Improving Young Lives with Shoes That Grow Leos across Alaska have stepped up to put shoes on barefoot children in Kenya and Nepal. The sturdy sandals or “Shoes That Grow” come by way of Because International, a nonprofit in Idaho committed to improving tools and resources used in regular life. They were designed by an Idaho man who saw the need while volunteering in Africa. A unique buckle, strap and tab system allows the shoe to extend five sizes so it can “grow” with the child. About 80,000 pairs have been distributed by the organization thus far to decrease the number of people who suffer with parasitic foot infections because they have no shoes or shoes that don’t fit. Among those actively involved are the Leos of Alaska, says Walt Hays, District 49A chairperson of international relations. Leos in Alaska have fun at a packing party for The Shoe That Grows—sturdy sandals that will be shipped to children in Kenya. (Photo by Jim Magowan) The Leos in Alaska raised $2,000 to send 100 pairs of the $20 shoes to Kenya. Another $2,500 was raised to send 100 pairs of the shoes and 200 pairs of socks to a remote area of Nepal where they had to be delivered by a “burro train” that took seven to eight days to reach a village in the mountains. Alaska’s Leos may be small in number, but they are big in their dedication and enthusiasm, says Hays. Leos in Kodiak raised money by doing cleanup after the Kodiak Island Crab Festival. Near Anchorage, Eagle River Bear Mountain Leos served as wait staff for large community dinners and by making presentations to area Lions clubs for support. Eight Leo groups throughout the state helped with packing and tagging. Young children in Africa have shoes, and new ones at that, thanks to Leos. Hays says that Lions have responded strongly to Leos’ appeals for help. “When Leos learned that 200 million people in the world suffer from parasitic foot infection because they have no shoes or shoes that don’t fit, we thought we could make a difference,” says Lindsey Vance, past president of the Eagle River Bear Mountain Leos and a key promoter of the project. “At $20 a pair, we thought this project was a perfect fit for our major Leos Centennial Project.” A Summer of Sight If anybody knows about sunlight, the Mesa Fountain of the Sun Lions in Arizona should. In 2015, they partnered with the Mesa Public Library to offer “Lions’ Summer of Sight,” offering free reading glasses, nonprescription sunglasses and eyeglass cases to those in need. The free community service, open to all ages, was a summer program with Lions on hand to help people with glasses every Saturday morning in the library. But demand was so great that the club has made the program a year-round event. They now offer glasses on the second Saturday of each month during the school year as well, says Lion Kit Mc- Cormick, who initiated the program. McCormick says the Lions assist people in finding the right strength of reading glasses as well as good sunglasses. They also accept used eyewear for recycling. She estimates that up to 300 eyeglasses are given away each summer month. Fifty to 60 are fitted during the monthly visits throughout the school year. The Mesa club receives eyeglasses from other clubs in addition to thousands from a Walmart distribution center. Those donated glasses are sorted, washed and tagged with the prescription. “Our primary purpose is to collect glasses for missions around the world, but if we don’t need them for doctors going on missions, they are given way. We’re able to give more to Indian reservations and to take them to the library,” explains McCormick. “We’re glad we’re able to help a lot of people who need a little boost and help them protect their eyes with the sunglasses. Sunglasses have become important too. And we get to meet so many wonderful people.” A Touch of Whimsy In 2002, the Lynden Lions in Washington commissioned a local sign painter to brighten up their small town with a slice of colorful Dutch folk life. Lions in Lynden, Washington, gifted the town with this 142-foot whimsical mural celebrating their Dutch heritage and providing a bright “Welkom” to visitors. Bill Swinburnson spent six weeks painting a whimsical mural on a 142-foot stretch of blank cinderblock wall—a reminder of the town’s Dutch heritage and a “welkom” to town visitors. It features 37 Dutch characters, some in traditional wooden shoes, as well as tulips, cheese wheels and a Lions sign. The “Swin Mural,” as locals call it, was part of the town’s beautification project. But sometimes even the biggest beauty needs a facelift. After 14 years, Lynden Lions noticed that the red tulips were not as red, the sky was not as blue and the yellow cheese wheels had lost their appeal. To commemorate two anniversaries—the town’s 125th and the Lions’ 40th—the club decided to bring it back to life. Lion Jason Kaerh connected the club with three art students from Western Washington University in Bellingham who were willing to apply some touchup paint, exchanging hours and talent for class credit. Lions provided support and supplies. Swinburnson, who is now retired, gave advice. And then the Lions covered the wall with a layer of laminate sealer that should give the artwork at least 10 more years, says Lion Galen Laird. Lynden, population 12,000, lies just five miles south of the Canadian border. Visitors often stop to take pictures in front of the mural and the town’s windmill constructed on top of a building, says Kaerh. Some characters in the mural depict Lynden residents, including the late Arie “Ike” Honcoop, holding up a Lions’ sign. Honcoop was a well-regarded dairy farmer and a dedicated Lion known through the multiple district as the “Little Trouble Maker” because he was full of joy and practical jokes but also full of compassion and eagerness to help. “The mural means a lot to the people here,” says Kaehr. “It keeps memories alive.” Helping the Visually Impaired Visit a Museum Studies show that only 11 percent of the blind or visually impaired visit museums, according to a radio reading service, Connecticut Radio Information System (CRIS). But in Windsor, Connecticut, Lions hope to see that number increase. They are working with CRIS to provide narrated tours of the Tobacco Museum in Windsor, allowing visually impaired visitors to access information by using their smartphone. It’s at this museum, says Lion Margaret Boisture, where visitors can learn about the state’s agricultural history and the work that took place in the Connecticut tobacco fields. The Tobacco Museum in Windsor, Connecticut, is appropriately located in an old tobacco barn. For many years shade tobacco was the signature crop in the Connecticut River Valley. Early settlers had found the sandy loam to be the perfect soil for growing tobacco, and cigar use was shooting up as fast as the plants. But times have changed. Although there are still fields covered with gauze or cheesecloth to grow tobacco in the shade, many people visit the museum to understand the unique process of growing, harvesting and preparing the crop for high quality cigars. Narration will be accessible via smartphone at each of the 17 stations in the museum, describing the exhibit and providing additional information for people unable to read the printed materials, according to Boisture. Installation costs $300 per station, and businesses as well as local individuals have sponsored half. The club will fund the rest. Lions are also collecting used smartphones to have on hand for visually impaired visitors who don’t have one. And club members are lending their voices to do the readings for the exhibits.
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