Hometown Heroes: Local club focuses on improving youths’ vision

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By Don Pace

“Lion King” Carlos Lopez said the Grater Las Vegas Lions Club has been responsible for good works in the Meadow City since the mid-1950s.

The president said his club recently began Operation New Mexico KidSight after purchasing a digital photo-computer system developed at the Tennessee Lions Eye Center at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville.

The international association of Lions Clubs began as the dream of Chicago businessman Melvin Jones, who believed that local business clubs should expand their horizons from purely professional concerns to the betterment of their communities and the world at large.

Today the Lions boast of a network of 1.3 million men and women in 205 countries and geographic areas and are best known for working to end preventable blindness.

In 1925, Helen Keller addressed the Lions international convention in Cedar Point, Ohio and challenged Lions to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.” Ever since that time, Lions clubs have been involved in service to the blind and visually impaired.

“One of the things we do here in Las Vegas is buy glasses for people who can’t afford them. Also, in the various banks, you will see collection boxes for glasses that we fix and recycle to send to different countries for those that need glasses,” Lopez said.

“But we do many other things, like our most recent project with the iSight machine, that we will take to every Head Start and kindergarten through third-grade class in the city to screen students for eye problems before they become permanent,” Lopez said.

Lopez said that “lazy eye” or amblyopia, if not diagnosed and treated early, can lead to permanent eye dysfunction. He said the new $8,000 iSight computer system will go a long way in helping schools and parents identify students who may need followup treatment from an eye specialist.

“A lot of children have a problem with lazy eye, and if you don’t catch it early enough, a child can actually lose the use of that eye because the brain will slowly shut down a wondering eye if it is seeing double, and eventually a person will become blind in that eye,” Lopez said.

Lopez said other past projects have included getting a seeing-eye dog for a person in the Valley and more recently have taken on some of the landscaping and improvements at Lions Park on Grand Avenue.

“Our intention was to restore the Lion, but it turned out to be a more complicated problem than what we thought because it’s a historic monument and we have to be very careful with what we do with the Lion. But ideally we would like to see the Lion again working as a fountain,” Lopez said.

Originally the Women’s Temperance League commissioned the building of the fountain as part of their fight against alcoholism and the sale of alcohol beverages during Prohibition. The group built these kinds of fountains all over the country with the idea that people should drink water instead of alcohol.

Lopez said in recent years, the Lions Club has seen some growth in its membership.

“We have an ongoing recruitment program where you talk to people and convince them that it’s a worthy endeavor to participate in a club like the Lions,” Lopez said. “Our meetings are enjoyable; we always serve a meal and at Christmas, we always celebrate with a party. So we combine the fun things with the community things.”

“We are part of a worldwide movement that does things for their communities and everything we do is completely voluntary. What we raise in funds locally through the various projects we sponsor stays here, and we don’t spend any of that money on our meals or anything else. When we go to a meeting, we pay for our meals. The funds raised are exclusively to be reinvested back into our community,” Lopez said.

Lopez said there have been some very generous donors in Las Vegas helping the Lions with Operation KidSight. Also all the club members dug into their own pockets to contribute to the fund to buy the iSight digital photo-computer system.