Make Difference

In 2006 NBC’s "Making a Difference" segment on their Nightly News Show began when Senior Producer Sharon Hoffman pitched a story idea about an individual who was changing people's lives for the better.  The more the staff talked about the story, the more they realized they had something special: a legitimate good news story about a person who was making a difference. Since NBC began this series about people who were selflessly helping others, the network has been utterly overwhelmed by good news stories.

Inspired by the NBC series, the Thalia Lions started its own “Making a Difference” series in 2009 highlighting people who made outstanding contributions to others with disabilities in sight, hearing and diabetes; or simply by helping those less fortunate. Awards have primarily gone to Thalia Lions but sometimes folks in the surrounding communities have been featured. Thalia Lions were encouraged to nominate exceptional people, but as the program progressed, fewer and fewer submissions were made.  We need to see that trend end.
May 2016. The Thalia Lions Club of Virginia Beach salutes the Lake of the Woods (LOW) Lions Club (located between Orange and Fredericksburg, VA) for making a difference by creating a food pantry.  In March 2015, to provide a more efficient and better storage facility, LOW Lions opened the Wilderness Food Pantry.   Titled “No Poverty of Kindness,” they were featured in the Lion’s Club International Magazine May 2016 (pages 22-25). Their achievement was praised for feeding thousands and treating those in need “like friends” since 1998. 
With a membership of over 90, LOW Lions have assemble an army of volunteers to distribute 100,000 lbs. of canned, frozen, and fresh foods each year to help over 4,500 people get enough to eat.  LOW Lion’s efforts involve picking up food, stocking shelves and doing deliveries, as well as manning the pantry on the five days it is open each month. Each month they also provide home deliveries to a few dozen disabled or home bound qualified clients and respond to serious emergency food requests.
Donations are received from individuals, churches, schools, and service organizations. Donations are made by check payable to “Lions Wilderness Food Pantry,” PO Box 605, Locust Grove, VA 22508. For more information call their office at 1-888-508-9274.
The Wilderness Food Pantry is located at Locust Grove Town Center, 3291 Constitution Hwy, Locust Grove, VA 22508, 19 miles east of Orange and 20 miles west of Fredericksburg.
Lake of the Woods Lions Club
Pantry in Virginia Feeds Thousands,” Lions Club International Magazine, May 2016{"issue_id":"298107","view":"articleBrowser","article_id":"2455478"}, the Free Lance-Star – Mar 2016
2015 - The Thalia Lions Club of Virginia Beach salutes Lion Edgar E. DeLong, (Aug 15th 1928 - July 16, 2015) for making a difference by serving for 23 years and twice as club president. He was instrumental in establishing the District’s Bland Competition and directing their Bland Memorial Music Scholarship program for eleven years. He was chairperson of the Adult Learning Center and Princess Anne High School Scholarship program for many years, and also for many years he organized trips to the Eye Glass Recycling Center. Further, he maintained a data base for hearing aids.
There are few people who loved the Lions organization as much as Lion Ed. Even with failing health, Lion Ed would still attend every club meeting and work most service projects. He is the example of what a Lion should be due to his dedication, his passion, his love for other people, and his willingness to serve. Lion Ed made every situation more joyous. Every Thalia Lion who knew him will miss him. He was a true Lion. He served to his last breath.
Lion Irene said the following: “Lion Ed was also a true patriot and servant to the community.  I enjoyed hearing his stories about 'The War', his travels, and his experiences as a Navy Man. Being in his company was a treat, because you knew - just by talking to him - how much he enjoyed living.  And boy did he!  I agree with Lion Rich - it will be hard to imagine Thalia without Lion Ed. Tonight I will raise my glass to him in honor of his long life, and in appreciation for having known him.  I will miss him very much. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant’
Past District Governor Lion Debbie Ivey said the following: “Lion Ed was such an inspiration to anyone that ever met him.  I remember meeting him after he joined our Lion family and I fell in love with his spirit and dedication immediately.  His Bland Contest were the best.  He could pronounce the words to the composers, the music pieces, anything put in front of him and with such professionalism.  What a great Lion, what a great man, what a great lose. Lion Ed, you will be missed.
Past District Governor Donnie Johnson said the following: “Lion Ed was a GREAT Lion and will be missed beyond measure. I will miss our talks and the way he always had a joke or a special way to make you feel right at home.
Demonstrating what was to become a life-long passion for travel and adventure, he ran away from his New Orleans home at 13 and joined the Russell Brothers Circus in Los Angeles, CA, and later enlisted in the U.S. Navy at 15. He participated in the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa during World War II, witnessed the Atomic-Bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, sailed with the U.S. Merchant Marine and was a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars. His final tour of duty was Director of the Naval Guided Missile School, Dam Neck, Virginia Beach, VA. Ed was a proud “Mustang” - an enlisted man who advances through the ranks - retiring as a Lieutenant Commander in 1969 after twenty six years of service. He then went on to successful careers in computers and insurance, and earned a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration from St. Leo College at the age of 52.

In later years he turned to writing. He co-authored Golden Slippers, a musical play about the life of James Bland, composer of "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," that was eventually produced by the theater department at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. Ed was a member of the Old Dominion University Institute for Learning in Retirement, and facilitator of the Virginia Beach Writers Association for more than twenty years, authoring numerous articles and winning several contests including second place at the New York Mills, MN-based Great American Think-Off 2012. He was a three time winner of the Valley Forge Freedoms Foundation’s “George Washington Honor Medal”. He wrote for a Norfolk radio station, for the Christopher Newport University magazine, for “Our Navy” magazine and for many other local and national magazines. As an unabashed patriot, he delivered inspiring and well-received presentations about the history and importance of the U.S. flag to many civic, school and workplace organizations. Ed's autobiography, Navy Mustang, was published in 2008 which details his adventure-filled Navy life.
2015 - The Thalia Lions Club of Virginia Beach salutes Lion Debra Laughlin for making a difference by joining Lions with the Foundation Fighting Blindness in their annual Visionwalk.  In the fall of 2011, shortly after joining Thalia Lions, Lion Debra began advancing the idea of having Lions participate in a Hampton Roads Visionwalk. Lion Debra must be given a Lion’s share of the credit for the first Visionwalk in April 2012 when 600 Lions and non-Lion walkers showed up (the largest inaugural Visionwalk ever) and on up through 2014 with the Hampton Roads Visionwalk turning over more than $300,000 to Foundation Fighting Blindness for their three annual walks. For the 2014 walk Lion Debra brought the whole district into the cause by having 24D challenge Lion District 24A to a fund-raising contest with 24D walking away beating 24A, barely, by raising $10,032. With all these firsts, it’s no wonder the Foundation Fighting Blindness awarded Lion Debra as the 2014 Volunteer of the Year.
Jan 2015. The Thalia Lions Club of Virginia Beach salutes Thalia Club’s Lion Nancy Watters for making a difference in the lives of young children by taking on Lions Clubs International Reading Action Program with the result that over 1500 new or gently used books have been put in the hands of young children.  The Reading Action Program is Lions Club International’s 10-year commitment to increase reading and literacy rates in young children. It’s a call to action for every Lions club around the world to organize service projects and activities that underscore the importance of reading and address specific needs related to illiteracy within their own community. 

Through Lion Nancy’s efforts she has embraced the Reading Action Program giving children better reading ability. This is one of our nation’s most important public service missions since the National Assessment of Educational Progress has identified the ability to read by the end of third grade crucial for children to learn other subjects, a proficiency that enables high school graduation and economic success as adults. But about two-thirds of U.S. students in fourth grade don’t meet reading proficiency standards, and those numbers are much higher for children coming from low-income households.

Beginning in 2013 District 24D encouraged every Lions club to collect, stamp, and distribute books for children through Head Start (a national child development program for children from birth to age 5) and at Spot Vision Screenings. Lion Nancy Watters researched and found organizations willing to make grants of children’s books.  “First Book” offered 216 new books free of charge in November of 2013. Those books were given to the Virginia Beach’s Head Start Program just in time for the 2013 Christmas holiday break. Then in the spring Lion Nancy applied for more books from “First Book” and was granted 416 to be picked up at that site.  Those books were given to the Hare Valley Head Start Program on the Eastern Shore in September of 2014.  But by far the largest cash of books discovered by Lion Nancy was at the Salvation Army’s Christmas Warehouse in late December 2014.  Because of a delay in delivery, the Salvation Army did not receive the books until after Christmas, too late to distribute.  With a new shipment for the current year arriving, there was no storage space for these new books on hand. Lion Nancy asked and was given the books if she could picked them up.  The expected approximately 1,000 books turned out to be almost 10,000 ….. 6 pallets, three pickup truck loads! Filling the Watter’s garage, Lion Nancy worked with her husband Lion John and other Lions to stamp the books and deliver them to Head Start Programs in Portsmouth, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Hampton and Newport News; the Rwandan Refugee organization; King William County Lions Club; and 24D Lions Clubs, hospitals, churches and shelters - saving some for 2015 Christmas gifts to children of low income parents.

