The Big Story: Charity Cases

It’s the season of giving thanks
— and giving back.

ut for many ECPs, charitable works are a way of life year-round. And “doing well by doing good” is smart for so many reasons:

You make a difference. This is the most obvious reason people volunteer their time or money: They know they’re having an impact, whether it’s in their own community or around the world.

People expect it — and young adults are demanding it. As Christie Garton wrote on, millennials “demand a ‘participation economy’ that allows them to contribute, co-create and shape the giving behaviors of brands they love.”

It helps you attract and keep quality people. Employees appreciate it when their bosses take action to build a better world. You can volunteer as a team at a local event, choose a charity to support with donations or give staff paid time off to pitch in for the cause of their choice.

A recent survey done for Transitions Optical showed that more than 80 percent of all adults believe eyecare professionals should be involved in their communities. So from the INVISION files, here are some case studies of how ECPs, vision care companies and allied organizations are working for a better world.


One of the largest global vision care charities, Optometry Giving Sight is the force behind World Sight Day Challenge held each fall, as well as a major funder of year-round efforts to train local people worldwide to deliver eyecare.

THE NEED: Worldwide, more than 600 million people are blind or have poor vision because they lack access to eye exams and glasses. There simply aren’t enough ECPs to go around. In India, for example, the Brien Holden Vision Institute estimates that 115,000 optometrists are needed to serve the population of 1.25 billion people, but there are just 9,000.

THE ACTION: Optometry Giving Sight raises funds to train local people worldwide to deliver eyecare services at community vision centers. It works with a multitude of international partners and major vision care companies — and each year, ECPs across America get involved in the World Sight Day Challenge in lots of fun ways. For example, Vision Clinic in Springfield, MO, has organized a 5K race to benefit the cause each year since 2012. This year, about 150 runners took part and raised $4,000. (The clinic kicked in another grand to make it an even $5K for the 5K.) Vision Clinic is a member of Vision Source, which is raising a million dollars to help build an optometry school in Haiti, a country where there are currently just three eye doctors to serve 10 million people.

The I Care & Share program offers ECPs a way to get involved year-round. Because a little money goes a long way when it comes to getting eyewear in developing countries, about $5 or even less can provide a pair of glasses. Dr. Lee Dodge of VisualEyes Optometry in Sherman Oaks, CA, recently adopted the cause. “Patients love the fact that we donate a pair of glasses every time they purchase a pair of glasses from us,” he says.

THE RESULTS: Optometry Giving Sight CEO Clive Martin estimates that all told, “close to 1,000 optometric practices, companies and schools” took part in the World Sight Day Challenge this fall and about 50 are now supporting I Care & Share. Optometry Giving Sight has established more than 70 sustainable eyecare projects in 38 nations since 2007. More than 4 million people have received basic eyecare services; over 2,600 people have been trained; and 100 vision centers are up and running.


In mid-December, people from all across San Francisco, CA, will line up to visit Project Homeless Connect for its biggest annual event. Whether in the legendary Bill Graham Auditorium or under temporary tents elsewhere in the city, PHC offers guests a chance to get one-stop help with an array of basic human services, including vision care.

THE NEED: PHC was launched in 2004 by then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Optician Karen Flynn heard about it and volunteered, but “I didn’t leave with warm fuzzy feelings about helping people,” she recalls, remembering long lines and many people turned away. “I was mad.” She met highmyope people who’d gone a year or more without glasses, and others who were “wearing the closest Rx available from the bin of eyeglasses at Goodwill.” In many cases, the need was even more urgent, since many people had serious underlying health conditions that a screening could reveal. “This was a major public health crisis that could be solved with a relatively low amount of money,” Flynn says.

THE ACTION: Flynn started working the phones to get donations from vision care companies. “The first people to step up were SALT, Oliver Peoples, DBL Lab and VSP,” she says. As word spread, frame sales reps started planning their trips to volunteer at PHC events; ECPs traveled from afar to help; whole offices closed for a day to lend a hand; and the donations kept flowing.

Flynn eventually turned over the volunteer coordination duties to fellow vision industry veteran Robert Bell (who writes about his PHC experiences on page 56) so she could focus on opening her new shop, The Optician in Berkeley, CA. Returning to action this fall, she was delighted to see how things have grown. “Man, to see four auto-refractors and eight lanes at the last event was so great,” she says. “Another beautiful thing is seeing the collaboration. Practices that could be rivals are all working toward a common goal and having fun.”

