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Visual impairment center clients look to give back with new Lions Club charter

Lions Club charter Sights for Hope
Jay Bradley
Lions Club District Governor Kathy Duelley addresses those at Sights for Hope.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A center for the visually impaired in Allentown has now set its sights on helping others.

On Thursday, it chartered a new Lions Club chapter.

Clients and staff from the Sights for Hope center for people with visual impairments have now officially formed the LV Sights for Hope Lions Club, a new branch of the service organization with almost all of its members visually impaired.

  • A new Lions Club charter has been formed by those at the Sights for Hope center for those impacted by visual impairment in Allentown
  • The Lions Club has been a historical supporter of the center and sight impairment support efforts in the region
  • Nineteen of the club's 24 members are visually impaired, but that is not stopping them from striving to be "as vibrant as any club" of the international service organization

The club initially formed out of a collaboration last year between the Whitehall Lions Club and the Sights for Hope Board, according to now-President of the new club, Gary Dvorshak.
Eventually, enough members joined to allow them to form their own independent club, and the enthusiasm was there to do it.

Sights for Hope, formerly known as the Center for Vision Loss, assists those in the Lehigh Valley and Monroe County with visual impairment or blindness to gain life skills and support for greater self-sufficiency and inclusion.

Offering experience

Dvorshak and many of his fellow clients of Sights for Hope were assisted to the podium to speak at what would become the club's first official meeting — marked with braille-covered sheets of paper given to members and occasional text-to-speech services from phones being heard as the meeting proceeded.

"All the members of this club have been helped through Sights for Hope, have been helped by the Lions," Dvorshak said.

"It's truly an opportunity for us to see how we can give back since people with vision loss are constantly learning new ways to do all things. We might be taking small slow steps at the beginning, but our goal is to be as vibrant as any club."

"Except for the mobility question," Dvorshak said, smirking. "They don't allow us to drive the vans here."

He said everything the club does will be in part a learning experience and may be slower to get off the ground because of the accessibility concerns involved.

But he said figuring out how to do something new like this is not unusual for those with visual impairment.

Offering experience

Dvorshak spoke of how the Lions Club has been a significant source of opportunity for him, both from the support given to Sights for Hope and Lions opportunities such as the Beacon Lodge special needs camp.

"It's truly an opportunity for us to see how we can give back since people with vision loss are constantly learning new ways to do all things."
Gary Dvorshak, now-President of the LV Sights for Hope Lions Club

The club's first activity will be Saturday at Redner's Market, collecting nonperishable items and cash donations for future projects. That will help give them an idea of what the club is capable of building from.

About 30 people attended the ceremony among club members, Sights for Hope clients and staff, Lions International district leadership and the Whitehall Lions Club.

Dorothy Montero, Carol Johnston, Richard Siter, Cheryl Frazier and Kim Weimert of the center were elected alongside Dvorshak to serve as officers of the newly formed organization prior to the meeting.

Those from the Lions Club district leadership said the club has been the fastest growing in the district.

Gary Dvorshak at Sights for Hope
Jay Bradley
President of the newly chartered club, Gary Dvorshak, addresses those in attendance.

A history of help

The International Association Lions Club is a service organization with a long history of initiatives assisting those with forms of blindness, and programs focused on those with eyesight challenges still remain a focus for the overarching mission of the clubs' service programs.

In 1925, Helen Keller attended the Lions Clubs International Convention, challenging the group to become "knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness."
Dennis Zehner, executive director of Sights for Hope, said all but five of the new club's 24 starting members are sight-impaired, 18 of which are clients of the center.

Zehner said that starting in 1928, different coalitions of Lions members worked to create organizations that formed the two organizations that eventually merged in 2010 to become what is now Sights for Hope.

He said the Lions Clubs in the area continue to be great financial supporters of the organization.

A second Lions Club also began the process of formation last year in the Sights for Hope location in Monroe County.

"The Lions have always been part of our past, our present and our future; they are really part of our legacy," Zehner said.

"And without them, we would not have come into existence. So it's a great opportunity for us to continue to pay back."