Lion Nancy continues to amaze Thalia and 24D with her dedication and determination! This is the fourth time Lion Nancy has been featured in “Making a Difference.” In July 2009 Lion Nancy and other Thalia Lions traveled to Wise County to participate in the 2009 Remote Area Medical (RAM) Expedition (attending each year since). In Nov 2011 Lions Nancy and her husband Lion John were commended for their work in obtaining and testing thousands (over 15,000 to date) pre-school children with a $10,000 handheld Spot Vision Screener designed to quickly and easily detects vision issue; and not stopping their Lion Nancy was instrumental in obtaining nine more of these expensive devises for other 24D clubs. In Dec 2013 Lion Nancy and her husband John were among several Thalia Lions who provided holiday gifts and food for several families in need.

Kudos to you Lion Nancy. You have brought honor, distinction and admiration to Thalia Lions and 24D.  You have set a very, very high mark for other Lions to aim for.

History of Lions Club’s International, 24D and Thalia's  Reading Action Program (RAP)

Lions Clubs International is partnered with the following organizations to improve literacy: Reading is Fundamental, Reach Out and Read, USAID, USO, American Foundation for the Blind, Perkins School for the Blind, National Federation for the Blind, and Bookshare.

Lions Clubs in District 24 D became active with the RAP program as part of Children’s Services in September 2013 by asking its club members to “Give a Child a Head Start”.  The goal that year was to collect enough books, either new or gently used, to give every child in a Head Start Program, a book of their own to take home with them.   According to known statistics, children that are able to own their own personal books, are more likely to enjoy reading and improve their reading skills. 

Rising to this challenge, the Lions Clubs of the District made possible the first delivery of books to a Head Start Program in October 2013.  Eight hundred seventy five books were donated to the Head Start Centers in Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Chesapeake.  By the end of the school year, over 4,000 books were collected, stamped with the Lions logo and delivered to every Head Start program in District 24 D.  In the meantime, every Lions club was encouraged to collect, stamp, and distribute books by their own clubs when doing children’s eye screenings.

As Children’s Services Chairperson, Lion Nancy Watters researched and found organizations willing to make grants of children’s books.  First Book offered 216 new books free of charge in November of 2013. Those books were given to the Head Start Program in Virginia Beach just in time for Christmas holiday break.    In the spring of the following year, the same organization announced a distribution in Richmond, Virginia.  Lion Nancy quickly applied for books and was granted 416 to be picked up at that site.  Those books were given to the Hare Valley Head Start Program on the Eastern Shore in September of 2014. 

In November of 2014, Reading is Fundamental announced a joint project with Macy’s department store called “Be Book Smart” to provide books to any charitable organization for distribution to low income children.  Through this grant,   District 24 D received 701 new books free of charge. These books were targeted for the Head Start Programs in the middle neck of Virginia.

By far the largest distribution of free books came from the Salvation Christmas Warehouse in December of 2014.  Because of a delay in delivery, The Salvation Army did not receive the books until after Christmas, too late to distribute.  With a new shipment for the current year arriving, there was no storage space for last year’s books.
Lion Nancy asked and was given the books if they could be picked up.  The 1,000 or so books that was expected turned out to be almost 10,000 ….. 6 pallets, three pickup truck loads!

On Jan. 20th, over 4,000 books will be delivered to the Head Start Program administered by the Office of Human Affairs, Portsmouth, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Hampton, and Newport News.  Over 500 books will be delivered to the new Lions club in King William County for their elementary and Head Start programs.

Zone Chairs and interested Lions have been offered books to be distributed at screenings and placed in hospitals all over the district. 

In addition to Head Start programs, hospitals, and children’s eye screenings, books have been donated to 5 different church food pantries, 2 shelters, to the Rwandan Refugee organization, and as Christmas gifts for children of low income parents.

The Reading Action Program of District 24 D has resulted in the collection and distribution of over 15,000 new or gently used books in the last 14 months.  It is amazing what Lions can do when they take on a project with dedication and determination!

Dec 2013. The Thalia Lions Club of Virginia Beach has made a difference this holiday season for several families in need, and for that effort salutes Lions Jack Wagner (his wife Joan), Brad Furman, Aziz Selahi, John and Nancy Watters, Irene Conlin, Steve Rosnov, Stan and Jerry Furman, and several other Thalia volunteers who stepped up to help out.

Head Start provided Thalia Lions with five families whose children would be going without holiday gifts, warm clothing and enough food; and a community food bank identified a family in need. Thalia had funds from the club charitable fund account to help only one family and chose the Scott family with 5 children. With Thalia funds and personal contributions Lion Jack Wagner and his wife, Joan, put together a Thalia Lions Holiday care package and will be meeting with the Scott family Thursday December 17th to give them toys, food, coats, gloves, and hats for the children and mother. In addition they are being provided funds to purchase a turkey or ham.

After voting to help the Scott family something wonderful happened at the November 4th business meeting. In order not to let the other families go without, Thalia Lions stepped forward to help the rest of the families the Thalia budget could not accommodate. Providing their person funds were Lions Brad Furman, assisted by his BNI business group; Lion Aziz Selahi, helped by Lions John and Nancy Watters; Lions Irene Conlin, helped by Lion Steve Rosnov; and Lions Stan and Jerry Furman. Several others volunteered to help out providing direct donations. Thalia lions did not hesitate - they jumped at the chance to cover all the needs, choosing families, forming small groups, discussing approaches, all to target each name. In addition to the five names submitted by Head Start, Thalia Lions volunteered to cover the needs of the family suggested by the local food bank.

District Governor Donnie Johnson wrote the following, “This is a very heartwarming thing that you are doing especially during the Holiday Season and I am very proud of the members of the Thalia Lions Club for helping all of these families. This is truly a heart project and one that inspires all of us to do a little more and show the spirit of being a Lion to others. "We Serve" is much more than a is the core of why we became a Lion in the first place. Lions from all over our District are busy helping those that need help all year long and doing projects to help those in need. We do not help people for the kudos......we help people because we care and know it is the right thing to do. Thank you so much for sharing this with me. God bless each of you.”

Update: The same generosity was matched during the 2014 holiday season, an affair that is sure to become an annual Thalia tradition.

Nov 2012. The Thalia Lions Club of Virginia Beach salutes Pamela Brown, Senior & Disability Services Librarian at Bayside & Special Services Library, for making a difference with the blind and low-visioned. She has brought distinction to a local library for service to the broader Hampton Roads area. Through her efforts, Bayside & Special Services Library has become the central Hampton Roads location for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) program.

In June 2010 the NLS presented Brown with one of the annual “Network Sub-regional Library of the Year Awards” which carries a $1,000 cash prize. Pamela Brown, accepting the award on behalf of the Library, said, “We danced in the hallway when we learned we won the award. We’ve been striving for a number of years to meet the standards, and we hope to keep up the good work. Personally, I’m particularly pleased with the amount of media attention we’ve been able to get. I think it’s absolutely critical that we stay in the public eye at all times. This year, we’ve succeeded.”

In October 2011, with help from the Hampton Roads Blind Lions Club and a grant from the Friends of the Virginia Beach Public Library, Brown launched an awareness campaign event to bring reading into the lives of vision-impaired and blind children, veterans, seniors - residents of all ages not realizing they have the option to read, much less to have free materials sent directly to them at home. The event showcased tools and technologies that make living with low vision easier, including a money identifier, a camera that works with computers to read printed text, NLS services, and more. Brown said, “The NLS service is life-changing for participants. Our readers range from people who were born blind, to those who lost sight later in life due to disease, to those who can’t hold a book because of effects from multiple sclerosis or other physical impairment.” See

In November, 2012, Thalia Lions Debra Laughlin and Irene Conlin joined with Brown at the library to host the inauguration of a monthly program called “Seeing Beyond Youth” for a visually impaired teens craft workshop and get-together. The Thalia Lions Club donated materials for the workshop. Besides holding meetings for blind and low-vision adults, Brown thought it was time to create a support group for the younger generation. Blind and low-vision teens are often unable to participate in the same school events and programs as their sighted peers. Lion Conlin, whose daughter was among the teen participants, said of her daughter, “This gives her the opportunity to network with kids her age and develop age-appropriate behavior. It’s all about building a community.” See

Thalia Lions Laughlin and Conlin’s participation in “Seeing Beyond Youth” grew out of a 2012/13 partnership between the American Foundation for the Blind and Lions Clubs International (LCI) 2012/13 theme “In a World of Service.” See

On Jan 5, 2011 Brown was the Thalia Lions Club’s guest speaker where she explained the talking book program for the blind.

As of 2011 about 15,000 Virginia Beach residents who have visual or physical impairments qualified to receive “talking books” and Braille items mailed to them, free, from NLS, but only about 3% of them use the service. Brown is tirelessly working to make people aware of these services and her special services library. For this and for so much more, Pamela Brown is making a real difference to the Hampton Roads area.