THE RESULTS: In addition to the big events, PHC holds “Every Day Connect” clinics at its office and elsewhere. Over the next 12 months, Bell says, PHC expects to make up to 2,500 pairs of glasses, perform about that many eye exams and dispense more than 5,000 pairs of OTC readers.

“The goal, which has always been Karen Flynn’s dream, is to be able to provide vision care to anyone in need and to everyone who asks for it,” Bell says. That goal is in sight for 2016, he adds. “As a byproduct, we’re trying to provide a national model of what a vision charity can be.”


Being a big, vertically integrated vision care company has its advantages, including the ability to mobilize eyecare for people who lack it due to income, distance or disaster. For 60 years, VSP Global has leveraged its companies — including VSP Optics and Marchon Eyewear — plus its vast network of ECPs to bring vision services into underserved communities across the United States and around the world.

THE NEED: Communities can lose adequate eyecare resources for a variety of reasons. Ten years ago, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast with a one-two punch, VSP Global pitched in to provide eyecare and replace glasses for residents and first responders affected by the storms and to re-equip doctors whose practices had been damaged or destroyed. VSP Mobile Eyes evolved from that experience — and for the 2015 World Sight Day Challenge, the mobile eye clinic was back in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward to provide no-cost eye exams and glasses to nearly 200 people in need.

THE ACTION: Also this fall, VSP Global marked its 60th anniversary with several special events including the largest multi-city mobile clinic in the company’s history, with 1,637 people receiving care in California, New York and Ohio over a five-day period. And in what’s become an annual outreach event now in its sixth year, NBA star Tyreke Evans returned to his hometown of Chester, PA, to sponsor a no-cost eyecare clinic for children and adults, plus a free basketball camp for 132 kids in elementary through high school. After learning some sweet moves from the New Orleans Pelicans star, students took home backpacks filled with school supplies, apparel and athletic gear donated by VSP.

THE RESULTS: Through Eyes of Hope programs, including VSP Mobile Eyes and partnering organizations that include Optometry Giving Sight, VSP Global businesses have donated more than $173 million in free eyecare and eyewear. “By the end of 2015, VSP will be very close to hitting the 1 million mark for helping those in need,” notes VSP Global spokeswoman Maryam Brown.

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Wes Stoody was shocked when he learned that one dollar’s worth of Vitamin A could help save the life — and maybe the sight — of a child in the developing world. He had no optical background, but he decided to launch an eyewear line and partner with independent ECPs to do something about the issue.

THE NEED: While in college, Stoody learned about the work of Dr. Al Sommer, who discovered how just two low-cost doses of Vitamin A supplements each year can save a child’s sight. Recalling this in an interview with iamselfless. com (see it at, Stoody says, “I couldn’t believe that most Americans had no idea that Vitamin A deficiency even exists; that about a million kids a year die or go blind from Vitamin A deficiency; and that Vitamin A supplementation is the most cost-effective solution to any of the world’s health problems.”

THE ACTION: Stoody hired a freelance eyewear designer and started emailing with the president of Helen Keller International, a 100-year-old organization that combats blindness worldwide. By the end of his senior year, he’d begun the manufacturing process for Aframes, naming models for countries where HKI does its work. The frames were soon discovered by independent eyecare pros. “Patients love the story behind the eyewear line and the shapes are trendy with classic colors,” says Dr. Courtney Dryer of 4 Eyes Optometry in Charlotte, NC.

THE RESULTS: So far, Article One has helped bring a year’s worth of Vitamin A to 7,000 children in such countries as Bangladesh, Cameroon and Senegal, with $2 from each pair sold benefitting the cause. Article One’s website also encourages direct donations to Helen Keller International.

As for the company’s new name, it comes from Article One of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Stoody says he and business partner Cole Sanseverino have improved design and manufacturing over the past few years to make an ever-better product that’s now carried by about 65 optical shops — so the time was right for a new brand before the company gets much bigger. “First and foremost, we want to be a great eyewear brand,” Stoody says.

SUBJECT: Hicks Brunson Eyewear, Tulsa, OK

The Brunson family has outfitted people in Tulsa, OK, with glasses for nearly a century. And for nearly that long, the family has had deep community service ties. Daniel Brunson, the great-grandson of business founder Hicks Brunson, currently makes eyeglasses each month for at-risk teens through Youth Services of Tulsa. “I remember one girl who couldn’t see past a foot in front of her, and she hadn’t had glasses in years,” Brunson told his local newspaper. “Giving glasses to someone in that situation, it changes their world and enables them to get around better and to hold a job.” Brunson also likes to partner with brands that are a force for good. For example, he admires Sama Eyewear’s Sheila Vance’s efforts to help drugaddicted youth as a tribute to her son, who died of a heroin overdose.

