Since 1925, when celebrity and advocate Helen Keller asked the Lions Club to become "knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness, Lions have championed the cause of the visually impaired.
During a Gatesville Lions Club meeting, Renee Kettler, the Second Vice District Governor, gave an overview of World Services for the Blind, a school in Little Rock, Ark. that helps visually impaired people from the United States and throughout the world learn valuable skills to help them obtain employment.
"It's quite impressive," Kettler said. "It began in 1947 with a donation from the Little Rock, Arkansas Lions Club. They saw a need to serve the community of the visually impaired and to give them skills to be able to live an independent life despite their disability."
Today, Lions Clubs all over the world, including the club in Gatesville, help to fund the school. Kettler said that more than 16,000 people from all 50 states and other countries have attended the school.
"The mission is to empower people who are blind or visually impaired to achieve sustainable independence," she said. "What does it do? Much like college, it teaches skills. There is also a GED (general equivalency diploma) program. The school teaches a vocation or skills such as small engine repair, working with computers and a variety of other things."
Options also include technology, call service, credit counseling, office work and small business management.
Some of the school's administrators are also blind, including Chief Executive Officer Eric Yarberry. "He brings a world of knowledge" to the organization, Kettler said.
Heather Miller is the director of education and training. Unlike Yarberry, who has been blind since birth, Miller became blind later in life because of complications from diabetes.
"She was a prosecutor for nine years and developed blindness as an adult," Kettler said. "She found out about World Services for the Blind and discovered it was something she loved, and she wanted to be a part of the organization."
The cost of attending the school can be expensive and varies according to the equipment needed and course length for each individual attending. Many of those attending have the costs covered by the Lions Club.
"The amount of time it takes (for those attending) can range from six months to a year and a half," Kettler said. "There are scholarships to help cover the costs, and donations from Lions Clubs around the world help fund these. "The average cost is between $1,500 and $3,000 a month.
"World Services for the Blind has a job placement program as well, giving opportunities throughout the United States."
Those interested in enrolling in the program are required to visit the school in Little Rock as part of the application process.
Kettler said the keynote speaker for the school's 75th anniversary celebration was a graduate of World Services for the Blind who later received a doctorate from Harvard, has published several books and is a public speaker who travels nationwide.
For more information about World Services for the Blind, visit www.wsblind.org.