On the sparsely populated prairies of Kansas, you can see the country stretch for miles around you. But the same isolation that offers wide views of open skies and wheat fields means difficulties for the state’s estimated 1,000 children who are blind or have low vision.
This was the case for Dylan Ferguson, who struggled with access to proper vision care for most of his childhood. When he was just 6 months old, Dylan’s parents realized something was different about his vision. Later, when glasses weren’t enough to help Dylan see the board in school, he started acting out.
“Anything that can affect your ability to use your vision can be called low vision,” says Lion Joseph Maino, an optometrist and low vision consultant for the Kansas State School for the Blind (KSSB). “Reading is very important. The inability to actually see the print and make sense out of it causes a big problem when we’re trying to learn things. When you have a vision deficit it really makes learning difficult.”
The small population of most areas of Kansas means access to low vision resources are limited or nonexistent. Many families with low vision children are forced to travel hundreds of miles or wait several years for access to treatment and medical professionals. Dylan and his parents bounced from doctor to doctor, traveling as far as Springfield, Missouri–more than 350 miles–to see a low vision specialist.
But this all changed thanks to a $71,000 SightFirst grant from Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) for the expansion of the KanLovKids program–a partnership between the Kansas Lions Sight Foundation, the KSSB and the Kansas
The partnership led to establishing 10 outreach centers in under-served regions of the state and a mobile clinic serving children in the least populated areas. Specialized training,
equipment and follow-up care have also been made available to the hundreds of children and educators participating in the program.
Thanks to a new center closer to his home, Dylan only has to travel an hour to see his optometrist, Dr. Kendall Krug, a Lion and consultant for the KanLovKids project. KanLovKids provides Dylan with crucial vision aids such as magnifiers. These devices allow his full participation in classroom activities and even help Dylan enjoy new activities outside of school.
“It’s literally changed his life forever with the things they’ve helped him do. And I could never put into words how appreciative [we are] and how much they’ve helped change Dylan’s life,” says Jennifer Ferguson, Dylan’s stepmother. “Without Dr. Krug, we’d still be driving to Springfield.”
LCIF’s SightFirst grant enabled the 10 regional clinics to purchase the necessary equipment to perform free low vision screenings, as well as provided the funds to train optometrists and other medical professionals on issues specific to the low vision and blind community.
“It’s very important, especially with children, that you get them help as soon as you can,” says Maino. “We provide the child with tools so that they can read, they can write, they can
participate in classroom discussions.” KanLovKids operates with additional support from the Kansas Lions Sight Foundation, which donates $10,000 per year to cover the cost of evaluations. The program spans the entirety of childhood, serving children from birth to 21 years of age.
Vision, like the children themselves, is constantly changing, so KanLovKids makes sure its participants receive continuous support. The regional centers allow children to check in regularly and receive adjustments to treatment and services. The centers even participate in a lending library of assistive devices available to students and school districts.
The new low vision centers mean the maximum travel distance required to receive service in Kansas is just 100 miles. But for the most isolated parts of the state, a mobile clinic has also been established to provide care and evaluations for groups of five or more children in the hopes that, with proper support, students can stay in their regular classrooms.
“The LCIF SightFirst grant has been a godsend for the children who are visually impaired in Kansas,” says Maino. “Children would have to wait three, sometimes four years, before I would get a chance to see them and work with them. The grant has allowed us to provide care at the point in time when the child needs it most.”
Low vision often goes undiagnosed without obvious symptoms. In an effort to raise awareness, the SightFirst grant also helped create a website featuring distance learning opportunities, low vision resources and other educational materials.
With the help of Lions, the KSSB and the right devices, there’s no limit to what students can accomplish. Just ask Joshua Harsch, who, with the help of the KSSB, received specialized software that allows him to attend Kansas City Kansas Community College.
“Before I came here, I was basically just struggling along, hoping to get through the day,” says Harsch. “As soon as I came here, I was shocked because there was so much opportunity. And I was actually very happy for once.”
Watch a video about this story online here.
*This story by Eric Margules originally appeared in the September 2014 edition of LION Magazine.
