labeling, sewing and household repair with sturdy, modern equipment.” She points out how vital the learning process is to people whose sight deterioration has taken away their independence. “We have a client with macular degeneration. In the past few years, we’ve taught her safe kitchen techniques. She can continue preparing meals for her large family, and new labeling methods help her to continue dressing in style. She recently saw [clinic director] Dr. Ingman, who tried out a new optical device on her. “She could suddenly see his face. She hadn’t been able to see a face in nearly five years. Each of her grandchildren and great grandchildren has made a trip to Grandma’s house over the past few weeks so she can see their faces—some for the first time.” Frank expects such small victories to be repeated often. “Our new facility will help us find many more stories like this.”
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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