I am humbled and honored to have the privilege of serving as the 2015-2016 President of the Massachusetts Lions Eye Research Fund (MLERF). It has been 90 years since Helen Keller addressed the Lions and asked us to be her “Knights of the Blind.” In her speech, Helen asked the Lions to: “Try to imagine how you would feel if you lost your sight tomorrow. Picture yourself stumbling and groping at noonday as in the night, your work, your independence gone! In that dark hour wouldn’t your heart cry out for a friend to teach you how to live in the dark?” The Lions answered her call by making the eradication of preventable blindness our primary focus.
A 2014 national public opinion poll showed that people would sacrifice every other sense before giving up their sight. Most would prefer losing a limb, their hearing, or their memory to losing their sight.
Eighty percent of people polled believe that it is important that our nation supports research that focuses on prevention and treatment of eye and vision disorders. Here in Massachusetts, we Lions believe that eye research is important enough to have made it our first state-wide project. The Lions of Massachusetts are the only Lions organization worldwide that directly support pure research. While there are other Lions groups that support eye hospitals and clinics, no other Lions group provides funding for pure eye research. The Lions of Massachusetts have every right to be proud of their accomplishments.
Since our inception in the 1950s, MLERF has raised and awarded more than $31 million to eye research institutions. Countless lives have been changed and continue to be changed for the better every day as a result of those efforts, but our work is not yet complete. Preventable blindness is still with us.
The federal government spends on average $2.10 per person each year on eye and vision research. The majority of people polled believe that current federal funding is not enough. According to the federal census bureau the population of Boston is around 645, 000 people. In the past ten years, on average, Lions have raised a little over $1 million every year for MLERF. That means that MLERF is spending almost as much as the federal government to support vision research!
Massachusetts is a Commonwealth of firsts: we celebrated the first Thanksgiving, created the first public park and public beach in America, founded the first public school, and founded the first public library, to name a few. We’re not going to stop there, however! This year, we have the opportunity to establish another first: to provide more money per person than our own federal government for the prevention and treatment of eye and vision disorders. It is worthy goal and one that I know we can accomplish.
I am proud to be a Lion and equally proud to serve as the president of the Massachusetts Lions Eye Research Fund. I look forward to the year ahead and to working with all of the Lions and non-Lions that support this great organization.