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Lions Clubs in Thurmont and Emmitsburg
 Help Many

Kathleen A. O'Connor

Lions Club Logo(12/28)  The Lions Clubs were started as an international organization in 1917, during the First World War. Once the organization was established, Helen Keller (who had been made deaf and blind through childhood illness, but who had learned to read in Braille and 4-5 other languages) attended a convention of the Lions Club. She challenged the Lions to become the "Knights of the Blind." There are now 1.4 million members and 45,000 clubs worldwide! "It may be the largest volunteer organization in the world, in terms of the number of volunteers," said Diane Walbrecker, a member of the Emmitsburg Lions Club.

In addition, the Lions are unique among volunteer organizations because every penny earned or donated goes to help the public in need. This is because there is virtually no overhead or infrastructure, perhaps other than the boxes and the recycling of donated glasses. The Lions projects are funded by their dues.

The Thurmont Lions Club started in 1929 and has just celebrated its 77th year. The Emmitsburg Lions Club started also in 1929, but has a break of 2 years from 1980-1982, when it was started up again; so, it has been active for 75 years.

The Lions pay for eye exams, frames, and lenses. Assistance is given based on financial need. They also help pay for medical care for needs that are medically necessary and in ways that are cost effective.

Not only do the Lions help local people in need of glasses, but their donations boxes (donated by post offices) for eyeglasses, empty frames, lenses, and hearing aids go to people in Third World countries. My brother, John O'Connor, participated as a builder (church and airstrip) in a church mission in January of 2001 to the Yanomamo in the Venezuelan Amazon. He found people there with poor eyesight who were very grateful for glasses, a new invention to them, and the ability to see well for the first time in their lives! "The people there are very grateful," he said, "to finally have technology that we take for granted." Here's what his Pastor Carlson emailed home to Ludington, MI, on January 20, 2001:

Dear Members and Friends,

We tried to communicate with a man in Ludington today by Ham radio, but were unsuccessful. We will try again tonight. If we can connect, we will have him record a message from us, which can be played in the morning services at Washington Avenue Baptist Church. We all continue to be healthy, although we are living and working in very hot tropical conditions. It cools off at night, however, and sleeping is very comfortable. Half of us sleep in beds, and the other half in hammocks. Work is progressing well on the church/school. We cleaned up the floor so we can have church there tomorrow. About 300 Yanomamo are expected. Doug is doing a great job on the dozer and has cut through some dense foliage on the east end of the village. The landing strip is beginning to take shape. Dr. Riemer is helping many Yanomamo with their vision problems. Several of the older men have been fitted with glasses. Through an interpreter, Dr. Riemer tells the men that the glasses will help them see to hunt and bring food home. The Yanomamo women are more reticent to wear their glasses because they are afraid others will make fun of them. We are breaking a lot of new ground in this culture, and it may take some time for eyeglasses to be acceptable in public. One young teenager Dr. Riemer saw was legally blind, and she was thrilled to be able to see after putting on her glasses. Hopefully, she will not be teased too much. Honey Village is an incredible place.

And again on January 25, 2001:

Dear Friends and Relatives,

I have not sent an update since the first of the week because we have been so busy. We are all doing well and are remaining healthy. Here's a rundown on what each of us has been doing: Dr. Andy Riemer, his son Brandon, and assistant, Trinja Henrickson, have been traveling with interpreters to villages up the Padamo River to give eye examinations and treat patients. Dr. Riemer generally sets up his clinic in a thatched-roofed hut in the middle of a village, and scores of Yanomamo come from surrounding dwellings. He has discovered that Yanomamo have a disproportionate number of older people with cataracts. He has given out hundreds of glasses, and has treated villagers for everything from malaria to worms to bacterial infections. You should see how surprised some of the Yanomamo are when they put on a pair of glasses and are able to see clearly.

So please donate your old glasses to the Lions! Help a neighbor who really isn't very far away in this small world. Thurmont Lions boxes are in the Cozy Restaurant and beside Dr. John Hageman's office. Emmitsburg Lions boxes are in the Emmitsburg Library, in the Medicine Plus Pharmacy, and in the F&M Bank.

The Lions also sponsor preschool vision screening for children from 6 months to 5 years. "By the time children can read an eye chart," said Shirley Long, the Thurmont Lions spokesperson, "their vision may not be remediable or correctable; however, if they receive early eye care, it can be." The program uses a non-invasive camera with a film that is read by a laboratory technician. One problem the doctors look for is lazy eye. If a problem is found, the parents are contacted and receive the recommendation of an eye professional. The Emmitsburg Lions were trained in November to conduct this screening and work jointly with Thurmont Lions.

