Q&A with J.C. Coefield

May 1, 2013 

City of Residence: Warner Robins

Occupation: Retired, civil service Robins Air Force Base

QUESTION: What got Lions Clubs International involved with sight issues?

ANSWER: The Lion’s Club was founded in 1917 by Melvin Jones, who wanted to help blind people in his community.

QUESTION: So from the start, that was the goal for Lions?

ANSWER: Yes. He had been meeting with some businessmen and said let’s stop just meeting and eating and doing nothing. Let’s help the blind. In 1925, we received our mission statement from Helen Keller at the Lions International convention. She asked us to be knights for the blind and to go out and combat the darkness of blindness.

QUESTION: What do local clubs do?

ANSWER: Eighty percent of all blindness is correctable or preventable. Under the umbrella of Lions Clubs International, our club works through various projects to educate the community about blindness and provide programs that help with sight preservation and restoration.

QUESTION: You’re a member of the Centerville Lions Club, what are some of your activities?

ANSWER: They include providing vision screenings, eye exams and eyeglasses for those who can’t get them themselves. That’s a really big part of what we do and what funds we raise go for. The funds we raise are basically divided between local work, the Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation, the Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind and for two guide dog schools. All the money we raise from the public goes straight to these service projects. All administrative costs and club buildings and upkeep come from member’s dues. We take very seriously our motto: We Serve.

QUESTION: What are a few of the regular Centerville Lions fundraising efforts?

ANSWER: We man the gates at the Georgia National Fair in Perry, we have two barbecue fundraisers each year with really great barbecue, we have a golf tournament coming up in May, we sponsor the Sweetheart Run for Sight each year and have a bake sale.

We also have the White Cane pass-through fundraiser where all the money raised goes for the surgery budget for vision surgery at the Lighthouse Foundation.

QUESTION: Just what is the Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation?

ANSWER: The foundation is located in Chamblee and provides surgeries related to sight for qualifying individuals who can’t afford them otherwise.. The Lighthouse will do over 350 surgeries this year, mostly for cataract and diabetic retinopathy. If the foundation can’t provide the surgery, they find out who can. The Lighthouse Foundation also oversees clinics where people who can’t afford eye exams can get them. The prescriptions are filled by the Lighthouse optical shop.

Another thing, the Lighthouse foundation also provides similar services for hearing aids in Georgia. People have to meet requirements to take advantage of it. Sometimes, if the person doesn’t meet all the requirements, a local club might help pay.

QUESTION: How does someone take advantage of these services?

ANSWER: They can get started by being referred by a doctor or by a Lions Club member. We then help them through the paperwork process, point to online material, or get them in touch with who can. I’m White Cane chairman and one of the four district directors elect for 2013-14 for the Lighthouse.

QUESTION: How long have you been a Lion?

ANSWER: For 19 years. I’ve been associated with the Lighthouse Foundation in one form or another that whole time.

QUESTION: What got you involved?

ANSWER: I’m sight impaired and I wanted to serve and give back to others. I wanted to help people understand that their sight is very important. You should take care of it. My brother has the same problem I do but worse. Another Lions Club in Houston County got him a leader dog. With that, and trying to help others understand how important vision is, I wanted to get involved.

QUESTION: What’s your impairment?

ANSWER: I’m legally blind with some limited vision. I say I’ve got just enough sight to get in trouble. I’ve had vision problems all my life and in about the fourth grade they said I needed testing. They said I was nearsighted, then I was diagnosed with macular degeneration. In the ‘70s when lasers came out, I went to Boston to see if I was a candidate for that surgery but they found I had retinitis pigmentosa. Most people call it RP. In the ‘80s my vision was stable and I went to work at Robins Air Force Base in a handicapped program. I worked there for 11 and a half years, then my vision bottomed out and they medically retired me. Since then it’s been a roller coaster; some days good, some days bad. Because of that I became a white cane traveler. Of course my wife, Gail, is my sighted guide.

QUESTION: What if someone is interested in services or in becoming a Lion and helping others?

ANSWER: They can contact me at (478) 922-9023 or email me at coefield@cox.net. They can also call if they’re interested in the May golf tournament.

Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell Answers may have been edited for clarity and length.

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