Ties for the Blind Foundation was formed in 1973 in Johnson City, Tennessee by founding members Dennis Powell, Jim Widener, Ramesh Desai, Wayne Douglas, Ralph Jones and Leonard Fortner, all members of the Johnson City Lions Club. The original idea came from the Coral Gables Lions Club in Florida. While on vacation, Ralph Jones visited the club, bought a number of ties from them, and resold them to Johnson City Lions. He was so successful that the founders recognized an opportunity to sell ties to other Lions as a fundraiser in support of the Johnson City club’s projects.
Everyone contributed $15.00 each to start Ties for the Blind. They contracted with a local manufacturer, Tracy’s Neckware, and ordered Lions Club patches to iron on the ties. Later they contracted with a local embroidery company, Campus Chalet, to sew the Lions logo on ties. The material was bought from Volunteer Blind Industries, a local nonprofit organization also founded by the Johnson City Lions, that trains and employs the blind.
In 1974 the members went to the Lions International Convention in San Francisco with six suitcases full of ties, and, to their delight, sold every one of them. Then they went to several local district and state conventions with similar results. Recognizing the potential for raising substantial amounts of money, the founding members decided to bring in new members, and the organization was off and running.
Most members are former presidents of the Johnson City Lions Club, although the only requirement for membership is a sincere desire to help the Lions Club carry out its mission of community service, in particular service to the blind and sight-impaired.
Ties for the Blind now sells a wide variety of items – t-shirts, golf shirts, jewelry, pin trader bags, jackets, aprons, tote bags, vests, Lions patches and, of course, ties. The members set up at the Lions Club International Convention and the USA/Canada Lions Leadership Forum when these events are held in the U.S., and it never fails that their booth is one of the most-heavily trafficked. They also attend other conventions and events when the opportunity arises, and sell by mail-order. The stock has expanded to the point that in 2011 the Foundation purchased a trailer to haul it to the shows.
Over the more than forty years of its existence, Ties for the Blind has raised and donated over $250,000 to local, state and international charitable organizations, primarily through the Johnson City Lions Club. The list of recipients includes Leader Dogs for the Blind, Lions Club International Foundation, Designees for Melvin Jones Awards, Lions District 12N White Cane Days, Carter Foundation for River Blindness, KidSight Project at Vanderbilt Hospital, Lions Quest, the Boys & Girls Club, Coalition for Kids, Girls Inc., and the Salvation Army.