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Champions of Change Bios


Meet the White House Champions of Change

These 11 men and women represent all Lions as Champions of Change. Their combined efforts concerning issues such as health, youth, sight, hearing and disaster relief worldwide showcase Lions’ passion and commitment to local and global community service.

Brad Baker is the CEO of Mid-South Lions Sight and Hearing Service, Inc., an organization that provides comprehensive sight and hearing care to individuals in need from Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. A member of the Jonesboro University Heights Lions Club and a Lion for 22 years, the Jonesboro, Ark., resident works with Lions around the world to make a positive difference in the lives of people every day. Additionally, Baker’s local Lions club provides more than $10,000 in eyeglasses each year to those in need, and supports many Lions projects that help the sight and hearing impaired.

Dr. Paul Berman DR. PAUL BERMAN
Dr. Paul Berman of Hillsdale, N.J., is the founder and senior global clinical adviser of Special Olympics Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes, a program in 80 countries and more than 45 states that provides vision care for intellectually challenged individuals. Through the support of Lions Clubs International Foundation, Essilor and Safilo, more than 90,000 Special Olympics athletes now have prescription eyewear.  A member of the Hackensack Lions Club and a Lion for 20 years, Berman uses his skills as an optometrist to provide vision services. In addition, he is currently working on the Lions Lens project in partnership with Essilor, which will provide high-quality, low-cost eyeglasses for Lions’ humanitarian purposes worldwide.  This lens is being used in the U.S. and Africa and will be expanded worldwide.  Berman dreams of a day when the approximately 50 percent of all people who are blind or visually impaired because of needing a simple pair of glasses can obtain them.

Mike Buscemi has a more than 30-year history of positive youth development that led to the creation of Lions Quest, a comprehensive life skills program that has served more than 12 million children globally. While teaching junior high students, he saw the need for a structured social-emotional learning program that taught children decision making, drug deterrence and self-confidence. A member of the Thornville Lions Club and a Lion since 1982, Buscemi’s work through Lions Quest and the Lions Clubs International Foundation has helped train more than 50,000 teachers in implementing this comprehensive curriculum.

Karla N. Harris KARLA N. HARRIS
Karla N. Harris is an active member  of the South Milwaukee Lions Club whose public relations efforts and volunteer work has raised the profile of the organization in her area and internationally. In addition to serving as a corneal tissue transporter, preschool vision screener and eye glass mission volunteer, Harris supports BOLD Racing, an effort that allows visually impaired people to get behind the wheel of a race car with the assistance of a sighted person. The South Milwaukee, Wis., resident was also pivotal in the creation of the Rockin’ the Vest Lions Rap Video, a public service announcement featuring Lions in her area rapping about community service.

Gregory L. Jeffrey GREGORY L. JEFFREY
Gregory L. Jeffrey leads annual medical missions to Latin America to improve the lives of thousands of residents in need. Each trip to Honduras and El Salvador requires one year of planning and a team as large as 70 volunteers and medical professionals. The North Webster, Ind., resident has been a member of the Fort Wayne Central Lions Club since 1985 and has lead the missions since 2004, performing 2,000 vision exams and nearly 200 eye procedures.

Robert W. Massof ROBERT W. MASSOF
Robert W. Massof is a professor of ophthalmology and neuroscience and the founder and director of the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center, a division of the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute. Massof was instrumental in creating the Lions Low Vision Education Program and developed the Low Vision Enhancement System (LVES) in cooperation with other scientists, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs. LVES compensates for low vision by altering images to make them easier for people to perceive using the vision that remains.  A resident of Pasadena, Md., Massof is a member of the Baltimore Brooklyn Lions Club and is working on a pilot project to make low-vision rehabilitation services more accessible in local communities.

Nadine Nishioka organizes environmental projects within her area with a focus on protecting the environment and beautifying the community. Although she is visually impaired, Nishioka does not let anything stop her from serving her hometown of Honolulu, Hawaii. Her club, the Honolulu Manoa Waioli Lions, regularly maintains public areas for the parks department, keeps school grounds looking tidy and with the help of other Lions clubs, removed trash and graffiti from a stream bed. She also organizes region-wide projects including a food drive and an effort to bring Lions together in Seven Days of Service.

Maria Emee M. Nisnisan MARIA EMEE M. NISNISAN
Maria Emee M. Nisnisan provides health care to underprivileged populations and demonstrates how families can serve their communities together. She was instrumental in chartering a family Lions club, a Campus Lions club and a Leo club designed to prepare its members and our youth to face challenges in life and to build a better tomorrow for everyone. Additionally, her club provides vital medical services to underserved people in the community, including health fairs, medical missions domestically and abroad, free flu immunization clinics, and breast cancer awareness and screening events. Hailing from Sugar Land, Texas,Nisnisan is a registered nurse and medical practice administrator who has been a member of the Houston Royal Oaks Lions Club since 2004.

Laura Rieg of Portsmouth, Va., provides early childhood development opportunities for needy families. As a member of the Portsmouth Children First Lions Club, the early development special education teacher uses her skills to meet the educational needs of the young people in her community. Formed specifically to aid children, Rieg’s Lions club provides hearing aids and glasses for kids, purchases adaptive playground equipment and conducts a monthly preschool session.

Douglas D. Rodenbeck DOUGLAS D. RODENBECK
Douglas D. Rodenbeck has been active in youth development for decades, serving as the chairperson of a Leo club initiative that built family suites at the St. Joe Regional Medical Center Burn Unit. Leos, the youth program of Lions Clubs International, led a fundraising drive under Rodenbeck’s guidance that raised $170,000 for a place of refuge for families going through a difficult time. He is a member of the Anthony Wayne Lions Club and has been a Lion for 33 years. The Fort Wayne, Ind., resident served as the chairperson of the Indiana Burn Council for three years and taught school fire prevention for more than 35 years.

Debbie Whittlesey is extensively involved with relief and rebuilding efforts in Joplin, Mo., following the devastating F-5 tornado in May of 2011. A resident of nearby Lebanon, Mo., Lions in Whittlesey’s region quickly mobilized to provide hundreds of energy packs containing fitness water, trail mix and energy bars. Lions drove around the area handing out food, work gloves and critical supplies in the days following. Her club, district and state continues fundraising for the cause, recently planting 200 trees and working to rebuild the lives of Joplin residents.

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