Maria Blackburn 0000-00-00 00:00:00
<b>Those Thousands of Boys and Girls Who Get Their Glasses from Lions?</b> <b>They Grow Up Grateful and Successful</b> Thousands of times every month, Lions clubs provide eyeglasses to people who need them. It is a small deed with enormous impact. When the Lions give someone a pair of eyeglasses, the gift is bigger than just two lenses and a frame, says George Walter, a South Daytona, Florida, property manager who received glasses from the Lions in 1954. They opened up a whole new world. “I didn’t realize what I couldn’t see until I got glasses,” Walter says. “All of a sudden things other people took for granted, like bees and flowers, I could see.” It’s not a gift that gets forgotten. From a mayor in suburban Illinois to a Russian-born author now living in California to a veteran Chicago journalist, decades later they remember the difference that glasses from the Lions made in their lives. <b>Dale Bowman, Chicago, Illinois</b> Dale Bowman’s work as a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times has him combing fields, streams and mountains for good stories. One week might find the award-winning outdoors writer hiking through woods to write about fishing in Monster Lake, another week he’s chronicling the tale of a forager’s massive morel. “I didn’t realize what I couldn’t see until I got glasses.” Being a good reporter isn’t just about writing, it’s about listening. The idea is to make a connection with people so they share their stories. Sometimes when they do, the writer has an opportunity to share his, too. That’s what happened 20 years ago when Bowman was working on a profile of Paul Martin, a well-known wrestler and TV personality. The men met over breakfast and during the interview Martin told the reporter he was writing a book about the history of Lions Clubs International. The two started talking about the Lions and the conversation sparked a memory of Bowman’s about something meaningful the Lions had done for him a number of decades before. Bowman was a country kid growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the fifth of six children. He had just started first grade and was in tears every day at school. “Nobody could figure out why,” he says. “Then my best friend Johnny King figured it out. I’m not sure how. I was crying because couldn’t read the blackboard.” The 6-year-old needed glasses. But his family had no money to buy them. “My father worked in a stone quarry and probably wasn’t bringing home much more than $100 a week at the time,” says Bowman, 52. “The cost of glasses was so much there was absolutely no chance we were going to be able to afford them.” The school nurse referred the boy to the Salisbury Township Lions Club and before too long, Bowman had his glasses. They were thick with heavy, black rectangular frames. Kids at school made fun of the way he looked, but he didn’t care. He could see. Soon after he got his glasses, his dad was made foreman of the quarry and Bowman no longer needed help from the Lions. He grew up, finished school and forgot all about his Lion’s glasses until his meeting with Martin 16 years later. “He reminded me of where I came from,” he says. “It made me realize that I had reached a point in my life where maybe I should probably start thinking about giving something back.” Since then, whenever Bowman encounters Lions selling candy, he searches his pockets for money. Instead of tossing in coins, he tosses in paper bills. And whenever he has one, he’ll contribute a $20. “They always look twice when I drop a $20 in, but that’s my way to pay back.” <b>Paul Brads, Lawrenceville, Georgia</b> Paul Brads never thought he was poor. Sure there were five kids in his family and his father’s work as a Baptist preacher didn’t pay much. But growing up in Germantown, Ohio, there was always food on the table, clothes and shoes to wear, library books to read. On a warm May afternoon in 1961, the last day of third grade, Brads’ father picked the 8-year-old up early from school and drove him 12 miles to Dayton to get his First pair of glasses. The retired phone company manager remembers how exotic it felt to ride the elevator to the optician’s office on the 15th floor. And he recalls how sharp and clear the world looked through his new lenses. “It was so cool,” he says. “Colors were brighter. The trees weren’t just big circles. I noticed the shapes of the leaves. Even the fabric in my Dad’s car seemed different.” Brads never asked where his glasses came from: He just assumed that his parents bought them. It wasn’t until he was in his 20s that his sister Zola told him that the Lions were behind the purchase. “Why didn’t you tell me?” Brads remembers asking his father. “Well, I guess it’s just because you liked for things to be better than they were,” he was told. He considered what his father said for a minute and realized that he was right. “I was a happy kid but more than anything