Nov 2011 - The Thalia Lions Club of Virginia Beach salutes Thalia Lions Nancy and John Watters for making a difference by detecting possible vision problems in young children for referral to ophthalmologists and optometrists. District 24-D had been using an eye screening instrument (the MTI Photoscreener) since 1999, a system that was poor in detection, took considerable time in producing results, and used Polaroid instant film that was increasingly more expensive to buy. When in the fall of 2009, Lion John Watters, District 24-D Sight Conservation Chair, began researching new techniques for screening pre-school children, he learned about the PediaVision Screening Assessment System that shows instant results. With the purchase of the first PediaVision device in September 2010, Lion Nancy, now District 24-D Children’s Services/PediaVision Co-Chairperson, worked tirelessly to screen children. Through their work Lions Nancy and John realized the considerable benefits of PediaVision and turned their efforts to persuading the rest of the 24-D clubs to use it. As a consequence, preschool eye screening has grown exponentially with most clubs in 24-D now having access to the expensive ($9,600) PediaVision system (one in each zone; i.e. five machines with two upgrade instruments called SPOT). As a result of their hard work the number of children screened by 24-D clubs is expected to surpass 8,000 by the end of the year. Nationwide, up to 15 percent of preschool children between the ages of three and five have a vision condition that, if not corrected, can result in reduced vision followed by poor performance in school. Unfortunately, many parents are unaware of their children’s eye problems because vision problems are not painful and children do not know how well they see. Lions Nancy and John bring credit to District 24-D through their laudable efforts in providing for the next generation’s vision.
See the Wed Oct 19, 2011 Article in the Suffolk News-Herald, “Can You See Me Now?” Lions John and Nancy Watters tests 3-year-old Amayah Lee’s eyes at the CDI Head Start Center.

Update:  Lion Nancy has assembled Lions throughout 24-D to test over 35,000 pre-school children with the new Spot machine. Not stopping there, Lion Nancy has been instrumental in obtaining nine more of these expensive devises for other 24D clubs.

History of Preschool Screening in District 24-D
Updated November 2011 by Lion John Watters.

Preschool vision screening began in the district about 25 years ago when the Western Branch Lions Club began screening with the help of Prevent Blindness in Richmond. After the 24-D Charity Foundation bought an MTI Photoscreener™ for nurses in Gloucester in 1996 at the suggestion of Lion Hauser Weiler, its success in screening prompted the purchase of a device for the District in 1999. Eventually many clubs began using the several photoscreeners in the district. Direct measure of vision (a subjective method) using the HOTV and stereopsis methods began in 2005. The use of the PediaVision Screening Assessment System™ was introduced to the district in September 2010. The ease and speed of screening with this latest device reactivated the entire district’s interest in this important community service.
In the fall of 2009, Lion John Watters, District 24-D Sight Conservation Chair, began researching new techniques for screening pre-school children. The MTI Photoscreener had lost all manufacturer support, was statistically poor in detection and delayed in producing results. It also used Polaroid™ instant film that was increasingly more expensive to buy. Lion John learned that were two new devices being sold, the Welch-Allen Sure-Sight and the PediaVision Screening Assessment System. The Sure-Sight was a monocular (one eye at a time) device and the PediaVision was binocular and would indicate mis-aligned eyes (strabismus). The name PediaVision was the USA name for the PlusOptic screener developed in Germany, now marketed by a company in Florida. It was being used by Lions in Alaska, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. Enthused by the description and on-line videos of the PediaVision, Lion John asked local pediatric ophthalmologists for their recommendation. After their positive remarks, he contacted both the Western Branch Lions Club and the 24-D Charity Foundation in October 2009, proposing the purchase of one device as a trial. District Charity funds were tight and there was no interest in using this expensive equipment. In the spring of 2010, both the DG (Lion Gary Rapier) and VDG (Lion Donna Weiler) became interested in PediaVision and were quite supportive in attempting to obtain one. Use of the PediaVision for screening became the District Governor’s Signature Project under DG Donna for the 2010 – 2011 Lions’ year. The company was contacted and many questions asked. Lions John and Nancy Watters spoke to a number of Lions Clubs about PediaVision, and Lion Hauser Weiler wrote grant requests to LCIF, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation and the O’Shaughnessy-Hurst Foundation. At the District 24-C District Conference on September 18, 2010, a demonstration by the sales representative from PediaVision, Jeff Mortensen, was presented, with several Lions from 24-D attending. After the demonstration, Lions Hauser and Donna (then the DG for 24-D) Weiler ordered two units for the district. These orders anticipated the approval of a grant in progress, and an anonymous donor provided funds for the second unit. On September 26, 2010, the first unit was delivered and the first screening of a preschool was carried out at the preschool associated with Norfolk State University. The sponsoring club was the Norfolk Mid-Town Lions Club, assisted by Thalia Lions John and Nancy Watters. Lion Nancy was subsequently appointed the PediaVision Chair for the district, to organize training and use of the devices. Additional units of PediaVision devices were added to the district’s armamentarium as the grants from the O’Shaughnessy-Hurst (one unit), the Hampton Roads Community Foundation (one unit) and Lions Clubs International Foundation (matching for two units) were approved. Lion John Watters submitted grant requests to the Obici Health Care Foundation in Suffolk and the Ronald McDonald House Foundation in Norfolk, both subsequently approved (one unit each). Approved in September 2011 is a grant request to the City of Virginia Beach Community Organization board from the Central Lions Club of Virginia Beach to purchase one devices. Since the first PediaVision screening in September 2010, the district has screened more than 6,440 children under the age of 10. In order to keep accurate records, statistics are being compiled as screenings are completed. Many clubs are now “certified” as being capable of organizing and performing preschool screenings. The certification process consists of learning about the PediaVision method, learning how to set up a screening with the necessary documents and then being observed and supervised during a screening. This method of “training the trainer” is working well to spread the ability to run an effective screening. In addition to preschool screening, the PediaVisions are being used to screen non-verbal children and as an adult automated refractor in the district’s health care activities (Lions Medical Assistance Projects or LAMP’s). This permits the eye doctors at a LAMP to have refraction information before the exam to speed the refinement of the prescription for eyeglasses. The latest development in this preschool eye screening project is the interest being shown by other districts in Virginia. Several other districts have submitted grant requests and are actively interested in following 24-D in the use of the PediaVision.

Oct 5, 2010 - The Thalia Lions Club of Virginia Beach, Virginia, salutes Nurse Debra Laughlin for making a difference in her efforts in bringing eye disease awareness to Virginia Beach. On Oct 9th, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. under the guidance of Laughlin and the members of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church Parish Nursing Ministry there will be a free health fair at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 5181 Princess Anne Rd, Virginia Beach. Presenters will include a plastic surgeon, a chiropractor, a pharmacist, a dental assistant and others. Debra will there providing information from the Foundation Fighting Blindness, of which she is a member. Blood pressure and blood sugar screenings will be conducted plus free glucometers for diabetic patients in need. Skin cancer tests, body mass index checks, immunization schedules, and advanced directives will be reviewed.The Virginian-Pilot on September 30, 2010 featured Debra Laughlin in an article titled, “Free Health Fair in VB on Oct. 9,” by Scott Mathews: “I was driving and couldn’t see the signs,” Laughlin says. “I figured it was time to get my eyes checked for glasses.” Her eye doctor told her she had progressive cone-rod dystrophy, a low-vision retinal disease similar to macular degeneration. “Unfortunately, I have a blend of macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosis,” she says. “It’s like looking at a target, but I can’t see where the red circles are on that target. As my vision gets worse, my target gets smaller and there’s nothing in the middle. There is no treatment. There is no cure,” she explains. Laughlin worked as a certified registered nurse anesthetist with Atlantic Anesthesia for 20 years. “I loved my job,” she says, "but, in 2007, I had to resign my position because I could no longer read as a result of my visual disability. The following year was stressful. I felt sorry for myself.  But the next year," she says, “I wanted to get out and work. And, the third, I began volunteering.” It was during that time that the Rev. John Baldwin of Emmanuel Episcopal Church encouraged Laughlin to help organize the Parish Nursing Ministry. “I had returned from a conference quite taken with the idea of meeting the physical and spiritual health of our church’s community,” he says. “I knew she had a background as a nurse. I was aware of her condition. I believed she was the ideal candidate to chair this outreach program.” At the Health Fair, “I hope to create an awareness of the varying eye diseases as well as the growing population of people with visual disabilities,” she says. “Over nine million Americans are affected with blinding retinal diseases. In Virginia alone there are over 139,000 people with some kind of visual loss. “People need to know that these types of eye diseases progress slowly. Those blind people living in poverty face a difficult life. It’s a travesty.” Laughlin hopes to meet more people with visual disabilities at Emmanuel’s health fair. She hopes to form a chapter of the Foundation Fighting Blindness in Hampton Roads. And she plans to continue working to create awareness of the various visual disabilities. “I have great admiration for her work in organizing our health fair,” Baldwin says. “I know the Foundation Fighting Blindness is close to her heart. She’s passionate about it.”

