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‘Small but mighty’: Aiken Mid-Day Lions Club’s service reaches deep into the community

April 21, 2019 GMT

President Karen Olsen Edwards likes to say the Aiken Mid-Day Lions Club is “small but mighty.”

Now in its 24th year, the club is a leader in community service, and the list of organizations its members help and services they provide is long: the Boys and Girls Club, Cumbee Center, ACTS Women’s Programs, Nurture Home, Helping Hands, Special Olympics, the Salvation Army, vision screenings and scholarships for students with disabilities.

“We have great hopes for things we can do with the community’s help,” Edwards said. “We’re a very small club, but I say we’re mighty because we have big hearts and open hands.”

Beyond Aiken County, the club supports the Lions Club International’s global causes: diabetes, the No. 1 cause of blindness; the environment; hunger, with club members picking up bread and food from local restaurants for the Aiken Salvation Army’s shelter every week; childhood cancer; and vision.

“Vision is our major, No. 1 cause – always has been,” Edwards said. “I say every morning when I get up that I’ve been given two gifts: my eyes.”

To support its good works, the Aiken Mid-Day Lions Club sponsors fundraisers throughout the year, including a Wine Tasting for scholarships in the fall and Mardi BRAWS for a Cause for women’s services in the winter.

The club’s spring event will be the 24th-annual Luncheon Fashion Show and Silent Auction honoring administrative assistants.

The luncheon will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Newberry Hall at 117 Newberry St. SW.

Brad Means, a news anchor at WJBF TV, will be the emcee, and Paul Hughes, a professional singer on cruise lines, will perform.

Tickets are $35 per person. For tickets or more information, contact Ellen Heim at eheim803@gmail.com.

“I feel honored that he’s coming to help up. He has a beautiful voice,” said Teresa Neely, who has been a member four years and coordinates the club’s blood drives and volunteers for its other outreach programs. “It will be a fun event.”

The fashion show started as a fundraiser for leader dogs for the blind, but as the club grew, so did its outreach. The fashion show has raised more than $150,000 for local charities and organizations.

“It means a lot to me to see what we’ve accomplished as a club together. I can do good things individually, but together we can do great things,” said Vicki Major, who has been a Mid-Day Lion 22 years.

In 11 years, The Wine Tasting has raised more than $30,000 for scholarships, said Ellen Heim, the chairperson for the scholarship committee..

“We look for students who have disabilities, vision issues, hearing issues. We’ve support one young man at USC Aiken for three years. He is totally deaf. Our scholarships have meant a lot to him,” Heim said. “We even did a half scholarship for the care of a leader dog for a student at USC Aiken.”

Kathy Iwert, who has been a member four years, coordinates the club’s vision assistance program, which provides eye exams and eyeglasses for people in need.

“We got a referral from a counselor in Saluda County, I believe, about a young man who was trying to better himself with a new pair of glasses. His sister had broken his,” Iwert said. “He was a dishwasher at a local restaurant. He wanted to get a promotion to bus boy, but he couldn’t because he couldn’t see. He got his promotion.”

Iwert estimated the program helps about 30 people annually.

Iwert also helps Joanne Cadotte with the club’s vision screening program. The screening is a noninvasive eye test that helps identify people who is at risk for vision problems.

“We go to day cares, Head Starts, schools and community and health fairs,” Cadotte said. “It’s been very rewarding in that we’ve had good parental feedback saying that we’ve discovered things that the eye chart on the wall wouldn’t have. We’ve also been able to help get some of those students glasses.”

Cadotte estimated the club has done about 4,000 screenings in four years.

Edwards said the Aiken Mid-Day Lions Club lives its motto every day: We serve.

“We are so multifaceted. We all have a passion for so many things in our community, and most of them are for people who are in need,” she said. “We really believe in making a difference and improving the lives of other people.”

Major agreed.

“We serve, but we have fun doing it,” she said.