Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lions' Volunteer Heads Leader Dog Program

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lions' Volunteer Heads Leader Dog Program

Article excerpt

Byline: R. Michael Anderson, County Line staff writer

ORANGE PARK -- Bob Richards had perfect vision until he was 37 years old, which means he probably should have read more while growing up.

"There's an old saying: If you don't need glasses by the time you're 35, you haven't read enough," said Richards, a retired U.S. Coast Guardsman who has been wearing glasses for the past 26 years.

But at least the 63-year-old Orange Park man has good vision with the aid of eyeglasses. Thousands of people he has helped in the past quarter-century, most of whom he never met, are blind or visually impaired.

Richards has been a volunteer with three clubs affiliated with Lions Club International over 25 years. During that time he has helped raise money to provide free eye exams and eyeglasses for needy children and adults all over the world, and to train leader dogs for the blind at a center in Michigan.

"I started out with a club in Brown Deer, Wis., when I was in the Coast Guard," he said. "I was living on an Air Force base near Lake Michigan at the time, and I was sitting around one day when it suddenly dawned on me that I didn't know anybody outside that cyclone fence [surrounding the base]."

Since his father had been a member of the Lions years earlier, that was what Richards decided to do. Later, after he was transferred to a Coast Guard unit on the Rio Grande in Brownsville, Texas, he joined a Lions Club there. And when he was transferred to the Coast Guard safety office in Jacksonville in the 1980s, he bought a home in Clay County and joined the Orange Park Lions Club.

Lions Club International, founded in 1917, is the world's largest service organization with 1.4 million members in more than 180 countries and geographical areas. Individual clubs rely on the volunteer efforts of community-minded people like Richards to carry out the organization's motto: We Serve.

Lions are recognized worldwide for their service to the blind and visually impaired, including projects devoted to providing refurbished eyeglasses or leader dogs, once called seeing-eye dogs, to needy recipients. …

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