Citizen Choice Awards: Garner Lions Club

By Lisa Mumma
Citizen Journalist

Editor’s note: The following is the fourth part in a six-part series of profiles on our Citizen Choice Awards honorees. Citizen Choice Awards is an award ceremony that recognizes people who exemplify what it means to be a Garner citizen. This week, we honor the Garner Lions Club for civic organization.

Winded from carrying several heavy boxes into the back door of the Garner Lions Club’s West Main Street facility, Jim Valsame, Gene English, Signal Ross and Kenny Lynch gathered on a recent afternoon to do a job. Having sorted into heaping piles more than 700 pieces of donated eyeglasses, lenses and hearing aids, including related accessories like cases and tiny batteries, they paused to admire the bounty before them.

“Our residents, eye care professionals, funeral homes and senior citizen organizations, among others, have been extremely generous this year,” said Ross, a Garner Lions Club member for more than 20 years who currently serves as club chaplain. “I’m thrilled with the number of boxes we get to pack and ship.”

Nurtured by parent organizations Lions Clubs International and the N.C. Lions Foundation, the Garner club, chartered in 1944, strives to improve the lives of the blind, visually impaired or hearing impaired by providing these individuals with opportunities to enjoy life fully and productively. Club members support these efforts through raising funds for prevention, research, education, recreation and emergency service programs to help eventually eliminate these impairments.

Club members also welcome and support collaborations with education, medical and recreational partners to create and maintain projects to meet its goal, such as funding clinical eye trials and radio reading services. The 21st-Century Vision Van travels the state, for example, providing free screenings in communities across North Carolina.

Valsame, a Lions Club member since the mid-1950s, was tapped to spearhead the SightFirst capital campaign early in his career to help the World Health Organization fight blindness in third-world countries. Inspired by Helen Keller’s challenge for the Lions Clubs to be the “Knights of the blind and deaf” when she addressed the N.C. Lions Foundation convention in 1935, Valsame also worked toward increasing the presence and reach of humanitarian campaigns such as the White Cane Fund for the Blind.

English, on the club rolls for more than 30 years, noted that club members across North Carolina enjoy volunteering at Camp Dogwood, a 54-acre resort on Lake Norman constructed to give visually impaired or hearing impaired kids a typical summer camp experience. He added that service options are endless and range from swinging a hammer, leading a hike or flipping pancakes. Clubs can also choose to sponsor kids to attend camp when funds at home fall short.

Propelled by the organization’s humble but clear motto, “We Serve,” the Garner club also directs its benevolence toward home. The legacy of its ball fields notwithstanding, in addition to subsidizing eye exams and glasses, hearing tests and aids, the club supports a long list of local charities such as Garner Area Ministries and the Linus Project. The Garner club partners with its neighboring club in Knightdale to sponsor the annual Dollars for Scholars golf tournament, which benefits area high school students who show potential for success in higher education endeavors.

“We don’t make a big deal about our work sometimes,” English said. “Lions Clubs are the best kept secret in the community.”