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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Lions Camp Hickory, or What I Do On My Summer Vacation

Blog member and old friend Nate has done a guest piece showing a side of him, and of reality, few if any of us know. Take it away, Nate --

You've seen the commercials on TV for the JDRC, Juvenile Diabetes Research Center: older celebrities begging you for some support, that we're 'this close' to a cure, pictures of smiling children with diabetes, grim statistics delivered in deadly serious monotones. And still, like those poor starving kids in Africa, like the Chechens getting shot and gassed in the former USSR, like the Iraqi people getting shot and blown up and burnt and suffering from radiation poisoning from the 100-odd tons of depleted uranium munitions the US has dumped on their soil, you manage to put it all in a faraway place in your psyche.

Because let's face it, who wants to think about all of that? It's just so depressing. And really, what can you do about? Bankrupt yourself giving money to charities? Let the 'libruls' into power again? What? I used to think that way too. That it was a great big tidal wave and I was one little guy with a sand pail and a toy shovel, trying to build a seawall to save the city. It was hopeless, not even worth trying. But you know, if there were a couple million OTHER guys with sand pails and toy shovels...

Diabetes runs in my family. I have it, my father had, his father had it, at least one of my numerous aunts and uncles has it. I knew a long time ago that I was in the risk pool, and stopped eating sugar in just about any form to try to stave it off. I haven't had regular soda in ages. Didn't work, but I still do it anyway, because it sure isn't hurting.

So, I started doing some research on diabetes. I learned a lot about it, and also learned a lot about its enemies. One name kept popping up everywhere I looked. Lions Clubs International. The 'Knights of the Blind'. Made sense they'd consider diabetes Public Enemy Number One, diabetes is the worldwide leading cause of preventable blindness. I'd found the 'army' I wanted to join. It was August, 2003, and my dad was in bad shape. My weekly visits had become daily visits. I iold my father that I loved him, and thanked him for all the things he'd done for me and my brothers over the years.

I went the the Lion's website and found a page where you could search for a club near you. That gave me the e-mail address of the president of the local Lions Club in my town. So I e-mailed him, asking about joining. He knew another member who worked at the university I work at, and directed him to contact me. They were, as luck would have it, holding a meeting next week on Thursday. The day before, my dad suffered a far more damaging stroke, that left him unable to speak. I missed that meeting. He stabilized, and I made arrangements to attend a nother meeting three weeks later. My dad died the week before that meeting, and I missed it as well.

When my dad died in 2003, from a stroke, it was fairly devastating for me. I had seen the quality of his life deteriorate considerably over that last decade. Before the stroke he had in 2001 (9-13, so I kinda blame Osama for that too), he already had difficulty getting around. His lower legs had sores on them that never healed. His vision was nearly gone. If I hadn't been absolutely emotionally devastated by his death, I probably would have been terrified for myself.

Instead, I wanted revenge. On diabetes. For what it had done to my father, and was going to do to me, and to millions worldwide. But mostly, for my father. And there was an organization waiting to let me help them. In October I met the local Lions, and found them to be kindred spirits in many ways. I've been a card-carrying member since then (yep, we have cards), and will be as long as they'll have me.

So, has it worked? Have I done anything to help defeat diabetes? Funny you should ask. You see, in 2003, while I was visiting my father, banking memories for when he wouldn't be around, my soon-to-be-fellow Lions were swinging hammers, building this. They got the walls and roof up that summer. I helped them sheetrock and finish the interior. Finally, we were 'done' with the expansion. The next phase was about to begin.

We wanted to open the doors in July that year. There were a million things to do: we needed a staff, from an administrator with the proper medical credentials, to nursing staff, food prep, maintenance, programs, security, everything. And we needed to somehow feed the kids and staff! Administrative tasks abounded. As soon as we has washed the grit of construction off, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. I hit the bricks, going hat in hand to the local grocery stores, and scored. An entire days menu from the grocer down the street! Our new camp Director had connections with a local farm, and we got free produce for all 5 days of camp (the first year we only did 1 5-day week). Another stored supplied us with another full day's menu, and enough extras for a 'family day' picnic as well. Then a major chain grocer stepped up with a checkbook, and the menu was set.