SUBJECT: Look + See Eye Care, Minneapolis, MN

Dr. Sarah Jerome of Look + See Eye Care in Minneapolis, MN, has traveled with Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (vosh. org) to Mexico (2009), Latvia (2011) and Fiji (twice, 2013 and 2015). On this year’s sojourn, she says, “We traveled from tiny island to tiny island and set up a medical clinic in a school or a home, and we had to load bins with equipment, medication and glasses into a boat so we could set up a clinic for a day.” Among the people Jerome met and served (above): a woman who needed cataract surgery and her daughter, who got glasses so she could read and sew.

Back home, Jerome and her team volunteer for many causes in the Twin Cities. They do free vision screenings for area schoolchildren; take part in charity fun runs; and even raised money to train Toby, a guide dog for the blind. For Jerome, such activities are a chance for her to give something back. “When I was growing up, my siblings and I were raised by a single mother and there were times when we relied on the help of strangers to get by,” she recalls. “I have always been grateful for that.” Jerome says she feels fortunate to have had good education and abundant opportunities that have put her in a position where she can do good for others, “whether it’s here in my community or somewhere far away. I know not everyone can leave their office to volunteer in another country, so I do it because I can. It’s incredibly rewarding both personally and professionally.”


What’s your favorite cause? Whether it’s faith-based activism, environmental sustainability, helping animals or children’s charities, you can find an industry partner that’s doing good work in that area.

  1. 141 EYEWEAR
    As its name says, 141 matches each purchase “one for one” with a gift of Rx eyewear to someone in need. (See photo at right.) Owner Shu-Chu Yamaguchi says that’ll be about 7,500 pairs in 2015. Rosemary Anderson High School in the company’s Portland, OR, backyard is one beneficiary. Each year, Myoptic Optometry gives free eye exams to the students of this alternative high school, and kids get to pick out a pair of 141 glasses. Ossip Optometry and Ophthalmology in Indiana also offers 141 frames at its annual Day of Giving to people without access to affordable eyecare and eyewear.

    This Long Island, NY, company is involved in local projects galore including Big Brothers Big Sisters, for which it held a recordbreaking clothing drive; a Stuff-the- Bus school supplies drive with the local United Way; food drives for the Long Island Cares Harry Chapin food bank; and projects to benefit the World Sight Day Challenge. The company offers eight paid volunteer hours each year, and its CVO Cares committee researches new ways to give back to meaningful causes.

    Founded by husband-and-wife team Jim and Amy Schneider, Eyes of Faith supports global missions projects through its Wear & Share program and offers Hope showcases for ECPs to browse and select frames at their convenience.

    Every holiday season, L’AMY offers a one-for-one program for its brands. Opticians sign up to keep track of pairs sold, and L’AMY donates frames to charities such as Lions Club International, New Eyes for the Needy, Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity and Eyewear for Kids. Since starting this program six years ago, L’AMY has donated more than 10,000 frames.

    On World Sight Day 2015, social media feeds filled with photos of celebrities (including Georgia May Jagger, above, and Randy Jackson) sporting “hand glasses” with the hash tag #HelpTheWorldSee. The campaign was from OneSight, Luxottica’s nonprofit arm, to call attention to new findings that 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to glasses. (See more details at invmag. us/11156.)

  6. MODO
    Through its Eco brand, Modo Eyewear is restoring deforested lands and helping farmers learn sustainable practices. Eco’s “One Frame One Tree” project with Trees for the Future has now planted more than a million trees. Eco frames are made from either recycled or biobased materials, and packaging is made from recycled soda bottles.

    The optical industry generates a lot of materials that can be reused. Working with Innereactive Media, Marchon commissioned seven artists to create art from eyewear, lenses, frame parts, cases and printed materials that would otherwise wind up in landfills. The company hopes to expand Re-Visions of Art and collaborate with customers, charities and schools to work with established artists in communities worldwide to make more art.

    A portion of proceeds from all Paws N Claws Eyewear sold benefits the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The company recently made its largest donation yet: $11,000.

  9. TOMS
    First with shoes, later with eyewear, TOMS was a “buy one, give one” pioneer. Dr. Angie Patteson of Sunset Eye Care in Johnson City, TN, likes the story behind the line’s temples, which include portions to represent the patient; TOMS; and the person assisted with the purchase. “How cool is that?!” she asks.

    “Art education shapes and saves lives,” says Velvet Eyewear founder Cindy Hussey, so the company and its foundation work with organizations to recycle materials and raise funds so schools can continue to have strong arts programs even in times of tight budgets.