Update: After hearing about her in the Pilot, she was invited to be the keynote speaker at Thalia and subsequently joined our club.
Aug 9, 2010 - The Thalia Lions Club of Virginia Beach, Virginia, salutes Dr Tom Little, 61, for making a difference in treating eye diseases and training locals in optometry in Northeastern Afghanistan. He was the team leader of a ten member group of medical professionals — six Americans, two Afghans, one German, and a Briton who were on their way back to Kabul after a two-week mission in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan province about 160 miles north of Kabul where they provided medical care to isolated Afghan villagers. After hiking for more than 10 hours over rugged mountains, unarmed and without security, Dr Tom Little and all but one of his team were killed Aug 7th 2010 in a Taliban ambush. They were gunned down in a gruesome slaughter that the Taliban said they carried out, alleging the volunteers were spying and trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. The gunmen spared an Afghan driver, who recited verses from the Islamic holy book Quran as he begged for his life. . “He consciously put his life on the line for his beliefs,” Dr. Little’s brother, John Little, 62, said in a telephone interview from Florida. Dr. Tom Little, a senior ophthalmologist (eye physician and surgeon) from Delmar, New York, worked in Afghanistan for more than 30 years. He and his wife, Libby, reared three daughters in Kabul. Dr Little was affectionately known as “Mister Tom” amongst the many staff at the National Organization for Ophthalmic Rehabilitation (NOOR). As an ophthalmologist and manager at NOOR, he set up clinics and ophthalmic workshops. He was much loved by both foreigners and Afghans, and was the inspiration for others coming to Afghanistan, sticking it out through the Soviet invasion of the 1980s, and the vicious civil war of the 1990s, when Afghan warlords rained rockets on Kabul. He was briefly expelled with other Western aid workers in August 2001 but returned after the Taliban were ousted from power three months later. Continuing his work at NOOR Dr. Little supervised a string of hospitals and clinics offering treatment for eye diseases. He oversaw hospitals and clinics, trained locals in either “eye care,” “medical care,” or “ophthalmic care;” and administering care in the most rural of areas. Dr. Little also worked with the International Assistance Mission, an “international charitable, non-profit, Christian organization, serving the people of Afghanistan.” leaves behind his wife and 3 daughters.
April 19, 2010 - The Thalia Lions of Virginia Beach salute Haitian Lions Club Zone Chairperson William Eliacin whose initial earthquake response paved the way for efficient and orderly reception of a swift world wide outpouring of Lion support. Despite insurmountable hardships, including sleeping in his car, Lion William worked nonstop for 12 days after the initial tremor to mobilize local Lions and direct Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) in their most productive method of assistance, i.e., an immediate supply of water, food, and medical supplies for use at a hospital and orphanage. The Lions Clubs of adjacent Dominican assisted in breaking up log jams at the Port-au-Prince airport by ferrying contributed supplies across the border to Haiti from the Dominican Republic. Under the continuing direction of Lion William, local Lions Clubs Port Au Prince Central, Port Au Prince Delmas, and a Leo Club built three tent cities, each accommodating 1,200 people in Delmas, Blanchard, and Carrefour-Feuille. Local Haitian Lions together with outside Lions are currently providing essential support needed to maintain these 3,600 Lion tent-city displaced Haitians. Lion William continues his efforts by directing a committee of local Lions leaders to insure sustained relief efforts and to develop long-term plans for reconstruction of a school and ophthalmic clinic. Lion William said during a recent interview, “We want to show the Lions and the Haitian people in general that the Lions Club is an extraordinary organization, that we are here and that our motto is, ‘We Serve’”. (see The 45,000 Lions Clubs and their 1.3 million members across the world have donated over $4.3 million to “Lions Hope for Haiti,” Lions and Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) working together to provide relief and hope for the people of Haiti. See Jan 2010 - Lions Hope for Haiti- 2010 – An important message from Al Brandel, LCIF Chairman, please view @ Feb 2010 - Lions Hope for Haiti
Feb 2010 - LCIF Continues to Respond One Month After Haiti Earthquake

