Walk participants use their legs to help others use eyes and ears

“We wanted an event that everyone could participate in,” explained Mary Beth King, director of The Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation’s inaugural Strides 4 Sight & Sound walk held April 23. “The walk is little over a mile and was designed to be doable for community members over a wide range of ages and abilities, including those with vision limitations. We wanted to create a family-friendly event for doctors, patients, volunteers, and interested community members,” she explained.

Some participants joined the walk in person—leaving from the organization’s Chamblee office on Peachtree Road—while others participated virtually. “Because many of the people we serve don’t live in the Atlanta area, virtual participation should be significant,” King predicted a few days before the event.

Proceeds from the walk supports Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation, a component of Lions Club International that focuses on helping uninsured vision- and hearing-impaired Georgians. The nonprofit provides vision and hearing services through education, detection, prevention, and treatment. “Through collaborative partnerships, we enable greater independence and increased quality of life for Georgians in financial need. Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation partners with a statewide network of optometrists and ophthalmologists to provide vision screenings, eye exams, eyeglasses, and eye surgeries to more than 7,000 Georgia residents each year,” the website states.

King said that 52 Georgia counties have no ophthalmologists, 30 percent of Georgia counties lack eye care services and one in five school-age children in Georgia experience hearing loss. Georgia Lions Lighthouse provides financial aid to such Georgians. “This makes such a huge difference in a person’s life. It’s night and day,” she continued. “I recently met a child who was legally blind and of course that impacted his school performance. We helped to get what he needed to be able to learn.”

According to Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation, nearly 1.4 million Georgians are uninsured. Georgia’s uninsured rate of 13.7 percent is third highest in the country, and the organization foresees that in rural Georgia, the uninsured rate could climb to more than 25 percent by 2026.The organization states that it “is committed to filling the gaps that still exist for underinsured Georgians by providing access to low-cost vision services.”

The organization reports that populations with the highest uninsured rates are adults between ages 18 and 65; Hispanic adults; individuals living in non-Medicaid expansion states such as Georgia; and individuals with income levels below 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

According to its website, the Lions Club, a nonpolitical service organization, began its focus on work for the blind and visually impaired after Helen Keller addressed the Lions’ international convention in 1925 and charged Lions to be “Knights of the Blind.” Keller famously became an author, disability rights advocate, political activist, and lecturer despite having lost her sight and hearing during a childhood illness.

The Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation was founded in 1949 after a blind Atlanta Lions Club member, Tom Bingham, along with Moultrie and Albany Lions, each contributed $1,000 to start the nonprofit subgroup. “Since then, Lions Clubs have served as the cornerstone of the organization and maintain a vital role in the growth and reach of our mission: to create a better Georgia by bringing individuals into a world of sight. Together we continue to set the standard for service and equal access vision care for Georgians in need.”

King said although the event is over, donations are being accepted through May 31. She added that shortly before the walk, Strides 4 Sight & Sound was approximately $5,000 short of its $40,000 goal. A peer-to-peer event, Strides 4 Sight & Sound walk is being publicized largely through social media, she said, calling this year’s event “just the start. We plan to make this an annual event. Next year we will have a 5k, in addition to the just over one-mile walk. We’re encouraging people to urge their social media contacts to donate to this this very worthy effort.”

For more information, visit lionslighthouse.org.

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