Joining the world’s largest service organization 40 years ago was a natural fit for Omahan Allen Darell. “We serve” – the motto of Lions Clubs International – is his motto, too.
“Service fulfills me,” he says. “It’s really what makes me who I am.”
For more than 2½ years now – ever since retiring from his tech job – Darell has served as manager-operator of the Nebraska Lions Foundation’s Mobile Screening Unit (MSU). The traveling outreach facilitates vision, hearing and other preventive health screenings at schools, public events and corporations statewide.
“I knew of the program, how well it was operated and how much [his predecessor Steve Bennett] had improved it, and I said, ‘You know, I think I can do this.’”
And “thinking” quickly made that critical leap to “doing.” Now, in addition to driving the MSU cargo van, Darell maintains the equipment, handles screening setup, trains Lions Club volunteers in vision screening, and conducts hearing tests as a qualified audiology specialist.
All told, Darell will log about 30,000 miles this year, impacting the lives of almost 36,000 students in more than 200 Nebraska schools.
“I’m all over the place,” he says. “I could be in Callaway one day, Broken Bow over to Ord and Arcadia. The very next week, I could be in Kimball, Potter and Dix, and Benkelman.”
The goal of the 33-year-old program is early detection to improve quality of life for students across the state. Each year, the MSU, which is wholly sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, helps uncover and remedy thousands of health issues.
“We had a situation in southern Nebraska – a girl who was very hard of hearing. She ended up getting hearing aids,” Darell recalls. “They’d only suspected she had hearing loss, but they’d never done anything about it until we saw her. Every time I’m in that school, I’m proud to have confirmed their suspicions and improved that girl’s life.”
Darell has seen steady growth since he’s been managing the MSU – 166 schools his first year, 193 the next, and more than 200 this year. There are plans to put a second MSU on the road for 2020-2021.
“We’re going to do 225 schools next year,” he predicts.
For Darell, a former IT systems analyst, taking charge of the MSU after retirement – essentially a full-time job August through May – was a natural extension of a life shaped by community service.
As a Boy Scout, he embraced the motto “Do a good turn daily,” which inspired him to serve as a Red Cross volunteer during high school in Davenport, Iowa, and run a bowling league for those with Down syndrome. That flowed into his decades-long involvement with Lions Clubs in Iowa and Nebraska. He encourages others to take that leap into service by searching their heart and connecting their passion with a need.
“We all have different things we like to help with,” he says. “I’m not the greatest at some things, but I have a niche with the sight and hearing work.”