I CARE, EYECARE

How ECPs Get Charitable at the Local Level

 

You won't necessarily find Shery Berry in a handholding circle singing kumbaya and clutching bold visions of saving the world. You will, however, find her trying to make a difference in small, subtle ways.

An optician for nearly 20 years, the last two at Pascarella Eye Care & Contact Lenses in Newtown, PA, Berry has volunteered her time and talents to a range of vision-related efforts over the years. She has visited school nurses with free eyewear vouchers in hand; assisted with free vision screenings at local baseball games; and recycled and donated used eyeglasses. Berry has also participated in “Give Kids Sight Day,” a massive annual event sponsored by the Philadelphia Eagles Charitable Foundation that allows uninsured and underinsured children to receive free eye screenings and up to two free pairs of eyeglasses.

“Doing good and giving back is my only motivation,” Berry says. “Pay it forward. It’s that simple.”

And among the ranks of eyecare professionals, Berry is far from alone. 

Vision pros across the country, in fact, are involved in an array of local philanthropic initiatives connected to vision.


 

Mountain Eye Clinic

Dr. Richard Jabaley has been involved with the Lions Club since he first opened Mountain Eye Clinic some 20 years ago. 

Mountain Eye Clinic staff members have helped the Lions Club with vision screenings in local preschools, while the practice also provides eye examinations and glasses to those approved for services by the Lions Club. Glasses ship directly to the patient’s home, while Mountain Eye Clinic sends a bill to the Lions Club with an agreed-upon price for its services.

Optometric manager Tanya Rogers says the practice sees about 10 such cases each quarter, while staff will not hesitate to share a Lions Club application if they encounter one of their own patients struggling financially.

“It is important for your communities to know you are not just about money, that you truly care about them and everyone else,” says Rogers, who looks to lead a team of Mountain Eye Clinic volunteers to the Lions Club distribution center later this year to sort and clean glasses. 

In addition to its involvement with the Lions Club, Mountain Eye Clinic also participates in its area’s annual health fair, where staff provide vision screenings and education on vision care. 

“We are hoping to get more into the community to provide vision screenings for preschools and school-aged children showing the importance of vision exams, not just vision screenings,” Rogers says.


 

 

O’Fallon Family Eyecare

Dr. Joseph Hegyi would hear stories of local students struggling in school and parents unable to address the child’s vision needs. Hegyi hated hearing such things and took action.

“I said to our staff, ‘Let’s just tell all school nurses in the area to send these kids our way for an eye exam and glasses,’” Hegyi says.

For about four years, a few kids streamed into O’Fallon Family Eyecare each year at the suggestion of their school nurse for a complimentary exam and eyewear. It was a loosely knit, under-the-radar program that accomplished its objectives.

Last year, however, Hegyi decided to more aggressively promote the program. He renamed the program Sight for More Eyes, unveiled a logo and also expanded services to adults. Having a house-run program, Hegyi says, allows him to bypass the red tape that can sometimes thwart good intentions.

“We can evolve the program as we see fit and know that everything we provide goes directly to the care of the patient,” Hegyi says.

Hegyi and his team continue contacting school nurses at about 15 local schools, and have also reached out to local churches. If a school or church leader deems someone qualified, then that individual simply makes an appointment with O’Fallon Family Eyecare for an exam and eyewear. 


 

 

Focal Point Opticians

Four years ago, David Salk accepted an invitation from a fellow Berkeley-based optician to participate in Project Homeless Connect (PHC), a coordinated local expo that connects the San Francisco area’s most vulnerable residents to local providers of healthcare, including dental work, hearing, psychotherapy and vision.

Salk accepted the invitation and spent more than six hours at his first PHC event fitting people for eyeglasses. He was hooked.

“It’s such a rich experience to sit down with someone and talk to them about pieces of life you didn’t know before,” says Salk, who remains a regular vision volunteer at PHC events. “It’s really a humbling experience that reminds me of how lucky I am to be where I am.”

Salk, in fact, has upped his involvement with the PHC effort. Following a PHC expo, he now takes about one-third of the event’s vision orders back to Focal Point for fulfillment. The PHC office later picks up the eyewear and dispenses accordingly.

“[Working PHC events is] a different, more direct way to provide a lot of vision care at once,” Salk says.

In addition to his work with PHC, Salk also maintains longstanding involvement with the Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals (CCMP), another San Francisco area direct care provider. Salk provides complimentary vision services to those referred to his office by CCMP.

“When you’re dealing with individual people, one pair of eyewear can have a massive impact,” Salk says. 


 

 

Cynthiana Vision Center

Ask the folks at Cynthiana Vision Center why they’ve been involved with vision-focused charities such as the Lions Club, the Kentucky Vision Project and Vocational Rehab for some four decades and the answer is simple and straightforward.

“There is always a need,” optician Angel Miller says.