As a part of the Centennial Service Challenge goal to serve 100 million people by December 2017, Lions Club of Guwahati Kamrupa in India held a Relieving the Hunger project that fed 1,700 children in need. Over 50 Lions prepared and distributed lunch to the children. These Lions have committed to feeding 5,000 children this year.
The Centennial Service Challenge encourages Lions to celebrate 100 years of service by serving 100 million people in the areas of youth, environment, vision and hunger. In addition to feeding children, projects that count toward the goal include planting trees, organizing a vision screening and donating books to a local school. For more Centennial Service Project ideas, visit our Global Service Action Campaigns page.
Don’t forget to report your activities on MyLCI, and share your projects on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #LIONS100.
Come along with Dorothy, Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion as they follow the Yellow Brick Road to meet the Emerald City Lions Club and learn all the ways they can serve their community. This video was first shown at the International Convention in Toronto, and it’s a fun way to spread the word about Lions and let people know that Lions don’t just help out in one area of service — we’re there whenever and however our communities need us!
Share this video with members and friends by posting on your club’s Facebook page, website or blog!
Earlier this month, Anne and I had the opportunity to attend the kick-off for the Special Olympics World Games, which will take place in 2015. We always have so much fun at Special Olympic events because there is a spirit of unity in the air that is just like the spirit of Lions clubs! It was during this event that Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) continued our support for Special Olympics as announced during the African Leaders Forum on Disability earlier this year.
Whether Lions are working with our partners or working locally in communities, you do a world of good, and LCIF is there to help you. Our Foundation recently approved almost US$10 million in SightFirst and Lions Quest grants for projects around the world. In addition to these grants, LCIF continues to support humanitarian projects and disaster relief efforts.
Just a few weeks ago, China was hit with a terrible earthquake. More than 600 people died because of the disaster and a large number of people were injured. What made the situation even worse was that more than 40,000 homes were damaged or destroyed! That means more than 40,000 families are in need of help. I am proud that Lions are there to help them.
LCIF immediately issued a US$250,000 Major Catastrophe Grant through the Disaster Relief Fund, allowing Lions to provide food, water, blankets, medicine and other necessities to people in need. With clubs in more than 200 countries, LCIF is ready to help whenever Lions or their communities are in need, regardless of their location. The road to recovery can be a long one, but Lions will be there for as long as needed while homes are rebuilt and communities are put back together in China.
I want to thank you for your support and your concern.
Barry J. Palmer
Chairperson, Lions Clubs International Foundation
Have you ever wondered how Lions Clubs International Foundation can help Lions change lives around the world and at home? Experience the impact of LCIF at this year’s ANZI-Pacific Forum from August 29 through August 31 in Adelaide, Australia. This year’s forum theme is “Passport to Excellence – Look, Listen, Learn.”
LCIF will have a booth where staff can answer questions regarding grant programs, the application process, and donations, as well as provide informational materials. Be sure to ask about the Lions Measles Initiative!
This year, there are several LCIF informational sessions:
→ Immediate Past International President and LCIF Chairperson Barry Palmer will present at an LCIF seminar titled “LCIF – Making a Difference throughout the World.” This seminar is scheduled for Friday, August 29th from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
→ On Saturday, August 30th, learn about Lions’ and LCIF’s efforts to preserve and save sight through SightFirst at a seminar titled “The Eyes Have It – Lions Preserving Sight,” from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
→ On Sunday, August 31st, Immediate Past International President and LCIF Chairperson Barry Palmer will host a meeting with Past District Governors from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
→ Also on Sunday, “Lions Quest – Investing in our Future” will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Stop by to learn about LCIF’s social and emotional learning program for students.
→ Finally, a seminar titled “From an International Perspective” on Sunday will highlight LCI and LCIF. This session is from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Forums provide for an exchange of information and ideas surrounding service activities and Lions’ projects while promoting the principles and objectives of Lions Clubs International and LCIF. All Lions in the constitutional area in which the forum is held are invited to participate.
You can read about LCIF’s activities at the USA/Canada Forum in the upcoming weeks.
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