By Angie Mayes, La Vergne PR Director
In May, 2004 Billy R. Cooper Jr. began losing his vision due to complications from diabetes. Today, you'd never know he's legally blind -- except for his constant companion Ace, a black lab he received from the Leader Dogs School in Rochester, Mich.
Cooper, who has worked as a rehabilitation technician and nurse's aid, said he first found out about the Leader Dogs from the Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville. After researching a few schools, he found the Leader Dogs School, which is funded by the Lions Club, an international service organization.
Cooper was the guest of honor recently at the La Vergne Lions' Club's LEO Banquet, held at O'Charley's in Smyrna. The LEO organizations is a student branch of the Lions Club, based out of La Vergne High School. Softball and Swimming coach Brenda Morris is the Club's advisor.
After being evaluated to determined that he was legally blind and physically able to care for the dog, Cooper found himself on a plane last summer headed to Rochester to attend the school, which lasts approximately 25 days.
"The first two days, they walk with you to see your pace and see how you do." Cooper said. Then on the third day, they assign you a dog, which is already trained. For the rest of the time you're there, you work with the dog, getting used to each other and becoming companions.
Besides getting a new best friend, Cooper said he is thankful for the school, which was totally free.
"There's no cost for us to go," he said. "The Lions Club funds everything. You get three meals a day, your own room, activities and training grounds (city, parks, malls, etc.) to work with your dog. Even the dog is free."
Cooper, a La Vergne resident, is often seen by residents walking in the Woodland Hills area of town with Ace. Sometimes they call into the La Vergne Police Department out of concern for him walking along the road.
"Ace knows where to walk, where to stop, where the curbs are," he said. "If a car comes by, he'll stop to protect me from being hit."
The La Vergne Police Department is familiar with Cooper and assures the residents that he's alright walking along with his dog.
"Ace has been a big help to me," Cooper said. "He's much more than a companion, he's a friend. He's given me a great deal of mobility. He's given me a lot more freedom than before."
Although robbed of his vision, Cooper knows he’s lucky.
"You can’t let this rule your life," he said. "If you get depresses you’ll lose everything, not just your site."
Cooper is looking forward to joining the La Vergne Lions Club, which meets at 7:00 p.m. the third Monday of every month at Fire Station 2 on Waldron Road.
"I want to thank the Lions for all of their help because they were there when I needed them," he said.
Billy R. Cooper Jr. (he says if you don't remember his name, remember he's a junior because he's very proud to be his father's son) can be reached at 793-9043.THE LEO CLUB
Now in its fifth year, the La Vergne High School LEO Club is a student organization affiliated with the La Vergne Lions Club, which is – of course – a member of Lions International, celebrating its 90th year in 2007.
The La Vergne Lions hosted some of the Club's 38 members during a banquet at O'Charley's Thursday (Feb. 22) night. The banquet was also attended by District Governor Shirley Statts and her husband – former District Governor – Gene Statts.
Of the 38 members of the club (some students have been in it all four years), 15 are new members this year. They are allowed 42 minutes a week for club meetings at the high school so it's often difficult for the kids to attend every meeting.
They are – by school board rules – allowed to have only two fund-raisers a year. The LEOs choose partnering with the parent club during the fall pecan and nut sale and work in the dunking booth during Old Timers' Day. Although they are allowed just two fund-raisers, they can accept donations at any time during the year. The money raised is for dues, club T-shirts, an annual banquet and more.
In addition, they collect old glasses to give to Les Brown, the President of the La Vergne Lions Club. The glasses are taken to Nashville and eventually end up at the recycling center in Roanoake, Va. Where they are fitted with new lenses for patients being helped by the Lions Club. The Lions Club members volunteer to do sight screening for those people who have passed through the application process.
Brenda Morris is the LEO Club's adviser. She can be reached at 589-2728.THE LIONS CLUB
The La Vergne Lions Club, a member of Lions International has been around for a number of years. They are a small but effective club, helping needy people with eye glasses, hearing aids and putting them in contact with the Middle Tennessee Lions Sight Service, which performs eye surgery on needy patients for no cost to the patient.
Labels: Lions Club