At 5 years old, Lemont resident Madison Wesolowski is fighting to hold on to her vision.
“She has been through about 28 surgeries on her eyes and has been declared legally blind in her right eye,” said her mother, Carlene Wesolowski. “She had her first pair of contact lenses when she was a baby.”
When Madison was just three months old her older brother told mom and dad he noticed something floating in her eye. It looked like a piece of popcorn, he told them.
So dad Bruce and Carlene took Madison to see a doctor, who eventually determined she had cataracts — a condition typically found in older people that causes a clouding of the eye lens — along with glaucoma, another eye condition that leads to damage to the eye’s optic nerve.
Trying times for sure, for the Wesolowskis.
Luckily, they Lemont family was able to reach out to an old friend. That friend is Ken Novak, who spends some of his time volunteering with the Lemont Lions Club. The Lions Club is an international club that “empowers volunteers to serve their communities, meet humanitarian needs, encourage peace and promote international understanding.”
But the club, which has 46,000 branches across the world and is head-quartered in nearby Oak Brook, is popularly known for its work to help the vision-impaired.
Novak and the Lemont Lions have stepped up for the Wesolowskis by purchasing eye glasses for Madison — she needs new prescription glasses every three to six months. The Lemont Lions are also trying to raise money to provide Madison with an iPad, which has an easy-to-read large screen for her.
“I have known Ken forever,” Carlene said, adding that she grew up with him in Lemont. “Ken introduced us to the Lions Club. They have been her rock.”
The Lemont Lions have been a rock. That’s shown through their 50 years of existence — on March 29 the club will celebrate its 50th anniversary — it was chartered in June 1962 — with a celebration at Crystal Hall Banquets, 12416 Archer Ave. in Lemont.
But it hasn’t always been easy for the Lemont Lions. The club disbanded four times, only to re-organize each time. The club now has 75 members and is running strong, Novak said.
While the Lions Club formed in 1917, it wasn’t until 1925 that the club established its vision to help the sight-impaired. That year, famous author and activist Helen Keller addressed the Lions Club at a convention, convincing the club to take on the cause, Novak said.
Since, though, Lions Clubs across the world have picked up other causes, including the hearing-impaired.
Doug Wright, Lemont resident and a six-year member of the Lemont Lions Club, said the Lions are there for whatever people need.
“We are the best kept secret around,” Wright said.
The Lemont Lions Club has done everything from helping at disaster sites, aiding in Habitat for Humanity, donating large print books to the Lemont Public Library and helping out with Lemont Police Department programs such as DARE and Seniors And Law Enforcement Together.
For more than 20 years, Novak has been a member of the Lemont Lions Club. His family was always involved with activities in Lemont, as his mother was involved with the VFW Ladies Auxiliary.
“I started to do my family tree and found I had relatives with visual problems and thought the Lions were the best to join,” Novak said. “It meant something to me to help those who are visually or hearing impaired.”
Throughout his time as a Lions Club member, Novak said he has continued to come back each year because he can see the difference he is making in people’s lives.
“As you go along you get the tug on the heart strings when you see you are making a difference,” Novak said.
Lemont resident Paul Butt said he joined the Lions Club just recently because he wanted to keep the family tradition of being a Lion going. Butt’s father was a Lion for 40 years.
“I got to a point where (I said to my wife) what are we going to do, sit at home or get out and get involved?” Butt said. “I joined because I felt it was time to give back.”
Wright said before joining he had a “moment of clarity” where he looked around and was thankful for the healthy family and normal life he was living but knew there were others who weren’t living picture-perfect lives.
“I needed to give something back,” Wright said. “I truly do feel blessed to have a healthy and normal life and there are so many that are not. When you realize that you can do something to ease that burden, we don’t have a choice we have to help if we can.”
“The good thing about the Lions is that we are always doing something as a fundraiser and every penny goes back to the community,” Wright said. “We do so much stuff we are always poised for the next need.”
Novak said with the help of the Lions Club, it has been amazing to see the improvements in Madison’s vision from birth.
“I look where she was from birth and where should would have been today, just the quality of life we give, that’s what we do,” Novak said.