Many children in Tennessee communities will live richer lives with normal vision because of the efforts and leadership of Willard Cummings and the Lions of Tennessee, who accepted the challenge to make a difference.
Cummings is a member of the Cookeville Evening Lions Club. During the past four years, he has given over 4,000 hours of service to the community of Cookeville as well as the state of Tennessee. He, as well as the Lions, has devoted hours to saving and protecting the sight of Tennessee’s children. Operation KidSight was born to do just this.
The Lions of Tennessee have known and worked with Dr. Denis O’Day, head of the Vanderbilt Ophthalmology Department, for many years. Through contacts and available research, Lions found that many children were losing sight at an early age, yet their sight could have been saved. It was believed that more than 50% of the children at the Tennessee School for the Blind could have had their sight saved if their problem had been detected and treated at an early age.
Cummings, while serving as a District Governor, was a leader in promoting the development of Tennessee Lions Eye Center (TLEC) at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital to help save children’s sight. The Lions Clubs of Tennessee in their crusade against darkness established the Tennessee Lions Charities, Inc. as the charitable fundraising arm of their organization. That entity was able to solicit, collect, and otherwise raise money to establish the facility at Children’s Hospital. Cummings visited Clubs, made radio and TV appearances, and used other mediums to promote the project. He has also spent hundreds of hours in training other volunteers to support the project. The Center opened in 1997 with its mission to provide high quality preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic eye-care for all children.
In addition to this, another program was initiated to identify children with vision disorders in the state. This Outreach Project is a unique part of TLEC in that it serves as a clinic without walls. This outreach-screening program, which is operated by trained Lion’s Club volunteers, uses special-designed camera equipment to photograph a child’s eyes. This hand-held screener can screen children from ages six months through 48 months at various sites such as day care centers, nurseries and Sunday schools. This proactive outreach can identify at-risk children and refer them to local eye specialists for proper treatment. The project is unique in that it makes a full circle, which includes planning, screening, and follow-up to ensure the child sees a doctor, as well as feedback from the doctor.
Cummings has personally participated in the screening of more than 3,000 children at local facilities. The project successfully assisted over 500 children during 1999. Prior to TLEC, the Children’s Hospital was seeing about 4,000 patients annually. TLEC opened three years ago, and there were over 8,000 visits in 1999 alone. Because of TLEC, the Outreach Project, and the work of dedicated volunteers like Willard Cummings, thousands of Tennessee children will have normal vision.