PUBLISHED: 4:40 PM on Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Lions visit Juneau from around the world, attend local club's fundraiser
Ambitious is a mild word for the Lions Clubs International Foundation's SightFirst program. The program has restored sight through cataract surgeries, distributed sight-saving medication, recycles eyeglasses, trained 305,000 opthamologists and improved eye care services for hundreds of millions of adults and children.

In the 90s they raised $202 million dollars for 841 vision projects in 90 different countries, said member Neil Atkinson, of Mendenhall Flying Lions Club.

Photo courtesy of The Carter Center/V. Vick
  Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is greeted by Mosebo community members, who performed a welcoming dance as he made a historic visit to rural Ethiopia to commend the region's efforts to prevent trachoma, a painful and debilitating disease that causes blindness. Lions Clubs International and The Carter Center are the world's leaders in preventing and controlling the disease.
Currently, they're working on the second project, Campaign SightFirst II.

According to the Lions' Web site, they've raised $106, 436,256; their goal is $150 million.

"We're in the 3rd year, so we're trying to reach our goal by the end of June next year," Atkinson said.

A coordinated, global fund-raising effort, Campaign SightFirst II involves 1.35 million Lions in more than 45,000 clubs.

On Thursday, August 23, past international president and LCIF Chairman Jimmy Ross and wife Velda, along with 70 other Lions from around the world, will visit Juneau aboard the Island Princess cruise ship. Part of a fundraiser, each participant donates $1000 along with their cruise ticket.

To sweeten the deal, the Mendenhall Flying Lions Club will host a Wildlife Cruise for Sight, in conjunction with their visit.

"They want to meet other Lions and people of the area," Atkinson said.

Locals and/or their visitors can join the group for a three-hour wildlife viewing tour to Stephens Passage aboard an Allen Marine catamaran, on Thursday, August 23. Buses will leave G W Teal at 3:30 p.m. and return passengers at approximately 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $75, and are available from any Mendenhall Flying Lions Club member or G W Teal.

"It's a chance to help out a really good cause, see some wildlife, be able to meet Lions from around the world and locally, and find out about lion's club and what they do. I'm looking forward to it," he said.

"The immediate past president Jimmy Ross and wife will be attending and it's seldom you get a person at their level and get to approach him."

"This fundraiser is the biggest one on this cruise," Atkinson said. "They will meet with the Vancouver Lions for a banquet, Ketchikan will take them on a totem cruise and in Fairbanks they will visit the museum. Ours is the only one that's advertised as a Campaign SightFirst tour."

Over 40 tickets are still available; it's first come first serve, he said. The ticket pick-up deadline will be Thursday, August 23 at 3:30 p.m.; tickets will not be available at the cruise site.

"We started out with 50 tickets and have over 40 left. We're looking to get 35 locals," he said.

The campaign dates back to 1925, when Helen Keller challenged the Lions' to become "knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness" during the association's international convention, according to their Web site.

The harsh reality is that one child somewhere in the world goes blind every minute. At the end of the year, half a million will have lost their sight.

On average, about every six U.S. dollars in donations has resulted in a person with vision restored or saved from blindness, the Web site states.

The Campaign SightFirst program has treated 80.5 million for river blindness in Africa and Latin America since it forged a partnership with former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter's, Carter Center, in 1999. By 2010, experts foresee river blindness eradicated once and for all.

Through worldwide peace and health programs, the Carter Center aids human rights and alleviates unnecessary human suffering. As a Lions' member and previous district governor, President Carter has an influential role in targeting trachoma, the world's leading cause of preventable blindness. SightFirst is controlling trachoma among 4.5 million people.

"I am especially proud to be a Lion because of our global leadership in blindness prevention. Lions are passionate about our mission to safeguard sight for all people. Campaign SightFirst II will ease the suffering and improve the lives of our fellow human beings by preventing blindness that devastates families and entire communities," said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in a public service announcement.

"Get involved and encourage others in your Lions Club to do their part. Lions have the power not only to touch lives but the power to change the world," he said.

As the first fundraiser for the Mendenhall Flying Lions, they hope to see some good participation, Atkinson said.

For more information contact Neil Atkinson: 723-9168.