I’m sure most, if not all, optometry students have heard of the Lions Club…but what exactly IS their mission? The next optometric student organization that will be featured in our Organization in Focus series is the Lions Club.
What is the Lions Club? The Lions Club is actually the world’s largest service organization, with almost 1.4 million members and 46,000 chapters! Inspired by Helen Keller’s challenge to become “knights of the blind in the crusade of darkness,” the organization is especially dedicated to serving the visually impaired and the blind. The Lions Club mission is to “empower volunteers, serve their communities, meet humanitarian needs, encourage peace and promote international understanding.”
To give further insight into this organization, I interviewed the current President of the IAUPR School of Optometry’s new Lions Club Chapter, Carmen Yu.
What inspired you to get involved with the Lions Club?
Carmen: Well, growing up, I was always in search of new ways to help the people in my community. Making a difference in people’s lives whether it be life-saving, helping them achieve a goal, or something as simple as exchanging smiles has always been of importance to me. Throughout my high school years, I continuously heard about different Lions club activities that occurred in my neighborhood. However, it was not until I found my passion in the field of optometry that I began to look into becoming involved with the club. As soon as I found out about the new Lions Club chapter on campus, I made sure to become a part of the organization. Not too long into joining the organization, I was selected onto the board as the membership coordinator. As you know now, I currently hold the 2015-2016 club presidency and I cannot express how rewarding an experience it has been. Not only have I been able to help the community at a local and international level, but it had also helped me become a better leader and a person as a whole.
The Lions Club and The Lions Lighthouse Foundation tend to be viewed as one organization. Is there a difference between the two? If so, can you provide some clarification regarding the differences?
Carmen: From my understanding, the Lighthouse Foundation is based out of the state of Georgia and was one of the programs that branched out of the North Decatur Lions Club. Their goal is to provide sight and sound to the financially needy population in Georgia. They expand possibilities so that people with vision and hearing loss can reach their full potential. Lions Club is the world’s largest and most active service club organization and they offer many programs throughout the states, not just in Georgia. I would recommend for those who are interested in looking into the different programs that their local Lions Club has to offer in their community. You will find that Lions Club International Foundation supports and develops international humanitarian programs that serve people in need in four main areas: preserving sight, supporting youth, protecting the environment, and feeding the hungry. They also provide funds for disaster relief and humanitarian needs.
As students, we often hear talk about the Lions Eye Bank. Can you explain what that is and what is its purpose?
Carmen: The Lions Eye Bank is a not-for-profit organization that is sponsored by a Lions club district or multiple districts. It has a lab where corneas are recovered [human eye tissue] after a person is deceased [donor]. It is here where an extensive evaluation is performed to make sure the human eye tissue is suitable to be later distributed for vision restoration, education, and research. Its purpose is to help restore sight in people who are visually impaired from trauma or diseases. The Lions Eye Bank also provides aid in ongoing research and in education, from ocular anatomy to corneal transplants.
At IAUPR, I know many optometric student organization leaders have been working together to achieve similar goals. Has your chapter worked with any other optometry organizations? If so, what made you decide to do so? Do you think this example of collaboration is important for the future of our profession?
Carmen: At IAUPR, many of our student organization leaders communicate with one another, as well as branch out to other organizations across the nation. Outside of the help and guidance from our supportive faculty on campus, the IAUPR Lions Club specifically has been working alongside Miriam Vazquez, Executive Director at Lions Eye Bank of Puerto Rico and Past District Governor at Lions Clubs International 51E of Puerto Rico. Working with Miriam has allowed our club to grow and gives our students the opportunity to network using the resources provided to us. On campus, the Lions Club works with NOSA and VOSH on our annual mission trip to the Dominican Republic. On each of these trips, we provide eye exams to over 500 patients in the span of the two days we are there. These trips have been a continuous success with the help and generosity of multiple sponsors such as VSP, Essilor, Alcon, and Modern Optical, just to name a few. It is important to network on campus, as well as branch out to other optometry organizations across the country because optometry is a small niche. Working together and collectively coming up with projects and ideas can help our profession blossom further. Collaborating will help the public understand what we, as optometrists, can do and are capable of doing. As an African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” Remembering this principle will help the growth and the future of our profession, whether it be in advancing optical technology, developing new treatments of ocular diseases, or combatting some of the causes of blindness that exist globally.
Becoming involved with an organization that aims to support visually impaired individuals is a wonderful way to give back as an optometry student. As an organization with a global presence and multiple goals, finding a way to help the Lions Club serve your community could prove to be extremely rewarding. Get involved today!