Lions Clubs celebrate members, check eyes at BR Awareness Day

“If you can’t find one hour a week to volunteer your time — you are watching too much TV. If everybody could find one or two hours to volunteer, we could change our community.” Deborah todd, president of the Downtown Baton Rouge Lions Club

More than 100 area Lions Club members and their friends celebrated 85 years of serving the Baton Rouge area during the second annual Community Awareness Day on Saturday.

A dozen booths scattered around a spacious conference room at the BREC headquarters on Florida Boulevard displayed free humanitarian services ranging from after-school education and childhood vision programs to a variety of summer camps to the club’s most popular eyeglass recycling program.

“We serve unconditionally,” longtime Lion and event emcee Bill Simon said. “Our main goal for Lions Clubs International is to eradicate preventable blindness, especially in children.”

Simon said there are 18 Lions Clubs in the Baton Rouge area with a combined membership of about 1,200.

Lloyd Hensley, a 10-year member of the East Baton Rouge Lions Club, said the eyeglass recycling program has helped “in excess of 200 people each year and we collect about 6,000 pairs of usable glasses.”

Many area groups participate in the eyeglass recycling program, Hensley said, and most recently, the children at St. James Episcopal Elementary school collected more than 400 pairs of usable eyeglasses. “It’s the simplest thing you can do to help,” he said. “Everyone has old eyeglasses at home.”

The simplicity of giving is a theme that runs through all of the Baton Rouge area clubs, said Deborah Todd, president of the Downtown Baton Rouge Lions Club.

“If you can’t find one hour a week to volunteer your time — you are watching too much TV,” Todd said. “If everybody could find one or two hours to volunteer, we could change our community.”

Christopher Ballard’s life was dramatically changed when he attended the Louisiana Lions Camp, said his father, Robert Ballard.

“The first year we took him, three years ago, I was scared to death — he’d never been away from home,” Robert Ballard said. “It‘s been a very motivating experience for him. Actually, it’s been a stepping stone to help him get into Special Olympics. They keep them moving and keep them motivated and they have a lot of fun. Now, he doesn’t want to leave. He wants to spend the whole summer.”

Christopher Ballard, 17, a student at Denham Middle School, said with a big smile, “My favorite thing is bowling. It makes me feel happy,” adding, “My Dad lets me go to camp. He loves me so much. He’s so cool.”

The free camp, located on 171 acres near Anacoco, has 46 buildings, a fully trained medical staff and one-on-one counselor-to-camper ratio, camp director Raymond E. Cecil III said. There are two one-week sessions for physically challenged and two one-week sessions for mentally challenged campers, as well as two more camps for children battling pulmonary issues and diabetes.

Two out of three generations of one family in the Brownsfield Lions Club were at the Awareness Day event, they said, to serve others and their community.

Don Blue, 72, was first invited to join the club two decades ago by Bill Bingham, 76, and eventually Blue’s daughter married Bingham’s son.

Their two grandsons, Adam Bingham, 22, and Michael Bingham, 23, are a picture of the Lions Club’s future, the older men said.

“We just want to help children around the community,” Adam Bingham said.

For information on Baton Rouge area Lions Clubs, call Bill Simon at (225) 270-9836 or Deborah Todd at (225) 907-5833.

For information on Lions Clubs International, visit http://www.lionsclubs.org.

For information on the Louisiana Lions Camp, visit http://www.lionscamp.org.