“Find your passion – and go with it.”
Both a straightforward piece of advice and an attitude embraced by the fearless, it has taken Steve Bennett, 64, from service in the Air Force to the heights of corporate success to a passion project with statewide impact.
“I’ll work 365 days a year if I’m needed,” he said. Since 2012, Bennett has been the heart and soul – driver and operator – of the Lions Mobile Screening Unit (MSU), a four-wheeled outreach effort that facilitates free vision, hearing and other preventive health screenings at schools, public events and corporations statewide.
“I’ve done schools that are as small as four kids. A lot of these schools don’t have nursing staff or proper equipment. We go in and help them take care of their state- mandated screening requirements.”
The scope of the MSU’s impact is dramatic. Funded by the Nebraska Lions Foundation and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, it enabled more than 21,000 free screenings at schools and public events in 2015 – and the discovery of more than 4,300 health issues requiring further attention.
“Some of these kids, they’ve never been to an eye doctor,” Bennett said. “When you screen a child and find out that they are so farsighted they can’t read – and then you get them some help – that’s the rewarding thing.”
A 20-year member of Lions International, the world’s largest service organization, Bennett retired from Ameritrade (now TD Ameritrade) at 47. The company was in its infancy when he started.
“I was maybe the 99th or 100th employee hired,” he recalled. “I worked in the software area and wrote software for the system that connects to the New York Stock Exchange.”
Certain that he has been blessed throughout his life, he said working with the MSU is his way of doing something more.
“I’ll be honest. I have so much fun teasing and playing with these kids. It’s just great.”
That prospect of “fun” initially drew him to the MSU, but his involvement has evolved into something much more – a calling. During his busiest stretch – mid- August to March – Bennett, who receives some compensation for his time and effort, may be on the road five or six days a week.
“I try to schedule in geographic clumps so I can leave on Sunday, drive to where I need to be on Monday morning, screen through the week around that locale, and then either head home or go on to my next spot,” he said.
In addition to driving the MSU, he maintains the equipment, including several new handheld vision screeners that can test children as young as 6 months. He also conducts some of the testing and trains screening volunteers to do the same.
His wife and fellow Lion, Debbie, handles the mammoth task of scheduling. “I couldn’t do this without her,” he said.
Bennett believes everyone is capable of being fearless in their outreach – as long as they’re fueled by their passions.
“If it’s not your passion to help in a community garden, don’t do that. There’s all kinds of different ways to volunteer. Find your passion – and go with it.”
“Faces of Fearless” is a storytelling series in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s “Live Fearless” campaign celebrating people living their very best lives and inspiring others to do the same.