By Barry Barbe
This past Saturday, the Prescott Sunrise Lions Club joined Lions from all over the world as they participated in White Cane Day, recognized on Oct. 15. The club stationed members throughout town collecting donations to aid in the Lions’ commitment to assisting those with sight impairments, and funding vision research.
Throughout the day, folks would stop and mention that their father, grandfather or husband was or had been a Lion, and thank the guys for their work. Then there were those who asked: “What do the Lions do?” or “What is White Cane Day?”
In short, the Lions’ motto is “We Serve.” And for the past 106 years, they continue to do just that, serve.
The organization begun in 1916, as a business club under the leadership of William Perry Woods, would soon merge with other business/civic groups with Melvin Jones, considered the founder of the Lions Clubs International in 1917.
Jones’ goal was to challenge business and community members to address the disparity of those around them. This was done through a variety of civic projects that now have a global reach.
During a conference in 1925, that advocate for the blind, Helen Keller, made a presentation that included a challenge and opportunity to the growing and resourceful group.
“Try to imagine how you would feel if you were suddenly stricken blind today. Picture yourself stumbling and groping at noonday as in the night; your work, your independence gone,” she questioned the attendees.
Ending her speech with a call to action:
“Will you not help me hasten the day when there shall be no preventable blindness; no little deaf, blind child untaught; no blind man or woman unaided? I appeal to you Lion, you who have your sight, your hearing, you who are strong and brave.”
Since that day in 1925, Lions Clubs around the world have collectively fought the battle of preventable blindness, through vision programs such as eyeglass recycling, in school exams for youth, as well as providing medical treatment and surgeries.
It was years later, in 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson selected Oct. 15 as “White Cane Safety Day.” Bringing attention and appreciation to those who would use a white cane with a red tip to traverse their day to day lives.
The invention, or first use of the white cane in 1921 is credited to James Biggs of Bristol England. Having lost his sight during an accident, Biggs, wishing to maintain his independence, crafted a tool not only for his increased mobility, by tapping areas as he walked, but also to make his presence more visible to others.
It was late in 1930 through efforts of Lions Clubs International, that white canes found their way to the states.
There are numerous Lions Clubs in the quad-city area, meeting at various times and locations based on the make-up of club membership. They’re the guys with the yellow vests who contribute to the community in a variety of civic programs.
The clubs collect eyeglasses that are then recycled and given to those in need. You may see Lions collecting newspapers, hosting the annual Pancake Breakfast (that’s the Prescott Noon Lions with assistance from other clubs) and other community programs.
Lions Clubs support a variety of vision and hearing programs, as well as educational scholarships, handicap trail maintenance, summer camp scholarships, and provide funding for Camp Tayitee, an Arizona camp for handicap youth. They also support area school nurses by recognizing the importance of their role and supporting them through a variety of programs and services.
There are a myriad of other programs the various clubs support and make happen by volunteering man hours and physical assistance.
The membership of a Lions Club, which is non-political, runs the gamut from retired professionals and working individuals who give of their time and treasures to improve the lives of those within their community and beyond.
Many groups have a focus, or pet project that garners the majority of their attention. For the Prescott Sunrise Lions, chartered in 1961, the group of roughly 50 focus on vision programs for children and youth. Additionally, the club supports and recognizes the accomplishments of high school seniors who excel in education through their annual 4.0 dinner and many other civic programs.
Recognized as a 501(c)3, donations can be made through the Arizona Tax Credit Program to the group’s charitable foundation, and designated to a variety of causes, or toward “The Greatest Good.”
For information on membership, area clubs, supporting Lions programs, vision program assistance, or to contribute through the Arizona Tax Credit Program, visit www.prescottsunriselionsclub.org or Prescott Sunrise Lions, P.O. Box 985, Prescott, AZ 86302.
Since 1916, local Lions Clubs continue the tradition: “We Serve.”
Barry Barbe owns the El Gato Azul and Torme restaurants in Prescott, and is the energy and insight behind the Prescott Palette. Email: Prespalette@gmail.com.