Doctor treating homeless honored Ophthalmologist wins award for taking eye care to streets


Dr. Michelle Gelkin, a Baltimore ophthalmologist, has helped improve the vision of more than 1,500 area homeless people free. Her follow-ups take place unexpectedly.

She thought she recognized a man sitting on a curb downtown, deep into a newspaper. Sure enough, he was a homeless man she had examined and given eyeglasses. "Dr. Gelkin, this is great. I can read a paper now. Thanks."

Gelkin said she diagnosed another man as so shortsighted he was legally blind. He gained self-sufficiency along with his eyesight. "Dr. Gelkin, thanks. I got a job because of my glasses."

Gelkin of Lutherville is one of 21 Maryland volunteers whose work recently earned their nonprofit agencies $1,000 each in the annual Maryland J. C. Penney Golden Rule Volunteer Awards. An additional 35 finalists received $250 for their agencies.

"Homeless people don't come to you, so you go where they hang out," said Gelkin. She or other ophthalmologists park their Vision Van twice a month at Health Care for the Homeless, 111 Park Ave. in Baltimore. Most people who show up there have poor vision.

The probono doctors give complete exams and check for cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and other problems. If clients need eyeglasses, they are asked to return to pick them up at Health Care when the van returns in two weeks.

Some of the patients have had eye diseases detected and treated before damage is too great.

Gelkin, who has a private practice, founded the Mobile Eye Care program of the Maryland Society for Sight in 1991. She later enlisted other ophthalmologists from medical school residency programs and is now president of the society.

"I love what I do, it's so rewarding," said Gelkin. "But we'd like to do this throughout the state."

The van's upkeep, eyeglasses and other essentials cost between $40,000 and $50,000 a year.

Kathleen M. Curtin, the society's executive director, said Gelkin is "just super -- totally dedicated to the homeless and the indigent."

The small nonprofit organization -- two full-time staffers and three part-timers -- has been trying to prevent blindness in Baltimore since 1909. Until three years ago, it was the Maryland Society to Prevent Blindness.

"We do many things besides eye care for the homeless," said Curtin.

The organization, at 1313 W. Old Cold Spring Lane, pairs volunteers with the vision-impaired. It promotes eye protection in sports and screens adults and preschoolers.

Information: 410-243-2020.


J. C. Penney Co. Inc. honored 21 Marylanders, including 10 from the Baltimore metropolitan area. In addition to Dr. Michelle Gelkin, they are:

Ellen Blume, 89, Catonsville, serves as "loving grandmother" at the Children's Home, Catonsville, for abused and neglected children.

Georgine Edgerton, Baltimore, spurred rebuilding of Cahill Performing Arts Center after a fire and promoted neighborhood improvements as unofficial "mayor" of Walbrook.

Virginia Gallik, Dundalk, encourages adults to share life experiences with students on behalf of Baltimore County Department of Aging.

Marie Landenberger, 97, Baltimore, crochets lap robes and blankets for elderly, homeless and HIV- and crack-impaired babies on behalf of Bell Atlantic Telephone Pioneers.

Alexandra Pruner, 18, Annapolis, organizes leadership conferences on behalf of the Maryland Association of Student Councils.

Gerri Sieglein, 75, Baltimore, visits and supports residents of Genesis Eldercare Nursing Home, with Pets on Wheels-Life Enrichment, Towson, on behalf of Baltimore County Department of Aging.

Sue Smither, Pasadena, volunteers all day at Sunset Elementary School, Pasadena.

Olivia Spriggs, Baltimore, has volunteered for 40 years with Crownsville Psychiatric Hospital Auxiliary, Crownsville.

Jonvoana R. Titus, 17, Baltimore, promotes students' potential through Woodbourne Student Leadership Training Program.

Other Maryland winners are:


Eric L. Gray, 18, Sharpsburg, a volunteer firefighter who responded to most calls in 1997 with Potomac Valley Valley Fire Company.

Maria Ickes, 12, Waldorf, helps children, homeless adults and others through Charles County Children's Aid Society.

Cory Snyder, 14, and Brock Snyder, 12, Bowie, founded Project Rescue Vision to buy equipment for Bowie Volunteer Fire Company and Rescue Squad.


Ann Clinton, Emmitsburg, encourages reading in literacy program at Up-County Family Center, Emmitsburg.

Cathleen Cooper, Lusby, promotes education with Indian Head Head Start Parents Group.

Jenny Werking, 15, Waldorf, has worked for five summers with at-risk children.


Rhoda Chanin, Silver Spring, coordinates and monitors visits of foster children who had been abused or neglected with their biological parents for Court Appointed Special Advocates.

John Molyneaux, Wheaton, has taught more than 300 courses and certified more than 2,000 students and 600 instructors to promote water safety for the American Red Cross.

The Rev. Fred G. Neal, Suitland, besides serving as pastor of Mount Ararat Baptist Church, works for homeless families, at-risk children, recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, and children needing adoption or foster care.

Doug S. Schwab, Cumberland, founder of Boy Scout Troop 89, which has one Eagle Scout and four Life Scouts, for youths with disabilities.

Constance Thompson, Lexington Park, promotes activities for people with developmental disabilities as president of the Arc of Southern Maryland.

! Pub Date: 5/23/98

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