By Jane Collins, President Maben Lions Club
MABEN — Lion Omis Avant of Longview community near Starkville visited the Maben Lions Club March 27 to present a program to the noon meeting. Mr. Avant is a wonderful example of someone who has faced much adversity in his life and overcome these obstacles in spectacular ways. Omis is a retired teacher who taught math, science and served as a coach in the public schools and the community college of Key West, Fla. He was accompanied to the meeting by his wife, Beverly, who herself is a retired elementary teacher. After retiring Omis returned to his hometown area in Starkville and became active in the Starkville Lions Club and other civic organizations, serving three years ago as president of the Starkville Lions. Lion Omis brought the Maben Lions a message of courage in the aftermath of becoming totally blind about a year and a half ago. On Labor Day 2010 he suffered a stroke that took the sight from his remaining good eye. An earlier stroke had taken the sight of one eye, and now he was facing the challenge of learning to live without any sight. Being an optimist who has repeatedly overcome challenges such as polio and a heart blockage, to name just two, Omis immediately looked for a place to get help. Upon determining that the damage was permanent he applied to Addie McBryde Center for the Blind, located near the back of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, to receive training for functioning with this new challenge. Addie McBryde Center uses Lion Club donations to help provide educational and practical living skills for its students. Both Maben and Starkville Lions clubs give moneys to Addie McBryde, so it was instructive to the club to learn firsthand how Addie McBryde had helped a fellow Lion. Omis began his talk by sharing with the group a little about his background in teaching and being active as a Lion. He then described how he learned to use a white cane, and showed us his special cane that is designed to accommodate his age and slight limp resulting from his bout with polio. Then he told us about his having to find his way around the Addie McBryde facility on his own using an elevator to access several floors, and being able to locate his room and all his classrooms. He learned to walk outside on the sidewalk, listen for traffic and successfully cross the street by himself. During the year of weekdays that he lived at the center he learned to operate a special computer by learning to use a keyboard, which he had never learned before, and every function key use that was presented. As impressive as all this was to hear, the club was fascinated to be given a lesson in reading Braille, the special alphabet developed by a Frenchman and used for communication universally by people who are blind. Because Omis has a mathematical mind and can determine patterns easily, he was able to visualize the pattern of dots that make the Braille alphabet. His teacher was amazed when he came back to school after the weekend and was able to tell her the entire alphabet after having struggled to memorize the first few letters just by rote. When he was able to “see” the pattern the task became much easier. All Lions clubs are dedicated to raising money to help people who are visually and hearing impaired. Lions are “Knights of the Blind,” answering a challenge given to the original Lions clubs in 1925 by Helen Keller at a convention in Chicago. If you are interested in joining a Lions Club near you contact a Lion in Maben, Starkville or Eupora. Also, check out the website for Lions Clubs International.