Dec 16, 2009 - The Thalia Lions salute Barbara Benson, RN, for making a difference in her fight against diabetes in children. She is the program manager of the “Healthy You” weight management program at The Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk. In her struggle against type 2 diabetes in youth, she has helped countless children by changing their life style to become less obese. Overweight children not only suffer from self-esteem and body image, but they will moist likely suffer from the deadly duo of type 2 diabetes and hypertension, leading to early vascular disease and later to heart disease and strokes. Because of poor diet, obesity, and lack of exercise, for the first time American children’s life expectancy will be shorter than that of their parents according to a report published in The New England Journal of Medicine, March 2005. Type 2 diabetes develops over time and the most common risk factor is simply being overweight. Even modest weight loss will reduce the chance of developing type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. See “Children's Life Expectancy Being Cut Short by Obesity,” New York Times by Pam Belluck, Mar 17, 2005 - and “Diabetes Mellitus Type 2” from Wikipedia -
For children who struggle to maintain a healthy weight, Barbara has worked hard to improve their health and fitness through her innovative “Healthy You” weight management program. She asserts that even making one or two of the changes from Healthy You's "Countdown to Family Fitness: 5-4-3-2-1'' program will help. Here are her five life saving steps.See “Countdown to Family Fitness,” -
Five: Serve at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. It's easier than it sounds: half a cup of veggies or half a medium-sized banana, for example, counts as a serving. Keep sliced fruits and vegetables within easy reach of children.
Four: Give kids four servings of water a day. Avoid soda and sugary juices — they're very high in calories and sugar — give them their own water bottles to fill up and keep a pitcher of water on the kitchen table.
Three: Aim for three daily servings of low-fat dairy products, which are rich in the calcium a child's growing body needs. Examples of one serving are an 8 oz. glass of milk or yogurt and 1½ ounces of cheese.
Two: Limit a child's total daily "screen time'' to two hours or less (the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time at all for kids younger than 2). That includes watching television, being on a computer and playing video games.
One: Encourage children to get at least an hour of physical activity every day. Plan active family outings, sign up for team or individual sports and, if your neighborhood is safe, get kids to go outside and exercise by playing or riding a bike.
When working with children, Barbara involves the parents, incorporating parent education as a way of empowering parents and helping build family stability. With a background in pediatric nursing, Barbara has worked with children and families for many years and continues to enjoy the challenges they present. She works with clients on a variety of issues besides obesity.
Barbara states, “Children who weigh more than they should, risk serious health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. Self-esteem and body image can also suffer. If your child struggles to maintain a healthy weight, Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters weight management program can help.”
* See "Healthy You" - Weight Management Program,” -
For Holiday meals Barbara Benson gives this advice. "The average person is gonna gain about five pounds. There are some things you can do to cut the calories in those deliciously fattening meals. A website called lists calorie saving cooking swaps. I think anytime that you can reduce the calories and still have the finished product taste good, it's a win-win situation.”
* See “Holiday Meals Don't Have to Pack on the Pounds, Experts Say,” by Vanessa Coria of, Dec 15, 2009 -
Barbara Benson, RN, at (757) 668-7035
"Healthy You" fact sheets and class schedule -
Also see the following articles:
Study: Cost of Treating Diabetes to Triple by 2034” by Caleb Hellerman, CNN Medical News senior producer, Nov 27, 2009 -
Health Crisis in the United States” by the Children’s Nutrition Collection, a database designed to provide librarians and teachers with the ability to search for specific books and other media that support the nutrition education topics outlined in the California's Department of Education’s SHAPE (Shaping Health as Partners in Education) Nutrition Competencies for Children program for kids -
Nov 2, 2009 - The Thalia Lions Club salutes research scientists for making a difference. A plethora of recent announcements in eyesight research has been heralded as unprecedented and seen as a major breakthrough in giving sight to the 314 million people visually impaired worldwide, 45 million of them being blind. The following is a list those researchers and their work;
* Dr. Brian Mech, Vice President of Second Sight Medical Products in Sylmar, Calif. - Stem cells and bionics correcting retinal disease.
*Dr. Raymond Lund, Professor of Ophthalmology at the Casey Eye Institute at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) - Stem Cell Transplants to prevent age-related macular degeneration.
* Dr. Robert Aramant of the University of California, Irvine - Transplanting sheets of fetal retinal cells into patients with macular degeneration.
* Dr. Natalia Caporale at the University of California Berkeley - Engineered light-sensitive molecules introduced into a blind eye
* Dr. David Gamm Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual sciences at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health – Growing retina cells from from the patient's own skin stem cells to repair damaged retinas.
* Dr Katherine High of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia - Gene Therapy for Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA)
* Dr Jean Bennett of the University of Pennsylvania - Gene Therapy for LCA
* Professor Iqbal Ahmad of the University of Nebraska Medical Center - Replacing cells lost to degenerative diseases with stem cells
Chicago Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting - Oct 19 and 20, 2009.
At the 2009 annual meeting, the world's largest source of emerging news on brain science and health, five study findings were announced that hold great promise to cure sight impairment and blindness.
1 - Bionic Eye Opens New World of Sight For Blind – Oct 20, 2009
Diseases of the retina cause blindness by damaging the cells that line the back of the eye, where images of the world are normally transformed into nerve impulses that go to the brain. Now there may be a cure. Dr. Brian Mech, Vice President of Second Sight Medical Products in Sylmar, Calif. reported that stem cells and electronics can help restore vision to people who've been blinded by retinal diseases. He said, "There's very little therapeutic treatment out there right now for people with diseased retinas.” Second Sight has developed an experimental bionic eye that has been tried in more than 30 patients with macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa. Each patient wore a pair of glasses that incorporated a video camera.. The video signal from the camera were sent to an implant on the eye itself, which in turns communicated with an array of electrodes attached to the patient's retina. Those electrodes performed what the old retina could not do anymore, i.e., send electrical signals to the brain that allowed the patient to see. Patients' brains usually took a little while to make sense of the new signals, but they learned to use the device better over time. The artificial eye used just 60 electrodes to replace millions of retinal cells, therefore the restored vision was rudimentary, but the patients could find doors and follow lines on the floor, but most were not able to read. Despite these limitations, Mech said patients who have received one tend to get emotional when they realize they can see even a little bit.
2 - Stem Cell Transplants May Prevent Devastating Eye Diseases - Age-related macular degeneration is a major retinal disorder that results in progressive loss of vision. The macula is the part of the eye that allows people to see fine detail. People with macular degeneration gradually lose the ability to see objects clearly and perform ordinary tasks such as reading and driving. Now stem cells transplanted into the back of the eye may prevent macular degeneration and has potential to lead to treatment for millions of macular degeneration patients. Dr. Raymond Lund, professor of ophthalmology at the Casey Eye Institute at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) has demonstrated that placing human neural stem cells in the back of the eye of rats protects cone photoreceptors in the eye from progressive degeneration and preserves eyesight. Dr. Lund said, "This could have a huge impact on people with macular degeneration. There are drugs to treat people with wet macular degeneration – caused by leaking blood vessels invading the eye – but no effective treatments for earlier forms of macular degeneration. We are looking at catching people who are at risk for developing the disease and hopefully sustaining their vision and preventing catastrophic loss of sight." David Wilson, M.D., Director of the Casey Eye Institute said, "It's exciting to have the potential to prevent vision loss from macular degeneration, which affects some 7 million Americans and millions of other people worldwide." Dr. Lund’s team discovered that the stem cell transplants are safe and long lasting. The results will help researchers gain FDA approval for clinical trials within the next few years. See 3 - Fetal Retinal Cells and Transplant. A team led by Dr. Robert Aramant of the University of California, Irvine, using fetal retinal cells, has been treating patients suffering from retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration. His approach is to retrieve an intact sheet of fetal retinal cells and transplant the entire sheet into a damaged eye. The transplanted cells then mature the same way they would in a developing fetus, creating all the layers of a normal retina. Aramant said seven of ten patients got better, including one woman whose vision went from 20-800, which is severely impaired, to 20-200, which is good enough for many daily tasks. After treatment, Aramant said, the woman was able to play computer games, write emails, and read a large-print version of Reader's Digest.
4 - Creating New Light-Sensitive Molecules in The Eye. Engineered, light-sensitive molecules introduced into a blind rodent's eye resulted in vision, according to results from an interdisciplinary collaboration between numerous labs. The results could lead to treatments for people with inherited, blinding eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, which affects one in every 3,000 individuals. Dr. Natalia Caporale at the University of California Berkeley, the study's first author, said, "This approach could prove to be a viable therapeutic option for people who have lost significant vision and are in the late stages of retinal degeneration" By manipulating existing proteins that human brains normally use to transmit information between neurons, they can be made light sensitive. The researchers focused on several light-sensitive proteins, each with its own unique properties that could be fine- tuned to meet researchers' specific needs. One such engineered protein, LiGluR (Light Activated Glutamate Receptor), can turn neuronal activity on and off upon illumination with specific wavelengths of light. There are many glutamate receptors in the human brain, but they are not normally light sensitive. Caporale said these experiments “could prove to be a viable therapeutic option for people who have lost significant vision and are in the late stages of retinal degeneration." Her research is being supported by the Nanomedicine Development Center for the Optical Control of Biological Function and the Foundation Fighting Blindness. See also Science Daily (Oct. 21, 2009)
5 - Growing Retina Cells from Skin-Derived Stem Cells. Dr. David Gamm Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual sciences at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and his team of scientists have successfully grown multiple types of retina cells from two types of stem cells, suggesting a future in which damaged retinas could be repaired by cells grown from the patient's own skin. The discovery is expected to lead to laboratory models for studying genetically linked eye conditions, screening new drugs to treat those conditions, and understanding the development of the human eye. Dr. Gamm said, the research "shows how similar the process is to normal human retinal development. That is quite remarkable given that the starting cell is so different from a retinal cell and the whole process takes place in a plastic dish. We continue to be amazed at how deep we can probe into these early events and find that they mimic those found in developing retinas. Perhaps this is the way to close the gap between what we know about building a retina in mice, frogs and flies with that of humans." In normal human development, embryonic stem cells begin to differentiate into more specialized cell types about five days after fertilization. The retina develops from a group of cells that arise during the earliest stages of the developing nervous system. Dr.Gamm’s Wisconsin team took cells from skin, turned them back into cells resembling embryonic stem cells, then triggered the development of retinal cell types. See “Macular Degeneration Research's Notes -Researchers Grow Retina Cells From Skin-Derived Stem Cells,”
August 26, 2009
Sep 29, 2009 - The Thalia Lions Club salutes Associate Professor Dennis Hong and his Virginia Tech Mechanical Engineering Department’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa - for making a difference by taking one small step for man and one giant leap for the blind. Dr. Hong is a National Science Foundation Career Award recipient. (see
Developing a car that can be operated by the blind is the same ingenuity that got us to the moon. The project was launched in 2004, when the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute challenged university research teams to develop a vehicle that would one day allow the blind to drive. Virginia Tech was the only school in the nation to respond to the challenge. Prof. Charli Reinholtz started the original Blind Driver Challenge team when he was at Virginia Tech, which was later taken over by Associate Professor Dennis Hong when in 2006 he directed his RoMeLa students to start over from scratch with a brand new approach - This ground- breaking project quickly became one of several successes from Dr. Hong's world-renowned RoMeLa. Using only a $3,000 grant provided by the National Federation of the Blind, the Virginia Tech team was able to retrofit a four-wheel dirt buggy with laser range finders to act as the driver's "eyes," instant voice commands, and other technologies to allow the blind to drive completely on their own. Earlier this summer, some visually impaired people got the first chance to test-drive the vehicle on a closed course at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. The team then went on in July 2009 to the National Federation of the Blind's Youth Slam on the University of Maryland College Park campus, giving 20 blind youth the chance to test-drive the vehicle. The youth said it was an opportunity they never thought possible. The National Federation of the Blind hailed the project as a major breakthrough and said RoMeLa’s technology has enormous potential to help the visually impaired and blind to become more independent.

Sep 5, 2009 -The Thalia Lions Club salutes Dr. Barry Strasnick for making a difference. Dr. Strasnick is head of the Olotology-Neurotology Division, Department of Otolaryngology at the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) -; President of the Coalition for Hearing, Education and Research (CHEAR) non-profit organization -; and architect of the Virginia Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) law which requires that all Virginia hospitals screen the hearing of all newborns prior to discharge and report to the Virginia Department of Health Dr Strasnick is a specialist in the fields of chronic ear infections, Cochlear implants, and hearing disorders. Dr. Strasnick regularly takes time out from his busy practice at EVMS to speak to civic groups about the importance of newborn hearing screening and providing needed services for disorders of the ear to those who would not otherwise have the resources. Dr. Strasnick spoke August 21st at the Wards Corner Lions Club Lunch meeting where Thalia Club Traveling Leos were in attendance. The CHEAR organization is currently raising funds for a mobile hearing van. Dr. Strasnick has not inspected the Lions 24D Sight and Hearing Van - but was invited to do so at the luncheon. Some type of hearing loss resources between CHEAR and 24D might prove beneficial to both charity organizations. For example, donated hearing aids are accepted at the EVMS Hearing and Balance Center (422-9300) to be refurbished by Prairie Labs Inc - for $80 and provided to Hampton Roads residents at low cost or free of charge; whereas the Lions clubs in 24D turn in used hearing aids to the Lions Eye Glass Recycling Center of Eastern VA‎ (4205 W Mercury Blvd, Hampton, VA‎ - 825-3399) for donation to the Lions Clubs International Foundation to be provided to individuals in need outside of the United States.
July 30, 2009- The Thalia Lions salutes Thalia Lions Club members Nancy and John Watters for making a difference. During the week of 26 July 2009, they traveled to Wise County, some 460 miles from Virginia Beach, at their own expense to participate in the 2009 Remote Area Medical (RAM) Expedition in Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains. They have given a week of their time to become part of about 1,800 volunteers providing health care to thousands of local residents in dire need of their services. This was not there first year as they have been for a number of prior years.

Update: Joining the Watters in the past number of years have been Lion Linda Eggleston with husband Steve, Lion Susan Sumnick with husband Mick and Lion Fran Scott plus friends of Lions.As representatives of the Thalia Lions Club, their exemplary service brings praiseworthy credit, not only to them, but to the club.

