Vision-impaired Max Parker and his wife Donna say they are grateful for service they have received from Lions Lighthouse, which provides vision care for the uninsured and underinsured.
ALBANY, Ga. -- Among the projects the Lions Clubs International is engaged in is helping those in need see a better future, both figuratively and literally.
Enter Lions Lighthouse.
On the state level, the Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation functions as a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing access to vision and hearing services to Georgians in financial need.
The foundation is able to maintain a statewide reach by setting up mobile equipment in 23 clinic locations across Georgia on a monthly or bi-monthly basis so its services can be provided to various communities at a reduced cost.
In Southwest Georgia, these clinics include the Samaritan Clinic in Albany and the Tift Community Health Center in Tifton.
Samaritan Clinic, a nonprofit faith-based community health care facility, has been the Lighthouse's vision partner in Albany since 2008. Through this partnership, officials say, 212 Dougherty County residents have received 15 eye surgeries, 113 eye exams and 147 pairs of eyeglasses.
Dr. Elroy Dixon has served since its inception as the doctor for Albany's vision clinic, which is usually held every other month. Lighthouse provides the equipment, and the clinics provide the physicians and volunteers needed to operate it, explained Nedra Fortson, executive director of the Samaritan Clinic.
Onsite, patients are given fully dilated eye exams, fitted for glasses if they need them and appointments are arranged for any specialty care that is required.
"The partnership between Lighthouse and Samaritan Clinic is a lifechanging partnership in that many people come to us with significant medical issues that impact their vision, broken glasses, and/or inability to afford prescribed eyeglasses," said Fortson. "One gentleman came to us having been a totally independent, working citizen who was stricken with advanced diabetes before he realized he had the condition. Not only did his medical condition require hospitalization, but he was declared legally blind at his first vision appointment at Samaritan Clinic.
"Through the Lions Lighthouse program, this young man was able to obtain specialty services to help minimize further vision loss."
The value of in-kind services provided by medical providers and volunteers in Dougherty County has totaled $108,533 over the years, officials say.
Max Parker, an Albany resident originally from Doerun, has had multiple eye surgeries in his lifetime done through Lions Lighthouse -- the first of which was performed in 1949 when he was 18 months old.
The procedure made him the first Lighthouse patient to have surgery after the program was established.
In all, Parker -- also a former member of the Lions Club in Moultrie -- had a total of 18 surgeries, all of which the organization paid for.
After all of those surgeries, he still just has 5 percent vision -- which was enough for him to work on his family's farm, go to school to pursue a psychology degree, work in a private rehabilitation center and have a family.
"I would have been totally blind without them. I would have no sight whatsoever," he said. "If I didn't have any (vision), I would be in trouble.
"It has helped me have a quality of life all the way around. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who needs it."
Because of his gratitude, Parker said he does what he can to pay it forward.
"I try to help get people help with Lighthouse. It is a tremendous help," he said.
Duncan Sinclair and his wife, Jan, are Lions Club members who both volunteer at the Tifton clinic, something they have been doing since the clinic there started in 2007 while Duncan Sinclair was serving as a district governor for the club.
Like the one in Albany, the Tifton clinic is conducted every other month.
"We check in people who have appointments. My wife does the eye screening test, and I read the prescriptions on glasses (for those who already have them)," Duncan Sinclair said of his volunteering experience. "We also do glaucoma tests.
"If they need glasses, there are other volunteers to help them get fitted -- and the glasses are mailed to them."
The Tifton clinic sees roughly 15-20 Lighthouse patients a day during a five-hour period, Sinclair said.
"They (Lighthouse) help people that need help; that's the main thing," he said. "We are just trying to serve others that need help."
The Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation's partner medical providers discount their services for the organization at a combined value of $5 for every $1 it spends.
That means that for every dollar donated to Lighthouse, a patient receives $5 in medical services, officials on the state level say.
In 2011, the Lighthouse served over 6,000 uninsured and low-income Georgians by providing full eye exams, eyeglasses, eye surgeries, digital hearing aids and vision and hearing screenings. Last year, more than 300 eye surgeries were facilitated while 5,400 pairs of eyeglasses or exams were provided.
Additionally, the Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation Kids Program has provided 200 children with eye exams and/or eyeglasses across the state over the last several months. Traditionally, children with vision needs in Albany were served through the Samaritan Clinic offices, but on the heels of Lighthouse's 2011 success of providing access to vision services to elementary, middle and high school students in one community, the school-based youth vision program came to fruition.
One of the most recent events to come out of the children's program was a vision clinic conducted at Sherwood Acres Elementary School earlier this month, which specifically targeted students at the school whose families did not have insurance.
To be eligible for services from Lions Lighthouse, a patient must be uninsured or underinsured and fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline. The majority of Lighthouse patients, 66 percent, fall below 100 percent of the poverty guideline, officials with the organization say.