In The Beginning ...
The Newport News/Warwick Lions Club purchased a Sight & Hearing screening unit in 1978. It was a 27 foot Winnebago that cost $30,000, and additional funds were raised to equip the van. Members were trained in the use of the equipment and it became operational in August of that same year. That van was totaled in a traffic accident in 1981 and turned over to the Lions Medical Eyebank. They had it rebuilt and restructured it as a medical screening health van at a cost of $70,000.
In 1993 they turned the van over to the District and a committee was formed for the maintenance, operation and scheduling of the van. That committee sought incorporation as a separate, 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, and in 1996 the Lions Mobile Sight & Hearing Unit of Southeastern Virginia, Inc. came into being.
Today's Unit ...
Due to normal (and abnormal – remember the van was totaled in 1981) wear and tear, and the age of the van, it was decided that the corporation would work towards purchasing a new van with up to date equipment. After intensive fund raising efforts by the Lions Clubs of our district, and with a $75,000 grant from LCIF, a new van was purchased for $167,000. The van is the largest vehicle produced by Winnebago at that time, measuring 38 feet long, 8 feet wide and 12 feet tall and weighing in at over 20,000 pounds.
To protect the van from the weather and provide a place to store supplies and equipment and perform maintenance, it was decided to investigate purchasing land and putting up a building to house the van. In 1997 a grant was received from the District 24D Charity Foundation to purchase land at a cost of $16,500. The hard part now was to raise enough money to erect a building. In 1999 a line of credit was established to put up the building for $141,950. That debt was paid off in 2005, and the LMSHU now holds all its assets completely debt free. Our building is located in Chesapeake, at 2040 Broadmoor Ave. In 2008, we sought to share this asset with other aspects of the District for everyone's best benefit, and entered into an agreement with the Eyeglass Recycling Center and the Parades & Float Committee to reconfigure the building so those two organizations could have a permanent "homebase". After a year's work remodeling the building and working out the collaborative kinks, the Southside Eyeglass Recycling Center opened for business in October of 2009, and the new 24D Float trailer and "all the trimmings" reside in the building alongside the S&H Van.
In The Future ...
Our van is 21 years old, and has 88,000 miles on it. We estimate that it is nearing the end of its service life, and in 2007 we formed a van replacement fund as a line item in our budget. We seeded it with $10,000 from our operations account – about half of our balance. We also made it our policy that any donations from the clubs would be directed to the van replacement fund, and that we would make every effort to conduct our operations on just the usage fees. So far that has worked – but our margins are close. Our van replacement fund has grown to over $90,000 in the ten years since we inaugurated it, and we’re holding the line on operations at our current fees.
We've been developing the requirements for our replacement unit for over a year, and thanks to the dedicated efforts of Lions Jim Oglesby, Clay Senecal and now Tim Marinelli, we are on the verge of placing an order for our new vehicle. Once the new vehicle is in service, we intend to conduct a "mid-life overhaul" on our current unit to freshen it up and make it ready for continued service in our newly expanded District 24i. In it's new life, it will be a modular layout that we can reconfigure to serve as a large screening vehicle OR as a mobile clinic to support full eye exams at events such as the Homeless Connect. Stay tuned for more updates!