Editor’s Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on nonprofit organizations that improve North Okaloosa County residents’ quality of life.

CRESTVIEW — The Lions Club is an international nonprofit service organization with 1.4 million members worldwide. The Crestview branch is looking to grow its membership roster and will soon have a dinner thanking its community partners.

The Lions Club dinner, which will feature Crestview High School Football Coach Tim Hatten, is set 6:30 p.m. Jan. 23 at Hub City Smokehouse, 168 Main St. S, Crestview. Area residents who attend must pay for their meals.

Four Lions stopped by the News Bulletin recently to discuss the organization's priorities.

They include:

•Providing eye care, glasses purchases and collections for people in need

•Fundraising for the services they provide

•Increasing membership

•Determining other ways to serve the Crestview community

•Increasing diabetes awareness

"Our motto is 'We serve,' and our goal is to provide more eye care than we have before. We've been challenged by Helen Keller to be the knights to the blind, and we try to help people with vision needs as much as we can," Chris Howard said.

In January, the Crestview Lions arranged eye exams for two individuals and will provide them with glasses if necessary. In 2017, they provided exams and eyeglasses for several individuals and assisted in procuring cataract surgery for a person who had lost most of his vision — and his job. With the Lions' help, the man is now employed and off welfare. 

The group's focus on vision care already aligns with two members' occupations. Howard and Edward Mitchell Jr. are both local optometrists. They own Eye Site of Crestview, P.A., and Cabana Eyes Optical, respectively.

Howard described the Lions' interest in vision care as a perfect fit for him. A friend invited him to join the Crestview organization in 2003, and Howard currently serves as president of the club.

Mitchell joined the Lions Club in 1989 in Kentucky.

"I've dealt with eyes for a long time, and saw a need, and it was an organization that I was familiar with, so I joined," Mitchell said. As "Tail Twister" for the local branch, the military veteran works to create harmonious group meetings and "make sure members are having fun in meetings and club events," according to Lion secretary Charlotte Jones.

Lou Jones, membership chair, became involved in the Lions when he and Charlotte, his wife, lived in Alaska.

"We went to Alaska for two years — stayed 32 — and there (were) all kinds of community needs up there that the Lions fulfilled," he said.

"You name it, they did it: hats, gloves, (keeping) people warm, eye care, purchasing glasses. One time in a community, we went around and replaced all the smoke detectors in homes, because there's a high fire rating."

When a Lioness Club formed in their community, he encouraged his wife to become a member as well.

Though reluctant to join at first, she learned things about herself in the process, such as the joy of helping those in need.

"I found out that I enjoyed working with other people. I enjoyed giving. It just feels good. I like that feeling," she said.

She said one of their goals right now is to boost their membership numbers (currently at 10) so they can increase the amount of services they provide.

"New members bring new perspective, new ideas," she said. "Our newest member has provided this homeless project need that we didn't know about, and another new member provided us information about a health fair."

The homeless project started when Deb Greenhalgh called a local organization for the homeless and asked about their needs. Because of that phone call, the club is collecting cold-weather item donations like hats, gloves and scarves. Donation boxes are located in area businesses, including Pic-n-Sav, Tractor Supply and Eye Site.

Group members attended a recent health fair at the Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University's pharmacy school in Crestview, and will have a booth at the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce's Triple B cook-off in March.

They accept monetary donations, 100 percent of which goes right back into the community. They are also looking for fundraising ideas to support their efforts.

Area residents may email crestviewlions@hotmail.com with suggestions on how Lions can assist the Crestview community.

"Better yet, attend a meeting," Charlotte Jones said. Meetings are 7 a.m. the second and fourth Tuesdays, at Hub City Smokehouse.

To join, there is a one-time entry fee of $35, and dues are $80 a year. The dues can be paid quarterly or annually.