Last night we had the privilege of once again attending the organizational meeting of the Southern College of Optometry Lions Club here in Memphis. This is a once-a-year occasion, where new first-year students learn about Lions Clubs International and our role in putting an end to preventable blindness throughout the world. My husband and I founded this club in 2004, and have been invited back year after year to serve as mentors.
The fit between optometry and Lions is obvious. When these young doctors head out to establish their own practices across the country, they will have an ongoing connection to their local Lions Club. Of course, the club faces some unusual problems because the turn-over of membership is so great. Students spend three years or less on campus before heading out to do "externships" all over the country. So they don't have much time to build up a tradition of leadership. Still, year after year, we find third-year students stepping into leadership roles and without needing much guidance they take over and run the largest Lions club in the state of Tennessee.
This past week, the college held a service day during which the new students learned about various opportunities for service. Our Lions officers followed up with an invitation to any interested students to come to last night's meeting. They weren't above luring them with the promise of dinner, but they had a tremendous response. Here's what just part of the largest classroom looked like last night, as new students nibbled on Lenny's subs and filled out their application forms.
How many were there? Well, we didn't count, but the lecture hall holds two hundred, and there weren't many empty seats. Not all of them had come prepared with checkbooks, but 77 of them turned in their applications and paid on the spot. Others went off carrying their applications to leave in the treasurer's mailbox later.
Once in a while, we get asked if the club actually does anything, or whether it is just a formality. Well, last night's meeting involved their schedule through October. Among their plans were these items: providing eye-screening at a community health fair; pitching in to help in the Germantown Lions tent at this weekend's festival, where they will do more screenings and perhaps learn about diabetes-testing; signing up for a Sight Walk through Overton Park; taking part in World Sight Day; designing and selling club tee-shirts; running a major fund-raiser involving Coupon Books for Memphis attractions and restaurants; and entering a contest to see which club can create the winning Halloween decorations for a treatment room at the Eye Center. They also attend district meetings, volunteer at the Church Health Center, go with weekend RAM trips to take medical care to rural areas of Tennessee: and, when they are second and third-year students, help with eye exams funded by the Lions Lens Project to provide glasses for needy patients. And remember, they do all this while being medical students, raising families, and supporting themselves.
Sometimes, these young people leave me exhausted, just from listening to them. But they also leave me inspired. They are a terrific antidote to celebrity shenanigans and "stories that bleed" on the nightly news.