"One little girl was examined and determined to have an eye problem," said Shirley. "She received glasses and, when putting them on for the first time, she looked at her mother and said, 'Mom, you look so different!' That makes it so meaningful."

The two Lions Clubs also sponsor annual health fairs through Gettysburg Hospital, Thurmont's is at Thurmont Middle School, and Emmitsburg's is at Mother Seton School. In 2006, Thurmont processed 125 blood screenings and hosted 20 exhibitors at their annual fall health fair. Emmitsburg processed about 120-150 blood screenings and hosted about 20 exhibitors at their annual spring health fair. Although it is likely that the same professionals exhibited at each health fair, this means that for 2006 the area Lions helped up to 275-300 people with their annual health screening! The Lions Clubs participate in diabetes awareness. "My sister became blind through diabetes," said Diane. "That's why I became involved."

In addition to projects that all Lions clubs sponsor, each of the two local clubs sponsor events and projects special to the different towns.

The Thurmont Lions sponsor the community Easter egg hunt on Easter Sunday and, once a year (or as needed), host a breakfast to raise funds for a local medical need that has been brought to them. For 75 years now, they have sponsored Boy Scout Troup 270 in Thurmont, paying the utilities for their meeting place, their charter dues, and their insurance.

Their newest project is the restoration of the trail where the trolley used to run from Thurmont to Frederick. The train was stopped in 1957 and the tracks were removed. Eventually, the trail became overgrown and in disrepair. Band-aids were applied, but didn't help much. For the 75th anniversary in 2004, the Lions assumed the line as a major project. The work must meet the requirements of the Maryland Department of the Environment and the U. S. Corps of Engineers, so it will take time to complete it because of necessary inspections and quality work. Phase I of the project, which is now completed, was to restore the line from Main St. to Water Street; Phase II will be to continue the line from Water St. to Moser Rd. I suggested that to Shirley that she check to see how the successful Ghost Town Trail was completed through several small towns on the old coal train line in upper Cambria County, PA.

The Emmitsburg Lions sponsor jointly with the American Legion the annual Halloween event, with the Legion organizing the parade and providing the party food, and the Lions organizing the children's games. The Lions also provide Christmas food baskets. "We filled 50 baskets this year!" said Diane. Their BIG event is the annual Community Day (often 4th of July celebration) with fireworks, a parade, food, music by local bands, and a special patriotic ceremony. In addition, they sponsor the cleanup on U.S. Route 15 from the Getty Station at S. Seton Ave. to Creamery Rd.

Christmas wish for the new year?

Thurmont Lions Club: "On October 18 this year, we sponsored the first Make a Difference Day with a Volunteer of the Year Award," said Shirley. "Next year, we hope to have more participation. Melvin Jones, a Chicago businessman, held a meeting when he first founded the Lions. He told those who attended that, if they all got together, they could do much more than they could individually." Isn't this like creating a threshold of people enough to resist gravity and achieve lift off?

Emmitsburg Lions Club: "We can serve more people by having more members with new ideas," said Diane. "We'd like to help the elderly who live alone in their homes, so they can stay in their homes, but we need the people to do that." Sounds like my old neighborhood in GR, with its Neighbors of Belknap Lookout spring and fall cleanups for elderly persons, who could sign up in advance to have their homes and yards cleaned and trimmed. Volunteers came from the neighborhood, a local Christian Reformed mission church, and the nearby Butterworth Hospital "Good Neighbors." We would meet on the designated Saturday morning at the church, form up crews, and each crew would help about ten households. I was a volunteer leader twice the year I lived in the Belknap: once on a housecleaning crew and once on a yard crew. One lady that we helped had one crew cleaning her house, while the yard crew mowed and trimmed, and Habitat for Humanity built her a back stoop, and she pulling her oxygen tank around supervising the whole affair! She loved the photos I took and which I may share later with you. I suggested to Diane that she should find out how the Belknap achieved a successful project!

The Thurmont Lions Club (TLC) can be reached by calling Shirley Long, president, at 301-898-7004. They meet at the Cozy Restaurant on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. Donations or requests for help may be sent to P.O. Box 306, Thurmont, MD 21788.

The Emmitsburg Lions Club (ELC) can be reached by calling Joe Ritz, president, at 301- 447-2939. They meet at the Carriage House Restaurant on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. Donations or requests for help may be sent to P.O. Box 1182, Emmitsburg, MD 21727-1182, or you can visit them at their web site at