See the NPR article “Rural Medical Camp Tackles Health Care Gaps”@ Lions Roar at RAM Health Expedition in Wise,” @ Saint Stan Brock: Founder of RAM:This man has come to the rescue of nearly 200,000 poor Americans who can’t afford to see a doctor. So who is Stan Brock — and why has a penniless 72-year-old Brit devoted his life to solving the US healthcare crisis? It’s nearly 6am on a Saturday in early February and pitch-black on the fringes of the Smoky Mountains in Knoxville, Tennessee. A tall, lean man with thick grey hair in a weathered leather bomber jacket and khaki uniform strides over to the metal gate where a crowd has gathered. Hundreds of people, shivering and wrapped in blankets, push gently forward, each clutching a tiny paper ticket. Some are elderly. Some have teeth chattering and are aching so badly that they can barely stand. Most have slept in their cars. The man before them is about to call out numbers. He will provide assistance. He will end their suffering. “Okay, folks,” he shouts, his breath visible in the frigid air, “we’re going to bring in the first 50.” He stands bone-straight, hands clasped behind him. A British voice, sonorous and genial, silences the crowd. He begins calling out numbers. One by one they step forward. Through the open gate, up the small paved hill and into the building. They move at different paces. A few are limping, others are skipping, and one woman in her twenties and wearing flannel pajama bottoms and bootee slippers is jumping for joy as she races indoors. They have not won something. Nor are they the first to arrive for a concert or a state fair. They are excited because soon they will have the chance to see a doctor, a dentist or an ophthalmologist. All they have been given is the opportunity to have their basic healthcare needs met. No payment necessary. No questions asked. For the next two days, the Jacobs building will house the 561st Remote Area Medical (Ram) expedition. In just a few short hours its empty structure will be transformed into a mammoth field hospital. Less than 24 hours earlier, the Ram trucks arrived with medical supplies. Dental chairs, sterilising machines, auto-refractors and eye charts, everything from the silver for fillings to wooden tongue depressors. Volunteers began unpacking boxes of sterile gloves, opening crates of cotton wool and paper gowns, delineating sections for eye clinics and examination rooms. Hundreds of volunteers, thousands of dollars of equipment — all of it donated. Stan Brock is the man overseeing the operation. He founded the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps, a non-profit-making organisation, in 1985, but he had the idea when he lived in the Amazon in the 1950s. He has carried out medical relief missions all over the world, but increasingly his focus has been on the poorest Americans. So who is this British man, living in the middle of the Bible Belt in Tennessee and trying to solve America’s healthcare crisis? It might be a temporary fix, but he is driven by those in desperate need, and his devotion is paying off. How did he become a hero for so many? The Ram headquarters operates out of a 37,000-square-foot schoolhouse that Brock leases from the city of Knoxville for $1 a year. This is his home. On Friday morning, the day before this year’s event is due to start, Brock shows me round. The plaster is peeling off the walls, it is damp and cold, and many of the volunteers work in parkas. We walk through the schoolhouse as Brock, still fit and strong in his seventies, leads the way to a classroom where we’ll sit and talk. This is the only time I see him seated for the next 48 hours. Brock was born in Lancashire in 1936 and grew up mainly in South Wales and along the south coast of England. He had been given a scholarship to the Canford school in Dorset, but dropped out at 16 to join his mother and father, a civil servant who had been posted to British Guiana on the northern coast of South America — now known as Guyana. His life story unfolds like an action-packed western where Brock is the hero. For the next 15 years he lived as a cowboy with the Wapishana Indians on Dadanawa ranch in the Amazon. It was during this time that he was inspired to start a volunteer medical-relief corps that would bring free healthcare to people who were poor and isolated. In the US, Brock is remembered as the star of Wild Kingdom, a popular TV series about wildlife conservation that began in the late 1960s. Off the back of this, Brock starred in a few films in the 1970s that were low on plot but packed with animals. There are fading posters on the wall from Escape from Angola and Forgotten Wilderness. On this poster, Brock is pictured in a swamp wrestling a real anaconda. Also hanging on the wall is Brock’s tae-kwon-do black belt and several framed photographs — he looks more at ease in the ones with lion cubs than in those with humans. He was often referred to as “the original crocodile hunter”. Forty years later, his adventurous spirit is still thriving. Part James Bond, part Gandhi, he moves with purposeful velocity. He seems incapable of wasting time. And because he has, as he says, “no dependants”, he is utterly, passionately committed to Ram. He needs very little. Brock sleeps on the floor on a mat, and his main companion is a stray dog, Rambeau, who is now blind. Until six months ago, the two of them showered outside in the courtyard with a hose, but when the temperatures dipped below freezing, ice cubes came out of the nozzle, so an indoor shower has been installed. There is no hot water? “No,” he says, recoiling. “Hot water is bad for you.” Brock does not take a salary and has no income. “I am here 365 days a year, all day, every year.” All of his money has gone into the organisation. He has no car, no house, no possessions, no bank account. He was sending in tax returns with “zero” under income for so long, the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) informed him it wasn’t necessary for him to file. “This is all I do. I do not need money. I had oatmeal to eat this morning and one of the volunteers brought the oatmeal.” He laughingly admits he has taken a vow of poverty. He does not go to restaurants because he’s not able to pay the bill, and he doesn’t miss it. He lives on a diet of rice, beans, fruit and oatmeal, and only occasionally protein, such as a can of tuna. The only beverages he drinks are water and 100% fruit juice. He has never had a fizzy drink. Every day, sometimes waking up at 4am, he does two hours of exercise — tae kwon do, 600 sit-ups, and running, but only on a soft surface. He will ride his bicycle out to the local airport or soccer field and run around on the grass. Personal details are hard to pin down. There is brief mention of a marriage, which, he says protectively, “didn’t work out”. He has no children, and later I discover his marriage lasted for 12 years. His family is his work — and the volunteers he surrounds himself with. Twelve years ago the operation became so large and complicated that Brock had to begin paying some of the volunteers. Jean Jolly will be 74 in August and has been with Ram for the past 15 years. Her salary is about $1,000 a month, and since she retired in 2004 from work at Talbots, a retail-clothing store, she is now the full-time volunteer co-ordinator; the engine that keeps everything running smoothly. “We are the only nongovernmental charitable organisation in the United States that offers free dental, free visual, free medical, without any restrictions or questions asked,” she says proudly. There are two separate entities. The Ram Foundation is the fundraising and administrative arm of the organisation, managing the private donations that underpin the work, with two full-time and five part-time employees. Then there is the Ram Volunteer Corps, which organises the expeditions and field operations, record-keeping and statistical information. Brock is chairman of both. Last year, Ram was profiled on the American news programme 60 Minutes. Up until then, the annual budget had been about $250,000. And Ram had directed 94% to 96% of unrestricted funds to programme services, and spent between 4% and 6% on administration and overheads. But now, thanks to that exposure, the annual budget will be $1.9m. All donations and grants are from private donors and family foundations — no government money, no taxpayer money, no corporate funding. So what does that $1.9m cover? $595,000 of it was spent on an aeroplane, part of Ram’s mandate to take advanced surgical teams to communities that have never had a clinic before. It will fly a surgical team to Guyana a few times a year. There will also be a tractor-trailer rig outfitted as a self-contained mobile medical unit — to travel across America. Twelve clinics are scheduled a year, but it usually ends up doing twice that. Some of those are one-day clinics offering one-day screenings, and so on. In the US it has expeditions scheduled in Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio and many more in Tennessee. For this weekend’s event, Ram will spend between $2,500 and $3,000 on supplies and $500 on fuel (since it is so close to home). The estimate for the entire weekend is $4,000. The reason for this low figure is that nobody gets paid. Everyone who has travelled has done so at his or her own cost. All volunteers cover their own food and lodging. There are no expenses. By the end of the weekend there will have been 570 volunteers — including 36 dentists, 25 hygienists, 12 opticians, four optometrists, and three ophthalmologists. There will be nurse practitioners and dental students and those who have shown up to make coffee and offer administrative support. There will be people like Dr Joseph Smiddy, a pulmonologist who went to truck-driving school and got his licence as a truck driver in order to drive his 18-wheeler customised x-ray unit and mobile clinic. There will be volunteers who have travelled at their own expense from 15 states — including Marta Flood, a nurse practitioner who drove eight hours from Cleveland, Ohio, and Moira Stangeland, a nurse from Los Angeles. When they first arrive they will be overwhelmed, unsure what to expect, and by the end they will have become friends, with plans to meet up again for a future Ram event. There will have been 911 patients registered — some who have driven from nearby states like Georgia, Kentucky and Texas. Of those registered, 13.4% said they earned less than $5,000 a year, while 73.8% refused to answer the question about income; 88% of patients were in the 21-64 age group; 70% were Caucasian, 22% African-American, 9.4% Hispanic; 61% are unemployed and 61.5% have no health insurance. At the end of this event, 1,538 services will have been provided; many patients will receive more than one service. There will be 424 pairs of spectacles made, 26 mammograms, and 904 teeth extracted. The value of care will total $189,290. By 9.30 pm on Friday, all that can be seen is a serpentine row of headlights set against the endless blackened sky as people arrive and wait. Tickets are distributed by the Tennessee State Guard on a first-come, first-served basis. People are told they will be allowed to return tomorrow at 5am — as a safeguard to prevent carbon-monoxide poisoning from running car heaters all night. But those who have driven for hours choose to stay overnight in the car park rather than risk losing their spot. They can’t afford a motel. Ida Stanford is on a fixed income. She is number 9. She’s worried if she’s not here when her number is called she will be passed over. She has problems with her eyesight and needs a new pair of glasses. Darrell Ledford is number 69. He is disabled — having suffered a spinal injury — and here to see if he can get 14 teeth extracted. He is in excruciating pain. His jaw is swollen to the size of a grapefruit. If Ram weren’t available he would have no choice but to do what he’s done all year: lie at home with a toothache. A small heater is on the passenger seat next to him in the truck. Will he stay out here all night? “Yes, ma’am,” he replies. “It’s rough. My teeth hurt real bad. I’d sleep out here three nights if I had to.” Tony Blake is an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who has walked from his house down the road to get his ticket. The Veterans Health Administration provides him with his blood-pressure medicines, but he says they don’t do a lot of dental care unless you’re about to be deployed. He was a construction surveyor in the army, but can’t find employment. He talks for a while about the veterans and how they are treated when they come back. He is angry. “I served 15 years in the military. I spent 15 years as a firefighter. Pretty much my whole life has been in service — for my country or as a civil servant. I’ve been all over the world. I free people from oppression, and I’m more oppressed in my own country than the people I free.” Tony is going to walk home and return at 5am. He needs some fillings done and his teeth cleaned. When asked what he would do if he didn’t