Lions of Illinois Foundation is turning 50 this year!
Join us in celebrating our 50th Anniversary
The Vision of the Lions of Illinois Foundation is to create a permanent vehicle for the delivery of programs and services to the visually and hearing impaired. Learn more about us and our vision statement.
View the Foundation’s Timeline over the past 50 years!
Helen Keller challenged Lions, “Will you not help me hasten the day when there shall be no preventable blindness; no little deaf, blind child untaught; no blind man or woman unaided?…”
Helen Keller addressed Lions at the International Convention in Cedar Point, Ohio, USA. She famously states, “I appeal to you Lions, you who have your sight, your hearing, you who are strong and brave and kind. Will you not constitute yourselves Knights of the Blind in this crusade against darkness?”. This began a century long mission – impacting hundreds of millions of lives through vision related work.
William Hadley lost his sight but had a passion for reading, after his futile quest to find a braille teacher, he taught himself braille. William later founded the, Hadley Correspondence School and the “braille by mail” curriculum which launched in 1920. The very first student, a woman in Kansas, had lost her sight later in life as well and she was desperate to continue reading. She mailed her lessons to Hadley. William Hadley corrected and returned them along with notes of help and encouragement. This was the beginning of the close instructor-learner relationship that is a hallmark of Hadley learning even today.
In a formula adopted by the American Medical Association. And subsequently was incorporated in the Aid to the Blind title of the Social Security Act of 1935, and further embodied into law in federal and state statutes providing various special services and benefits for blind persons.
Today, Lions identify people in their community who could benefit from Leader Dog’s services, to provide clients with the tools and training to reintroduce them to a life of confidence, safety and independence. Through their full-range of programs—Guide Dog, Orientation & Mobility and Teen Summer Camp.
Now known as Eversight, eye banks were established to meet the critical demand for corneal tissue to treat preventable blindness. Today, services reach beyond traditional eye banking by advancing treatments of all blinding eye diseases. They recover, evaluate and provide human eye tissue for transplantation; support research into the causes and cures of blinding eye conditions; promote donation awareness through public and professional education; and provide humanitarian aid to people around the world in need of sight-restoring therapies.
LIBAC (Lions of Illinois Blind Action Committee) began in 1952 as the result of Past District Governor, Marvin Tench who wanted to change the attitude toward blind people. In that time the blind were often objects of ridicule, portrayed as “pencil sellers” and with low regard. Lion Tench and friends wanted the public to recognize them with all the rights to dignity, education, and meaningful employment enjoyed by their fellow Americans.
LIBAC Begins Fundraising Efforts
- Lions stood on Street Corners collecting donations and handed out White Cane Pins
- Later from 1957-1959 Lions partnered with Cracker Jack
- Monies from their fundraising efforts were presented as grants to Hadley School for the Blind and Leader Dog
- The camp started for Visually Impaired
- Quickly expanded to include hearing impaired.
- Camp Lions first site – Camp Ravenswood
- One Site for one week.
- Little Grassy Lake Camp is the Second Site in early 1970’s
- One week of camp
- Camp Lions also received grants from LIBAC
- Candy Day started with Lions going Door to Door for donations and then later moved to Street Corner donations
- First Rolls of Candy in Lions branding.
- As this fundraiser grew, LIBAC was able to present grants to the following establishments:
- Hadley School for the Blind
- Leader Dog
- Camp Lions
- Dialogue Magazine (Talking Lion)
- Illinois Society for the Prevention of Blindness
The Mobile Glaucoma Unit ran from 1965-1985.
- LIBAC funded Mobile Glaucoma screenings
- Illinois Society for the Prevention of Blindness supplied doctors to do glaucoma testing
- In 1983, the Lions add Hearing Screenings to the Mobile Screening Program
With the Lions throughout Illinois requesting programs and the blind and deaf community requesting help, it was time to change from a committee structure to a Foundation.
The Lions of Illinois Foundation was formed to be by, of, and for the Lions with the goal of helping the Lions create and maintain the strongest humanitarian service programs possible.
With approval from the membership, the Lions of Illinois Foundation came into being on July 1, 1974, as a non-profit charitable organization.
In the early 1990’s, the registry collected by the Lions became a starting point for the Illinois Secretary of States drivers license donor program.
Candy Day became a LIF Fundraiser in 1974.
- Occurs the Second Weekend in October
- Lions can be recognized when raising funds by their gold and blue vests
- Would become the Foundation’s biggest fundraiser to support vision and hearing services throughout Illinois
Camp Lions became a LIF Program in 1975.
- Today, Camp Lions remains a free Camp providing 5 weeks of camp at three different camp site locations.
Camp Lions, provides both blind and deaf students and adults the opportunity to enjoy a week of camp with their peers, establishing self confidence and independence through fun interactive activities.
The Student Low-Vision Program provides FREE comprehensive exams, vision equipment and continued support to students throughout their formative years of education.