While all that was going on, efforts were underway to get LCH on the web. The site was to serve several purposes: to provide information about our mission, to provide a means of contacting the camp's officers, to disseminate information about fundraising efforts, and to acknowledge benefactors. So I built a website, something I'd done only once before, and then with the help of AOL. What do you think?

LCH doesn't sound like a big deal in the struggle against diabetes. We're teaching (in a fun way) some kids how to manage their disease. It's a set of skills that will be crucial in determining the quality of their lives until a cure is found. It could stop them from going blind, or being crippled, or even dying. But still, just a couple dozen kids a year. Well, there's only so much that about 30 people can do. We're kinda hoping a few more people will go looking for their sand pails and toy shovels.

This year's camp is expected to be full, and I hope we expand to larger camp sizes, or more weeks. But honestly, we need more manpower. At least another half-dozen guys (or gals, we have several ladies in the club, and they're all very active members) with toy shovels, sand pails, and chips on their shoulders where diabetes is concerned.


At 7:53 PM , Blogger AaA said...

Hmm. Maybe we're doing more than I thought. Diabetes is no longer the leading cause of blindness worldwide. That dubious honor is now held by trachoma.

Hmm, maybe it was the number one cause in the US... well, it's pretty bad no matter what.

At 11:09 AM , Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

Nate, this is amazing. Thank you. Thank you again. It gives me hope that people are actually out there doing things that matter. My family is also rife with diabetes, on both sides of the tree, and my father has it, but is managing with diet and exercise and careful monitoring. I've stopped all sugar myself and get checked every year. Dad's a strong guy and considers his diagnosis a "tap on the shoulder" and he's superhero-diligent about his self-care, but try to tell a kid all that. They need more help. What you're doing is great. Keep doing it...

I had a friend who died from cystic fibrosis. At 36, which is kind of a miracle. He used to rail against the research money not spent on his disease, when they could be so close to a cure.

Hopefully someday doctors will have a greater handle on these things. But until then, we just have to do what we can to help. I get cynical sometimes about being a lone voice out howling in a field, but if we all howl together...

At 4:44 PM , Anonymous The Always esteemed Scott said...

But still, just a couple dozen kids a year.

There's a story the old minister at the church I attended for years used to tell:
Two men are walking on a beach. The beach is covered with starfish that have been washed up on shore. As they walk, one of the men picks up starfish and throws them back in the water.
The other man looks at the vast numbers of starfish. He says to his friend, "Why bother? There must be thousands of starfish on this beach. You can't possibly make a difference".
The other man picks up a starfish and throws it back into the water.
"Made a difference to that one," he says.

Thanks Nate. Keep making a difference.

At 9:27 PM , Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Nate -

You and I have talked about this before, so I know you realize that I think that your work with this organization is quite wonderful. Like too many others (here and elsewhere), my family has quite a legacy in the diabetes area, too. I know Highlander's does, as well.

I never feel I do enough to help the causes that are making a difference. And then it passes. Not intentionally. But, I just don't do much about it. Thanks for helping offset some of us slackers. I really do appreciate it.

At 1:55 PM , Blogger MJ Norton said...

A good post and decision for you. That's some excellent work being described.

I didn't have much of a sense of the Lions before this, and I'm still finding the by-invitation club atmosphere to be a little insular... leading to some lingering concerns about their mission that weren't addressed in a quick look at their site. It could be as simple as their wanting to be sure they're not bringing in no-accounts who are simply looking for a potential discount club card or who would otherwise be a potential embarassment to the organization. I have no problem with an organization wanting to take some basic steps to safeguard its image. All indications are that it's as direct and limited as that, but I'd be put off even were I to find that meetings included a prayer.

I'm always suspicious that, like the Masons and the Knights of Columbus, there's a religious underpinning to most long-standing civic action organizations and that would get in the way for me. It's similar to the way that I don't care how much good work they might do, I won't contribute any money to Christian Children's Fund, for instance. Aside from the substantial problem I have with a covert, proselytizing agenda I don't want my money or effort being lumped in with any religious agenda on any level.

Hopefully all of that is off on a tangent.

I've already begun looking into it.


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