have Ram, he shrugs. “I’d suffer.”At 11pm, the volunteers are still inside and focused on being ready for the morning. Brock stands over a rubbish bin peeling an orange — this and a banana will be his dinner before he goes back outside to see how it’s going and make sure nobody has passed out in their car. He will spend the night in a camper van in the car park — the van has been lent to him for the next two days by Laurie and John Osborn. They’ve been involved with Ram since 1992, and John, a dentist, is now the dental director. When Laurie shows Brock how the thermostat works and asks how he likes it, he looks baffled. “Whatever’s normal,” he says. There is a double bed, but he chooses to sleep on the floor. He’ll be up at 4am so that the gates open promptly at 6. The sun has only been up for a few hours and already hundreds of people have been treated. Everyone here has a sad story. When I meet Brandi Devine, 33, she is in tears. Her husband, Shane, helps walk her over to the stairwell so she can rest. She has just had five teeth pulled and she is dazed from the pain. Shane says she has lived in agony for months. They are from a small rural town 40 miles away called Tellico Plains. They arrived at 7.30pm on Friday and slept in the car. They look worn out. Being unable to help ease his wife’s pain has taken its toll. “I felt like half a person,” Shane says, stroking her hair. Neither of them has health insurance. Five years ago, his wife developed an infection that caused the enamel in her mouth to deteriorate badly. They have been married for nine years and have a three-year-old. He had been working as many shifts as possible at the foundry but is now unemployed. He is relieved his wife can eat something now besides soup. “This has saved our marriage,” he says. Dr Joseph Gambacorta is a dentist who has driven 300 miles from Buffalo, New York, with his 13-year-old son, Patrick. He has been pulling teeth nonstop for four hours. “The American system is not working,” he says. “There are a lot of people who are working middle class and can’t afford the co-pay or the deductible.” To understand what he’s referring to, it’s important to grasp some basic facts about American healthcare. In 2008, there were approximately 48m Americans with no health insurance whatsoever and 25m-30m more who were under-insured, according to the National Coalition on Health Care in Washington, DC. Health coverage in the United States is a complex labyrinth that is dizzyingly brutal to navigate. If a patient in the US seeks medical care from a physician, there is usually a co-insurance requirement. This is a percentage that they must pay for the medical care, and this percentage is determined by their employer’s health plan. The co-pay is a specific amount the patient has to pay for prescriptions. However, neither coverage nor benefits kick in before the deductible has been met. This is what the patient must pay from their own pocket at the beginning of every year, and varies based on different employer benefit plans. For instance, if the deductible is $400, and you see a physician who costs $100, you will need to pay that amount in full. Then there is the premium. The premium arises when a health-insurance plan charges the employer for providing coverage, and most employers require their employees to share in the cost of that premium. The average amount is about 30%. This gets deducted from their pay cheque. Under the 1986 Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, when someone loses their job they are allowed to purchase coverage from their former employer, and so can continue on that company’s insurance plan — but they have to pay it in full. They can do this for up to 18 months. After that, it’s discontinued and the only option is for them to try to insure themselves privately or to seek government assistance. Millions of Americans who are working still cannot afford the cost of healthcare. They are considered “working poor” because they are earning a modest income and unable to qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, the public-assistance programmes for those whose income and resources are insufficient to pay. Medicare is the nation’s largest health-insurance programme, providing coverage for about 39m Americans who are aged 65 or older or who have a disability. Medicaid provides medical assistance to approximately 36m low-income Americans and is funded by the federal government and the state governments. TennCare is the Medicaid programme in Tennessee that provides healthcare for children from low-income families, pregnant women and those who are disabled. The eligibility explanations on the website are a jumble of obfuscation — sections for Medically Needy versus Poverty Level Income Standard versus Supplemental Security Income. It is an incredibly convoluted and confusing process just to figure out how to get help when it is needed. And most people who are truly in need do not have the acuity or the time to make sense of it. Though Brock has adapted to living with the suffering of others, the rawness of it still hits him when he has to turn people away. “You try not to become immune. I review e-mails that come in by the hundreds.” He reads them all? “Oh yes,” he replies. “You can’t exit out and move on.” His current mission is to raise awareness about a key issue: that qualified, licensed medical professionals should be permitted to cross state lines to practise and provide free healthcare to indigent people. But owing to licensing laws, they are not, and that, he says, is the greatest impediment. The only place in the United States this can happen is in Tennessee, and this is because Brock had the laws changed. Most of the doctors who will show up over the weekend will be from out of state. In April 2008, during the heart of the election campaign, Brock was asked to speak at a congressional hearing on healthcare in Washington, DC. He gave his views and asked: why can’t doctors cross state lines? He was given five minutes to say his piece and then was asked questions. And since then, what has transpired? Nothing. “It was a big disappointment,” he says. It hasn’t stopped him. Brock seems most at ease when he is in motion. He is a qualified airline transport pilot — and often pilots a vintage second-world-war Douglas C-47 plane built in 1943 and flown in the Normandy invasion by the US Ninth Air Force. It is used for the transport of medical equipment and volunteers from the Knoxville base to various Ram clinic sites in the US. During Hurricane Katrina it evacuated refugees out of Baton Rouge. There are a total of five aircraft in the donated fleet. Aside from the C-47, there is a Twin Beech classic from the 1950s; a King Air turboprop plane that was bought after a donation from Rena and Sami Shulsky of New York; a Cessna 206 bush plane that is based in Guyana flying a free air ambulance mission every 1.9 days throughout the year; and a Cessna 150 basic trainer. We are inside the Jacobs building, with the event under way. As we talk, Brock squats, feet flat on the floor: “Sitting down isn’t good for you.” Reluctantly he talks about some of his own bouts of illness. While in Brazil in the early 1960s he developed a severe form of malaria — plasmodium falsiparum — and spent three weeks drenched in sweat and delirious. He had no medication. When asked what happened, he responds stoically: “I got over it.” Amused by the line of questioning, he tells me about the time he had leishmaniasis, a flesh-eating parasite transmitted by the bite of a sandfly. He had it in the late 1950s when there was no cure, and he says with a smile: “It was inconvenient.” How did Brock end up in Tennessee? In the 1980s he was asked to help design the Central Florida Zoo. His television show, Wild Kingdom, was off the network and he had never been interested in pursuing a more active Hollywood career. One zoo led to another, and he ended up in Knoxville and fell in love with the area. Teresa Gardner is a nurse practitioner and excecutive director of The Health Wagon, a mobile unit she drove up from Clinchco, Virginia, about four hours away. She is able to do smear tests and breast examinations, will screen-test for cervical cancer and will call the patients when the results come in and help refer them for follow-up care. Inside the tiny waiting area, Lottie Crudup-Richardson wears a hat covered with round and shiny Barack Obama buttons. She is 52-year-old, and anxiously waiting her turn. Tresa Osborn is 46. Her last breast examination was two years ago, and she too is nervous. She has two part-time jobs, but has no insurance. She makes too much for TennCare. “You’re punished if you work,” she says quietly. She was told 15 years ago that she should have a hysterectomy, but as she has no insurance, she hasn’t been able to have the procedure. A few feet away outside, Robert Macelyea is trembling from the cold. He has been outside since 4.30am. It is nearly 3pm. He is number 477. He works in Wal-Mart and can’t afford to pay extra for his insurance. It’s about $200 a month. He has three children under the age of four, and he is here to have his teeth and vision checked. He lives in the next county. “Number 475!” is called. He leans on the gate and waits it out. Glimpses of Brock reveal him overseeing, answering questions, making decisions, observing. Things are running without incident. Brock would like to organise Ram UK and is currently exploring various options, but there are problems. Not least those to do with licensing laws, which can make it difficult for Canadian and American medical and dental professionals to practise in the UK. He says that possibly, if there were enough practitioners giving their support, then they might be able to do it. He hopes to get past the bureaucracy. Today’s expedition is winding down, but tomorrow it will begin again. Hundreds more will be seen, disease will be detected, pain extinguished, lives saved. Right now, Lottie is worried. Her voice is soft and shaky as we sit in the trailer of Dr Smiddy’s truck. She has just had her chest x-ray done. She is a smoker who has been rolling her own unfiltered cigarettes for years. In The Health Wagon she was told she has a rapid heart rate, which is what led her here. “Maybe it’s nerves?” she asks, with apprehensive hope. We wait to find out. Dr Smiddy takes her x-ray and reads the result. It is good news. There is nothing cancerous, no sign of emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “Thank you, Jesus.” She exhales when he delivers the outcome.
July 1, 2009 - The Thalia Lions salutes Lee Ann Armbruster for making a difference. She regularly organizes get-to-gathers at the Bayside Special Services Library for parents of visually impaired youngsters so they may socialize and learn about available resources. Armbruster, a Virginia Beach teacher for visually impaired students, visits area schools working with 5 other teachers of the vision impaired as well as two teacher assistants. There are only 72 vision impaired students out of a 70,000 enrolled population. Armbruster works with 15 of the 72 and though her efforts helps to bring all 72 and their parents together so they can realize they are not alone. Armbruster is working to create in Hampton Roads a chapter of the “Virginia Association of Parents of Vision Impaired.” In her interview with Virginian Pilot Ricardo Lopez for a July 1, 2009 article, “A Vision for the Visually Impaired,” page 1, Hampton Roads, she said, "The main reason to have this is to create a community for parents. It's a support group; it's a play group."
June 1, 2009 - The Thalia Lions Club salutes Star Glynis Grieser, President of the Southeastern Virginia Society of the Deaf ( and head of the American Sign Language and Interpreter Education Program at Tidewater Community College (, for her outstanding work in promoting American Sign Language ( and taking a stand against oral only ( preschool programs (such as the ODU Oral Preschool Program – see “Learning to Hear,” Hampton Roads, May 28, 2009 - Grieser, who is deaf, makes her case in The Virginian Pilot (Your Views, Editorials – June 1, 2009 – “All the Tools to Succeed” - She says, “It is a contradictory and misguided myth that using sign language with deaf children will harm their speech skills. An oral approach, without the use of sign language, only limits what a deaf child can achieve. Let deaf children sign. Give them all the tools for success.” Grieser is a strong advocate of “Baby Signs,” ( a growing movement among parents of babies who have no hearing loss. Research has shown that signing with one's baby only produces positive effects, increased IQ, fewer behavioral problems, and stronger bonds between parents and babies. Grieser asks, “Why not use American Sign Language with deaf children as well?” She goes on to question the effectiveness of the cochlear implant (see and says they are not always successful in restoring hearing or teaching a child language. Please read more about Grieser's sign language interpreter education program at TCC -