- In 1976, LIF partnered with Illinois School for the Visually Impaired
- Jacksonville Low Vision Screenings for Students begins
- 1991 the Foundation added two more partners; Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Spectrios Institute for Low Vision (formerly known as the Deicke Center for Visual Rehabilitation)
- The “Seeing is Believing” program begins
Today, this program remains free Student Low Vision program serves over 300 low vision students, K-12 annually.
- New building on UIC Campus
- Lions of Illinois raised $5 million From 1978 to 1984
- Finished, completed and dedicated the new facility in June 1985
Thanks to the commitment and fundraising efforts of the local Lions Clubs, the Lions of Illinois Eye Research Institute has grown into a vision research powerhouse. Since opening in 1986, researchers at the L.I.E.R.I. have obtained 138 patents, received over 150 grants, and produced over 1,500 publications. The UIC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences is ranked 7th in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding among ophthalmology departments nationwide. Today’s L.I.E.R.I. houses over 142 research faculty who employ the most advanced biotechnologies to search for the underlying causes of every major eye disease including macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
The Sight and Sound Sweepstakes Fundraiser officially started in 1980.
This fundraiser has become LIF’s second largest fundraiser, providing funds to our hearing and vision programs.
- Each year, 26 Cash Prizes totaling $19,250 with a $5,000 Grand Prize
- $5,000 grand prize (1)
- $1,000 prizes (5)
- $500 prizes (10)
- $250 prizes (10)
- 1 book of tickets sold for $10
- Winning tickets are pulled at the Lions of Illinois State Convention on the third weekend in May
Tickets are available to purchase January-May from the Lions of Illinois Foundation or your local Lions Club
The Lions of Illinois Endowment Fund was established in 1983. Donations are tax-deductable.
The Lions of Illinois Endowment Fund exists for the sole purpose of creating a consistent and permanent stream of revenue to fund the programs and services provided by the Lions for the visually and hearing impaired.
Ways to contribute to the Endowment Fund:
- Sustaining Supporter
- Legacy Supporter
- Tributes and Memorials
- Planned Giving
The LIF Golf Classic began in 1994.
- Held the first Saturday in August
- All funds raised go towards the LIF Student Low Vision Program
- Fundraiser is a 4-person scramble and open to all levels of golf experience
Today, over 100 golfers participate in the Lions of Illinois Foundation Annual Charity Golf Classic. Please consider joining us for this fun event and support an amazing cause.
The Lions of Illinois Foundation partnered with the John Deere Golf Classic to support the Lions of Illinois Endowment Fund and LIF Programs for hearing and vision services.
The Birdies for Charity program is intended to support charitable organizations, services, operations and programs through the birdies for charity bonus fund based on tournament revenues.
You can donate to the Lions of Illinois Foundation through the Birdies for Charity website
As mobile hearing screenings continued throughout Illinois it was identified by our vision partners that the leading cause of vision loss was brought on by unidentified and untreated diabetic realated eye diseasessuch as:
- Diabetic Retinopathy:
The most common cause of vision loss among people who have diabetes. Vision loss is associated with chronically high blood sugar levels that damage tiny blood vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive tissue of the eye), causing them to leak fluid or bleed.
- Macular Degeneration:
Vision loss occurs when the central portion of the retina (the macula) deteriorates from a combination of hereditary and environmental reasons. Risk increases with age with most people being over 55.
Screening events are hosted by Lion Clubs throughtout Illinois and all screenings are free to the public.
The Adult Low Vision Program was established in 2017. This program includes Orientation and Mobility Training.
What is O&M training?
- The development or re-teaching of the skills and concepts, a blind or visually impaired person needs to travel safely and independently through their environment by an O&M specialist
- Grants are given out annually to our Adult Low Vision partners.
In 2018 the Lions of Illinois Foundation began the Children’s Handheld Screening Program, partnering with Lions KidSight USA.
- The Children’s Vision Screening Program detects vision disorders in children 6 months and up
- The earlier a vision disorder or media opacity is detected the sooner it can be treated
- This screener is also included on our Mobile Screening Unit
For years, the Lions throughout the State have been collecting recyclable items such as:
- Sorted for value and reuse.
- Reusable Plastic Glasses go overseas.
- Refurbished Hearing aid Bank with UIC.
- Cell Phones
- Keys and Key fobs
- Pop Tabs
Today the Lions are also collecting sneakers!
Repurposing recyclables keeps them out of landfills, and reduces toxic chemicals from being released in our air and soil. This process supports a growing circular economy.
Any monies received from recycled items are used to support Vision and Hearing programs and services throughout Illinois.
Since the challenge given by Helen Keller to the Lions back in 1925, the Lions have strived to answer the call to become the “Knights of the Blind”. When the need became overwhelming, the Lions of Illinois Foundation was formed to provide Free Vision and Hearing Programs and Services to the communities of Illinois. Today The Lions of Illinois Foundation continues to provide FREE quality programs and services to people with vision and hearing needs throughout Illinois, funded mainly by Lions contributions through various fundraising efforts.