I always wanted to fit in,” says Brads, now 58 and the father of two grown children. “I would have been chagrined if anyone had perceived me as poor and I think that’s why Dad never said anything. He didn’t want me to be embarrassed.” Brads worked for the phone company for 30 years, taught school and now works in finance for a nationwide car dealership. As an adult, he’s not embarrassed to be the recipient of glasses from the Lions. In fact, he’s so comfortable with the fact that he freely shares it with people he meets and with those who read his blog (www.rednecklatte. com). “Getting glasses as an 8-year-old changed my life completely because I don’t think anyone realized how badly I couldn’t see until I went to the eye doctor,” he says. “I’m humbled to think that someone cared enough to do something that good for me.” <b>George Pradel, Naperville, Illinois </b> As a lifelong resident of Naperville, George Pradel has watched his community blossom from a sleepy country town with 4,500 residents to a bustling city of 147,000 people that regularly ranks as one of the best places to live in the United States. Pradel is proud of his city, its walkable downtown and excellent schools, and since he became mayor 15 years ago, he’s had ample opportunity to share Naperville with people he meets. What truly makes his city special, he Likes to say, is the people who live there. That’s something he learned more than 60 years ago. Back in 1947 Pradel was one of 30 students in Naperville’s Bronsonville Elementary, a one-room red brick school house. The fifth grader’s “lazy eye” vision made the words in his schoolbooks run together, and when his teacher Irene Kocher noticed he was struggling, she told his mother she thought he might need glasses. The news was troubling. “Times were tough and my dad was not making very much money, maybe only $45 a week,” he says. The family of six was growing quickly and Pradel knew they didn’t have an extra $15 for glasses. But Miss Kocher knew what to do. “I have a friend who is a Lion and we’re going to submit your name for glasses,” she told him. Within a few weeks, Pradel was wearing his first pair of glasses nonstop. “They weren’t real pretty but they were practical,” he says of the thick brown and clear plastic frames. “I was so tickled I wore them every chance I got.” Shortly after Pradel joined the town’s police force in 1966, his friend Everett Gregory invited him to join the Naperville Noon Lions Club. He didn’t need to think twice. “Because of what the Lions have done for me I wanted to give back in a big way.” During the last forty years, he’s raised money for the Lions and participated actively in the club. He has a special affinity for the annual 5K road race the Lions sponsor in Naperville, which drew almost 5,000 runners last year. While writing about the upcoming race in the city newsletter a few years ago, Pradel shared that the Lions had bought him his first pair of glasses. “I have no shame about that,” he confessed. “The Lions club is so friendly to everyone and has done so much for our city, I just wanted people to know how much the Lions mean to me.” <b>Ray Guin, Midlothian, Virginia</b> Ray Guin doesn’t remember exactly when or how it happened, but one autumn day in 1954 when he was running or jumping or doing any of the things you might expect a 9-year-old boy to do, his thick, brown eyeglasses snapped right in half. The glasses were beyond repair, and the Raleigh, North Carolina boy’s family couldn’t afford new ones. Guin’s father, a truck driver, suffered a back injury in an accident and was unable to work full time to support his wife and three sons. “We were living almost in abject poverty, all of us in a little bitty apartment, just barely getting by,” he remembers. In school, Guin, who was nearsighted, had to move his desk next to the blackboard to see. Unable to see well enough to play ball after school with his friends, he spent the sunny Indian summer afternoons indoors. “I basically couldn’t do anything,” Guin says. Then someone at school notified the local Lions that Guin and his 14-year-old brother Gaylord needed new glasses. That weekend a Lion came to their apartment and took the brothers to the optician for eye exams and glasses. The gentleman was a stranger, but he made the two boys feel at ease. “We’re going to get you some glasses,” he told them. His tone was kind and caring and the exchange made a big impression on the young boy. “He went out of his way to make us feel comfortable and not embarrassed by our situation.” Guin never forgot the act of kindness. An optician for more than 40 years, he joined the Richmond James River Lions Club in 1998 because he wanted to use his training as an eye care professional to help people in need. Now in addition to providing free eyeglasses at his shop to about 140 people per year who have been referred to him by the Lions, he volunteers for a week in July as part of a Remote Area Medical Expedition to southwest Virginia, the poorest part of the state. Guin works 14-hour days in an Army tent alongside his fellow Lions giving eye exams and dispensing 1,000 pairs of free eyeglasses to people so poor that many of them have never before received medical care. The days are long and the pace is grueling, but Guin wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. “Anytime anyone asks me, ‘Why are you doing this?’ I tell them it’s because someone did the same thing for me once,” he says. “I’ll never forget that.” <b>Susanna Zaraysky, Cupertino, California</b> Much of Susanna Zaraysky’s life has been defined by two things: Her vision problems and her ease at picking up new languages. Her eyesight was an issue from the beginning. Zaraysky, 33, was born in Leningrad and diagnosed with such severe strabismus or crossed eyes that at the age of two she was placed in a school for developmentally disabled children. Her parents, both engineers, immigrated to the United States with their two daughters in search of better jobs and by 1985 they were living in San Jose, California. Zaraysky, then 9 and in fifth grade, had a wandering eye and astigmatism and wore round, thick, Coke-bottle glasses. “All the kids made fun of me,” she says. When her parents were between jobs and she needed new glasses, they asked her school, Eisenhower Elementary, for help and Zaraysky received a voucher from her local Lions club for a new pair of glasses with an updated prescription. “It was so important that I got them,” she says. Zaraysky’s father was not fluent in English and as a child she was often asked to serve as their interpreter. She picked up languages quickly, capable of copying accents well enough to sound like a native speaker. “I felt like the unwilling guide in the Tower of Babel,” she says. “I found myself interpreting for others and often being the only person who could understand almost everybody.” As a teen she had surgery to correct her wandering eye and traded in her glasses for contacts. She graduated from college, worked and traveled. Along the way, Zaraysky became fluent in seven languages, never fully understanding why languages came so easily to her. Then at the age of 29 she discovered the answer. Zaraysky realized that could only see in 2D not 3D, and her limited vision made her hearing very sensitive. That sensitivity, coupled with the realization that she heard language as music not as words, was the source of her talent. “It’s as though my ears are the third dimension that I don’t have with my vision,” explains Zaraysky. She has made peace with her imperfect vision and no longer sees it as a disability. Just recently she wrote and published a book, Language is Music (Kaleidomundi,2009) , in which she offers advice on learning foreign languages. “I have this ability to listen and to communicate that most people don’t have,” Zaraysky says. “It’s as though I’ve turned lemons into lemonade.” <b>George Walter, South Daytona, Florida</b> The eyeglasses come in, the eyeglasses go out: Thick glasses with fat Grandpa lenses, delicate readers with glittery wire rims, smart designer specs that look barely worn. George Walter sees them all. As chairman of eyeglass recycling for the Ormond By the Sea Lions Club, it’s his job to go around town to collect donated glasses. Walter packages up the glasses and sends them to Orlando for processing, never knowing where they will eventually end up. Once in a while the club gets a letter from a grateful recipient of a pair of glasses from the Lions. “Thank you,” the letters say. “I didn’t realize what I couldn’t see.” Walter knows just how they feel. Back when he was a fifth grader and living in Elverson, Pennsylvania, he wrote a letter like that himself. “Dear Lions Club,” it said. “Thank you for the glasses. Now I can read the blackboard.” He explains, “My parents were separated and my mother was raising seven children on my father’s military disability income of $100 a month.” When his teacher, Mrs. Macklroy, noticed that Walter was having a problem seeing in class, she told the local Lions. Soon afterward the 10-year-old became the proud owner of his very first pair of glasses. The glasses, dark maroon with a silver stripe, were small, but their impact was enormous. “When I first put on my glasses everything became so much clearer,” says Walter, a 66-year-old property manager for a senior mobile home community. “I could look out the window and see what was going on outside. The glasses opened up a whole new world.” The letters his club receives today are far from fancy. They’re short and simple messages of heartfelt thanks. When Walter reads them he gets a warm feeling inside, happy with the knowledge that as a Lion he’s had a small part in opening a new world for someone, just as someone did for him. “My little bit of help helps a whole lot of people.”
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.