History of Lions Vision Resource Network
We have served the blind and visually impaired communities for over 75 years, previously as the Lions Center for the Blind. Our history of service is long and rich. We’ve observed how the needs of the blind and visually impaired have evolved with time. The Lions Center for the Blind (LCB) began providing services in the 1940s, on Opal Street in Oakland, California. In our early days, our goal was to was to create a place where blind and visually impaired persons could come for recreation – to be with other people like them and have a good time.
Changing with the times
In later decades, blind centers changed their model to one of creating workshop experiences, designed to provide services required by society while simultaneously providing a modest income to blind and visually impaired workers. Bandages for troops during the war and other items were manufactured at the Center and sold. More recently, the model for assisting blind and visually impaired has changed to one of providing them the skills they need to fully engage in society to the extent they wish. This model presents challenges to any service provider that go far beyond those of a recreational or workshop environment.
Around 1980, the Lions Center for the Blind began working with the California State Department of Rehabilitation, which provided grants to Centers like ours to assist older individuals in adjusting to life with vision impairment.
Initial funding for LCB was from the Lions of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, District 4-C3 of Lions Clubs International. It was their dedication, funding, and hard work that built the Opal Street center and provided early programming. Continued support from Local Lions Clubs was eventually supplemented with federally supported state funds, and these sources plus donations from a variety of other community grants allowed us to expand the nature and variety of programs offered. The technical and professional staff we were able to attract over the years had very strong credentials, which qualified LCB to provide services that could be reimbursed by the state. The Center therefore decided to add Fee for Service (FFS) to its repertoire to better serve its clients. So you can see that reinventing our business model to suit available resources has been a theme throughout our history.
Weathering financial adversity
When the State stopped payments for a time around 2010 due to its own revenue problems, LCB found itself cash-strapped. We had taken out loans to pay debt, and now had no income to cover the loans. Moreover, we could not obtain any more loans because we had no reserves – our only collateral was the beloved Opal Street building, which ultimately had to be sold to avoid closing the doors of the Center altogether. We had no more cash.
Selling the Opal Street building challenged the Center to negotiate and manage a new and unfamiliar reality, but the Center was able to continue to serve its mission by renting a building at 21st and Broadway. Unfortunately, however, we were never able to overcome the structural problem (and necessity) of paying our professional service deliverers more than we got reimbursed from the state, despite the best efforts of devoted volunteers and donors.
So ultimately, and reluctantly, in 2016 the Board decided to close its doors and stop providing direct services. We reserved sufficient funds to support an all-volunteer activity, and together with continued generous donations from donors, bequests, Lions, and Lions Clubs, we now have sufficient funds to offer grants-in-aid.
Our clients and others in the field have long recognized the value and exceptional nature of Center programs. LCB was known for not only being expert professionals, but for providing a level of personalized services that advances people beyond where previous trainings have taken them in terms of mobility, independence and employment. LVRN strives to be known for its philanthropy and resourcefulness in helping all persons who are blind and visually impaired achieve maximum quality of life.