Cynthiana Vision Center’s most robust philanthropic relationship resides with the local Lions Club, which provides free exams and glasses to adults and children in Harrison County as well as neighboring counties. The practice averages about six Lions Club exams each week, Miller reports, while Cynthiana Vision Center also purchased mobile testing equipment for the Lions Club to use at local events.

In addition, Cynthiana Vision Center has been working with both the Kentucky Vision Project and Vocational Rehab for more than two decades. The practice provides glasses and exams to patients it sees from both programs, receiving only modest reimbursement, if any, for its contributions.

The financial piece, however, is of little concern to the Cynthiana Vision Center team who are meeting a community need while simultaneously helping patients reclaim something they had lost: their ability to see the world.

“[The benefit is] that one really grateful patient every year who bursts into tears because he or she can finally read again after years of being without correction,” Miller says.


 

 

McCulley Optix Gallery

Two years ago, the North Dakota Optometric Association called for vision volunteers at Fargo’s Special Olympics’ event. Jenna Gilbertson and her crew at Fargo’s McCulley Optix Gallery jumped at the opportunity.

“I had friends who had volunteered as coaches with Special Olympics and they always raved about the experience,” says Gilbertson, the office manager at the 11-year-old business.

On a spring Saturday in 2015, Gilbertson closed the McCulley Optix office early and ventured down to the Special Olympics event site with four McCulley colleagues. Organizers had set up 11 different vision stations for athletes to visit, including stations that checked acuities and eye health as well as one where doctors issued prescriptions. At their station, the McCulley Optix crew helped about 100 athletes select new eyeglasses.

“It was so exciting to use your skills to help so many people in such a short amount of time,” Gilbertson says, adding that the McCulley Optix team is now a regular volunteer at Fargo’s Special Olympics’ vision initiative.

While McCulley staffers cannot promote their business in any way at the event, Gilbertson says the goodwill is plenty, though she does admit the opportunity to fit dozens of special needs patients at one event arms the shop’s opticians with better experience and insights to serve the special-needs patients that come through the McCulley office throughout the year.

“That’s been a nice, unexpected benefit,” she says.


 

 

The Essilor Vision Foundation 

When it comes to vision, the Essilor Vision Foundation is committed to tackling barriers around awareness, access and affordability for children and adults across the U.S.

The Dallas-based organization provides eye exams and glasses to students via seven mobile clinics scattered across the U.S. and partners with more than 65 nonprofits across the country to provide low-cost lens and lab services. The 10-year-old Foundation also organizes community events to bring vision services to the public. In 2016, the Essilor Vision Foundation held more than 500 community events and also served more than 300 schools, efforts that propelled distribution of more than 200,000 pairs of eyeglasses. 

Dawn Alcorn, the Foundation’s director of marketing and communications, invites optometrists to participate in Essilor’s community events.

“Doctors working at these events remain our biggest need,” she says.

“If doctors or opticians have a big idea they want to explore, we’re interested in learning about it,” Alcorn says. “We want to be their resource.”

The Essilor Vision Foundation recently completed a vision mission to Anguila and St. Maarten where they saw 310 patients in need — the elderly, those with special needs and students — and will be providing 222 with glasses. You can see more about the trip here.  

 

10 Ways You Can Give the Gift
of Vision in Your Community

1

Lions Club International has been involved with vision for decades and has a worldwide network of some 46,000 local clubs. Leveraging their programs can help spotlight particular areas of need in your community.

2

State optometric associations can often offer volunteer leads as well. It’s through the North Dakota Optometric Association, for instance, that McCulley Optix Gallery became involved with the Special Olympics. 

3

Like the Lions, New Eyes for the Needy is another long-running and far-reaching organization focused on vision. They, too, might be aware of local opportunities.

4

Start with local schools and churches, suggests Dr. Joseph Hegyi of O’Fallon Family Eyecare. These institutions, he says, are not only tapped into community needs, but can also provide some preliminary vetting of an individual’s true need.

5

Many municipalities have free health clinics that include vision services and need volunteers, Cynthiana Vision Center’s Angel Miller says.

6

You can still be philanthropic without getting involved with a specific organization, many eyecare pros contend. “You can be creative in your own way to have an impact,” Salk says. “You can always secure sample frames from a manufacturer or there’s always someone who has an edger that can enable you to help someone in need.”

7

The Project Homeless Connect model that started in San Francisco is now being replicated in more than 200 cities across the U.S. and vision care remains a central part of that effort — and yet another volunteer opportunity.

8

Most municipalities also have a homeless services unit. “Getting involved here could be as easy as calling that office and saying that you’re interested in providing eyecare and learning about opportunities to get involved,” says David Salk of Focal Point Opticians.

9

If you want to get involved with a local vision charity, then get moving, Salk says. Look around. Ask questions. “Many people wait until something comes along, but there’s always a way to lend a hand if you have a desire to do so.”

10

With any charitable effort, Jenna Gilbertson of McCulley Optix Gallery says it’s important to discover where the hearts of the business owner and staff reside. “In our practice, we work a lot with children, so the Special Olympics is a natural fit for us,” she says.

 

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