Fountain City resident and West Knox Lions Club member Jim McFarland would be the first to tell you that it takes a village of caring people to provide the eye exams and eyeglasses for which the “Vision Van folks” are known. But from his first days with the Lions’ KidSight program, McFarland has been a passionate ambassador for helping those in need see clearly.
The Mobile Vision Lab is presented by Smoky Mountain Lions Charities. A number of area Lions Clubs contribute time and funds. The van sets up at the Fountain City Lions Club facility about 11 times a year. Those in need, including children, are given eye exams and are provided with glasses. In the decade-plus since the program started, it has provided thousands of pairs of glasses. McFarland and his volunteer crew also do outreach to schools and neighborhoods in need within the city, and to neighboring communities. The Mobile Vision Van set up in Sevier County several times after the tragic November 2016 fires, and it made a trip to Campbell County this spring.
Nothing in McFarland’s past led him to think that this would be his post-retirement enthusiasm.
“I was a farm boy out of Kentucky,” he says. He graduated from Eastern Kentucky College (now Eastern Kentucky University). He then worked in business management for Chevron for 32 years on the West Coast. When it came time to retire, this part of the country was close to his heart, and the West Coast didn’t feel like home.
With family in southeastern Kentucky, but wanting to settle south of Jellico Mountain, he and his wife, Shaaron, picked East Tennessee.
He knew he wanted to become involved in the community, “but it took a while” to find a perfect volunteer fit. In 2001, he became involved in the Lions Club, and he has become increasingly involved with the Mobile Vision Van and other eye services.
Being able to help people immediately is appealing to him.
“When you see someone crying because they can see for the first time,” he says, it’s powerful and humbling. It’s particularly meaningful, he says, to hear a child say, “I can see now.”
The Mobile Vision Van completed its 85th mission on May 15. On that day, 30 people, including 26 Lions from nine different area clubs, assisted four professionals with providing 46 exams and measuring for 69 pairs of glasses. Physicians Paul Wittke and Jeffery Sibernagel volunteered their services. Although a few people with insurance paid small co-pays, the majority of the thousands of dollars’ worth of services was provided for free.
McFarland says volunteers are always needed, as each setup requires 25 to 30 people. Donations are always welcome as well. The next vision mission is from 8 to 11 a.m. Tuesday, June 19, at the Fountain City Lions Club, 5345 N. Broadway. For more information, follow Smoky Mountain Lions Charities on Facebook.