Lions encouraged to serve

Dave Ogilvie

The Lions Clubs International’s vision statement, “To be the global leader in community and humanitarian service,” was the central theme at the Lions’ “Mid-Winter Convention” held Jan. 28-30 in Thunder Bay.
Lions clubs from Northwestern Ontario and northern Minnesota, including members from the Fort Frances, Voyageur, and Emo and District clubs, gathered together to listen to guest speakers, to participate in various activities, and to share information with members from other clubs.
Lions Clubs International is the world’s largest service club organization. It sports 1.35 million members in more than 45,000 clubs, which are located in more than 206 countries and geographic areas.
In the spirit of their motto, “We Serve,” Lions are part of a global service network, doing whatever is necessary to help in their local communities and meeting humanitarian needs around the world.
Started in 1917 by Chicago businessman Melvin Jones, Lions Clubs International has in its 84-year history developed and funded many programs, including those in the areas of sight, health, youth, elderly, the environment, and disaster relief.
Past District Governor Jim Martindale, in his opening presentation Saturday morning, encourage the Lions to be proud of what they have accomplished in their communities and in programs around the world.
“We have made the world a better place,” he enthused. “And we must celebrate our successes!”
One such success is the support he Lions have given the “Can-Do-Canines” organization in Minnesota. Shelly Hiemer and her dog, Grace, were on hand to explain their program, as well as to personally thank the Lions for donating to this worth cause.
This particular service dog program, which was incorporated in 1987, initially provided services for deaf clients only. In 1995, however, the program was expanded to serve people with other physical disabilities.
In 2006, they increased their service area to include Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, and parts of Illinois.
Hiemer recounted story after story of how these special dogs positively have affected the lives of so many people by making them more independent and self-confident.
It was her personal experience, however, that caught the attention of those in attendance.
Hiemer, a Type 1 diabetic since the age of nine, has learned to live with the disease. She has confidently overcome all the negative expectations of her doctors by becoming a veterinary assistant, getting married, and raising a family of three.
The disease, however, eventually progressed to the point where Hiemer was in dangerous shape and needed a brand new procedure to literally save her life.
It was at this point that she turned to the work of David Sutherland and Bernhard Hering at the Schulze Diabetes Institute at the University of Minnesota.
In 1974, Sutherland was the first to perform islet cell transplantation. Islet cells from healthy individuals were removed and then transplanted in the diabetic patients, where they began to produce insulin.
This relatively new procedure radically changed Hiemer’s life, but has not totally eliminated fluctuations in her blood sugar levels. There have been times when her blood sugar levels have dropped to extremely low and dangerous levels.
After several alarming episodes, a black Labrador named Grace entered Hiemer’s life.
Low blood sugar levels are very difficult for bystanders—and even diabetics themselves—to detect but Grace, a diabetic-assist dog trained by the “Can-Do-Canines” organization, does it on a daily basis.
When the dog senses that Hiemer’s sugar levels are low, she comes over and “paws” her until she sits down. Then Hiemer quickly grabs a sugary drink and the danger is avoided.
“I call her my amazing Grace,” said Hiemer, who noted the dog also alerts her when other family members are ill.
Grace literally has warned Hiemer several hundred times since becoming part of her life, and even was called upon to perform her duties on Sunday when Hiemer’s blood sugar level plummeted after a busy weekend of presentations.
The keynote speaker for the weekend, International Director Gary D’Orazio from Idaho, continued to challenge the Lions at the convention.
During one of his presentations, he handed out small packages of M&Ms to those who asked questions or had positive ways of accepting the challenge.
“M&Ms means more members,” D’Orazio explained. “We cannot rest on our past successes; we cannot be satisfied with the status quo.
“We must seek out new members, renew our enthusiasm, and continue to raise our expectations,” he stressed.
District Governor Val Martindale echoed the challenge, encouraging the Lions to work for change in their communities and the rest of the world.
“Go M.A.D.,” she declared. “Let’s Make A Difference!”