May 18, 2009 - The Thalia Lions Club would like to salute Dr.Robert J. Stewart (age 97), who has had diabetes for 60 years and Dr. Sheri Colberg who has had the disease for 41 years. Both have not only lived with it but have gone on to lead productive, successful, and happy lives. While Sheri is a very successful writer, Dr. Bob in his retirement at the Westminster-Canterbury Retirement Center in Virginia Beach, VA. recently won five Gold Medals and two world records in the Senior Olympics. He promotes health and wholeness to residents at the retirement home and has encouraged many to become more active and diet right. Recently Sheri interviewed Bob. Please take a moment to listen to Bob’s uplifting message to diabetics and to all of us @ Dr. Sheri has authored 8 books and more than 150 articles on exercise, diabetes, healthy lifestyles, fitness, nutrition, aging, weight loss, diabetic Latinos, and more. Read more about her professional experience with diabetes @ her book “50 Secrets of the Longest Living People with Diabetes,” she reveals the key ingredients to a productive life with diabetes -Secret No 1 – DietSecret No 2 – ExerciseSecret No 3- Build Your Own TeamSecret No 4- Be Your Own AdvocateSecret No 5- Positive AttitudeSecret No 6 - Have a good time (lots of enjoyment) and live with it the best you can. Dr. Bob says, “You can live happily with a problem. It's not the problem that gets one down but rather how you deal with it!”
April 16, 2009 - The Thalia Lions Club would like to salute Karen Bauer who has been faithfully helping with the Lions' Diabetes Family Camp at the Triple R Ranch in Chesapeake for diabetic children since the program started in 1994. This coming May 1-3 will mark her 16th year of unbroken service and dedication to children in need of her expert help. Karen is a certified diabetes educator with Chesapeake Regional Medical Center, one of the major sponsors of the event. The camp is an important resource to those with diabetes. Karen helps kids with diabetes learn how to cope with their disease by teaching them proper nutrition habits, how to manage insulin and other diabetic medicines and to let them know that they are not alone in fighting this illness. While there the kids have a great time with activities which include horseback riding, archery, wall climbing, fishing, canoeing, and more. For the Virginian Pilot interview on March 30, 2009, Karen said "They [children with diabetes] get to see there are other kids with diabetes who can go and have fun and do things just like people who don't have diabetes. On many levels, the camp can help a parent understand what is going on with their child and help them to live a healthier life."
April 11, 2009 - The Thalia Lions would like to salute Isabel Marie Andrews, 93, who passed away on this day. She was featured July 11, 2008 in The Virginian-Pilot for her patriotism for welcoming returning Navy ships back to the Norfolk Naval Station even though she could no longer see them as they passed by her home at the Westminster Canterbury retirement community near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Starting eight years ago, when Isabel could see, she decided the least she could do was wave from the Westminster retirement community sea wall to Navy ships returning to port. Since then, she was committed to welcoming countless ships back from deployment, many carrying Westminster Canterbury relatives and friends. She typically organized 15 or so of her friends to help greet the ships. She knew when they would be coming from secret connections. In recent years, Andrews’ eyesight faded, leaving her legally blind. But that did not stop her from taking long walks in the surrounding communities with her white cane and continuing her welcome of returning Navy ships. With her American flag waving, Isabel commented as a Navy carrier cruised past, “I just have a love for my country and my flag. As long as there’s breath in my body, I hope I can be out here doing this.” And she was out there until a few months before her passing. In the autumn of 2008 she reluctantly turned over Navy ship welcoming to a trusted friend. But even as her health failed, Isabel’s mind remained sharp, and Westminster residents could still see her being wheeled to the weekly political Current Affairs program where she continued to keep abreast of the goings-on from around the world. While she was growing up during the Great Depression, her father, a World War I veteran, instilled in her and her two sisters a passion for the U.S., particularly its role in humanitarian efforts around the world. She and her late husband, Mallory, passed that sense of patriotism to their own children and their friends, offering American flags as gifts for weddings, graduations and other milestones. Isabel Marie Andrews truly made a difference for all of us who knew her. She will be missed! See “92-Year-Old Virginia Beach Woman Gives Homecoming Troops the Welcome They Deserve” By Shawn Day in the Virginian-Pilot, July 11, 2008VIRGINIA BEACH - Marie Andrews VIRGINIA BEACH - Isabel Marie Andrews, 93, passed away April 11, 2009, in Westminster-Canterbury. She was born in Philadelphia, the daughter of the late Benjamin and Jennie Shriver. Published in The Virginian Pilot on April 12, 2009. See
April 6, 2009 - The Thalia Lions would like to salute Lizzie Grant, Ocean Lakes High School senior .Congratulations on your acceptance into Gallaudet University. - Hearing Student to Attend Renowned School for Deafby Lauren Roth, the Virginian-Pilot, April 6, 2009 - This fall Lizzie Grant will enter Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. All classes there are conducted in sign language because nearly all of the students are deaf or hard of hearing. But Grant can hear. She has been admitted to the university as a member of the Hearing Undergraduate Student program. Only a small number of students are accepted each year, and they must plan on a career in the deaf community. At Ocean Lakes there are about a dozen deaf students and there Grant has become a sign ambassador of sorts, encouraging others to learn sign language, leading the school American Sign Language Club, and tutoring sign language students. year, Grant won a first-place prize in the American Sign Language Honor Society's national literature competition -
March 24, 2009 - The Thalia Lions would like to salute Ophthalmologist Samuel Garrett -
Garrett started giving free eye exams 15 years ago. He said, "If you can't see, you can't do anything. It's your most precious sense because we live in a visual world." At the Virginia Beach Eye Center -, ophthalmologists -, optometrists -, and their staff work after hours to give free eye exams to people without insurance, jobs, and homes. If patients need glasses, they receive those for free, too, and some will receive free follow-ups for eye conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma. Garrett started giving the exams 15 years ago when his church, Baylake United Methodist Church got involved in a homeless shelter program organized by Volunteers of America, a nonprofit organization in Virginia Beach that provides services for homeless people -  Deborah Maloney, director of Volunteers of America, helps the center connect with people who needed the exams.  Vision disorders are the second most prevalent health problem in the country, affecting more than 120 million people. Recent studies have shown that people are putting off health care because of the recession. Garrett says his practice does the free eye exams once a year, but he also sees people throughout the year who can't afford eye treatment.  From the Virginian-Pilot - March 24, 2009 by Elizabeth Simpson, “Free Eye Care for Those who Need It the Most.”


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