Dozens of Peninsula residents receive the gift of improved sight each year thanks to a network of health professionals and volunteers who work behind the scenes. "Individuals who can't see can't fill out a job application or a rental form. Eyewear is one of the keys to ending homelessness and leading people to self-sufficiency," said Pearlie Jett, unpaid executive director of Self Protection Awareness, SPA, a leading agency for homeless outreach.
Each year, since 2005, Jett has helped to connect those in need with those who can help. Through the Lens Crafters OneSight program, which sponsors an annual Hometown Day across the country, she has funneled the uninsured to optometrists throughout the Peninsula. Optometrist Tonya D. Long, who practices at Patrick Henry Mall, was one of the first to join the effort. Each year she receives recognition from the company for her outstanding contributions.
This year, for the "one-day" program, Long opened up her office two hours early every day for two months, starting in October, to serve 65 people. "This was the most I've ever done," said Long. "It has become kind of like a competition for me." Optician Kim DiSomma also extended her work day in order to fit and measure clients. Most who participate in the Lens Crafters program, which has helped 8 million people in the U.S. and around the world since 1988, serve just three patients as their contribution.
"It's a way of providing to people who can't repay you. Last year they all lined up to give me a hug," said Long. After the eye exams, patients choose frames donated by Lens Crafters. SPA provides transportation to the appointments and also to the December "Get Your Eyeglasses Day Party" when recipients picked up their eyeglasses at an event sponsored by Chick-fil-A.
Newport News residents Marlene Manier and Regina Mabry both received their second pair of glasses through the program. Recipients are limited to a new pair every two years, except if their glasses are broken. Manier has an astigmatism and needed a new prescription for bifocals. "I can see better and read better with them," she said. "She [Dr. Long] made me feel real comfortable." Mabry, enjoying new, heavier frames, said simply, "She did an excellent job. I can see now." Both were paying it forward by volunteering with Jett on a holiday outreach program filling backpacks with supplies to distribute to the homeless.
For those needing surgery, Long was able to refer several to Glenn Campbell, an ophthalmologist with the Advanced Vision Institute in Williamsburg. Working with Project Care, Campbell determined this year to undertake 25 free surgeries on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31. The vast majority are for cataracts. Campbell estimates the cost of the surgeries at $8,000 to $10,000 per eye. "It helps those with Alzheimer's function better in a cognitive way, it decreases the number of hip fractures, and it allows people to return to work," he said. "It's kind of far-reaching in how it affects people's lives."
Need eye surgery?
Campbell is still filling slots for Dec. 31 surgeries. Call 757-229-4000 for information.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun