1961: The idea is born when three Lions approach the District 21-A Presidents Council with an urgent need for new facilities for the Phoenix Center for the Blind, which faces imminent eviction. The Council decided to take on the project.
1962: A non-profit corporation is formed, known as the Melvin Jones – Lions Center for the Blind (MJL) in honor of Arizona’s native son, who founded Lions International.
1963: Lion & Mrs. Keith Taylor donate a 2 1/2-acre site. A 9,200 square foot center is constructed, at a cost of only $85,000, thanks to generous donations of labor and materials by Lions and the community. A corner of the property is ground-leased to Circle K to build a convenience market and provide income to MJL.
1964: The new center is dedicated by Lions International President, Aubrey Green. PCB and its newly formed PCB Auxiliary move in, along with the two organized clubs of blind persons in the Phoenix Area, the Maricopa County Club of the Blind and the Zenith Club of the Blind.
1965: Having outgrown previous quarters, the Telephone Pioneers move their volunteer Talking Book Maintenance Service into a refurbished corner of the center.
1966: A small room is converted to accommodate the Lions Vision Center, an optometric clinic for the needy sponsored by the Camelback Mountain Lions Club and utilized by many other Clubs. PCB initiates operation of the Lions Information Service answering inquiries of all kinds about Arizona Lionism.
1967: MJL takes in Recording for the Blind (Arizona Unit), whose previous facilities were very inadequate. Two organizations for the deaf – - Phoenix Association of the Deaf and HEARS (Hearing Education & Rehabilitation Society) – - begin using the center for meetings and activities.
1968: In cooperation with the City of Phoenix, one acre of the property is converted from an unsightly vacant lot into the MJL Minipark. The original $65,000 mortgage is ceremoniously burned at the Lions State Convention – 7 years early! The new See-Hear Foundation adopts MJL as a mailing address and major beneficiary.
1969: MJL purchases the former Arizona Farm Bureau building, on one acre of land adjacent to MJL, to house the newly created Arizona Regional Library for the Blind and physically Handicapped. The Arizona Association of Workers with the Blind, a new Chapter of national AAWB, opts to base at MJL.
1970: MJL launches Project Sight-Raising, aided by a grant from State Blind Services, to set long-range goals and plans. The Arizona Council of the Blind is formed and chooses MJL as its headquarters.
1971: with a federal grant of 50~ of the $55,000 cost, MJL purchases a 5-plex apartment building on 1/2 acre of land across the street to house PCB’s new Residential Rehabilitation Training Program.
1972: The Arizona Council of the Blind establishes the ACB Federal Credit Union, which becomes MJL’s 12th tenant. MJL changes its name to the Melvin Jones – Lions Foundation for the Blind and Handicapped, to reflect its broadening scope.
1973-74: Project Sight Raising’s Final Report is approved; MJL begins a major public relations and fund-raising effort to expedite implementation.
1975-76: A 12,000-square-foot/$350,000 addition is built to relocate the growing Regional Library and Recording for the Blind, add 2,000 square-feet to PCB, and convert the PCB kitchen to commercial specifications. The Lions Vision Center, Lions Information Service, and the MJL offices move into the vacated Library building.
1976: The Arizona Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation (“Double E” Program) is welcomed as a new tenant. MJL creates its first staff position (semi-volunteer), hiring Lion Burley Fulbright as Executive Secretary and Phyllis Fulbright as Office Secretary.
1977: Arizona Lions approve MJL as an official State Project, providing for wider involvement and support. The new Arizona Low Vision Service becomes a tenant, providing uniquely sophisticated optical aids and training.
1978: The Paralyzed Veterans of America move their Arizona Headquarters to MJL. Other space is renovated to accommodate a new Brain Injury Clinic, with Firebird Lions as major sponsors. MJL officially changes its name to Lions Foundation of Arizona, in keeping with continuing changes in needs and responsibilities.
1978-79: Ten previously separate organizations interested in the deaf and hearing impaired form a new “umbrella” corporation, the Valley Center of the Deaf, to coordinate their various efforts; LFA invests $25,000 to provide start-up facilities to VCD. LFA launches Project Sight-Raising II, retaining Design Associates as architects to help master-plan a five year development project.
1980: A 9-phase/$1.2 million expansion plan is adopted with three phases to be implemented immediately at $350,000: (1) Total refurbishing of the Circle K building into a new 4,000-square-foot facility for VCD, aided by a $35,000 grant from the Area Agency on Aging, (2) A 4,300-square-foot addition to the main building, providing new offices for the Credit Union and the PVA, 1,500 added square feet for the Library, and custom quarters for a new tenant, Sun Sounds of KMCR-FM and Rio Salado Community College (radio reading service for the print-handicapped), and (3) Conversion of the Minipark into required parking.
1981: Another new tenant is provided start-up facilities, the Independent Living Center program of the Arizona Congress for Action, a consumer advocacy group of and for the disabled. The Phoenix City Council awards LFA a HUD Community Development Block Grant of $175,000 as 50~ funding to build a fully equipped rehabilitative swimming facility for the handicapped. The State Legislature appropriates funds for a large computer system for the Library, necessitating immediate expansion, a new facility is designed for 1982 construction – - 21,000 square-feet, $750,000.
1982: The new Library is built on the northwest corner of 32nd and Diamond Streets. The Therapy Pool is built. Dr. Charles Gibson becomes Executive Director of LFA. Su Townsend Pool Director.
1983: The Library is relocated to the new quarters. In March the pool is opened for aquatic therapy.
1984: Arizona Low Vision Service relocates to the Sun Sounds building. Paralyzed Veterans, Project Mobility, Rehab Clinic and Lions Sight & Hearing Foundation relocate to the space vacated by the Library. A conference room is created for use by all LFA tenants. Mike England takes over as Executive Director.
1985-86: Anita Johnson is appointed Administrator. The remaining space vacated by the Library is leased to Maricopa County AHCCCS, necessitating the relocation of PVA, Lions Sight & Hearing Foundation, Rehab Clinic, and Project Mobility. LFA accounting is computerized.
1987: Project Sight-Raising III is begun. A “pooled income trust” is established as a mechanism for developing endowment funding as a major aspect of financial support. LFA celebrates its 25th Anniversary with multiple events, including an open house for its fifteen current tenants and the two service programs operated directly by LFA.
In addition, throughout its existence LFA has offered its expertise and resources in response to countless requests for help from all over Arizona. The Board of Directors, as well as its individual members, have provided technical assistance, and sometimes financial support, to many Lions Clubs and other community organizations faced with problems of developing and housing programs for Arizonans with disabilities. Prominent among these have been cooperative efforts in Yuma, Tucson, Kingman, Prescott and Nogales, as well as the Greater Phoenix area.
What was only a dream of three Arizona Lions in 1961 has become a four-acre, $4 million reality, plus bigger dreams to work on. Arizona’s needs will continue to grow, and LFA will mount ever increasing efforts to help our communities meet them.