You have heard me talk about the importance of being a member of the AOA and the American Academy of Optometry. The charitable arms of both these organizations exemplify who we are as doctors and a profession.
For example, Optometry Cares (part of the AOA) has more than 5,000 O.D.s who volunteer to deliver eye care to adults and children in need. Meanwhile, the AAO Foundation supports research and education to enhance the state of our profession. (It’s worth noting that the list of donors and members of this charity are the educational leaders of our great profession.)
The Essilor Foundation, also mentioned this month, not only provides eye care and eyewear to many in need, it is developing a program with Optometry Cares, called Healthy Eyes Healthy Children, which, with the help of many O.D.s around the country, will supply children with free eye care and eyewear. How cool is that?
Come read about these extraordinary charitable organizations.
Jack Schaeffer, O.D., F.A.A.O.,
OPTOMETRY GROUP WEIGHS IN . . .
ALLAN BARKER, O.D.,
DAVID KIRSCHEN, O.D., Ph.D.,
& KIM SCHUY.
Q: WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF YOUR CHARITABLE ORGANIZATION?
AB: Optometry Cares serves as the charitable foundation for the American Optometric Association (AOA). Its most recognized programs: InfantSEE, Children’s Vision and Vision USA.
DK: The American Academy of Optometry Foundation (AAOF) is the philanthropic arm of the American Academy of Optometry (AAO). Its mission is to develop and provide financial support for optometric research and education in eye and vision health to improve patient clinical care.
KS: The Essilor Vision Foundation partners with communities to provide vision screenings, vision exams and glasses to underserved children at no cost to their families. We also work to educate parents and communities about the importance of vision. Since 2007, the Essilor Vision Foundation has provided more than 500,000 pairs of glasses to individuals in need.
Q: COULD YOU PROVIDE A STORY ABOUT HOW YOUR EFFORTS RESULTED IN A BENEFICIAL OUTCOME?
AB: I don’t have a specific story, but I can’t over stress the beneficial nature of Vision USA, in particular. The U.S. is the richest country in the world, and yet so many people fall between the health care cracks. Optometry Cares is specifically a domestic charity, and AOA member optometrists, under the Vision USA banner, have helped provide free eye care to about 250,000 patients since the program’s inception in 1996. That is a lot of AOA optometrists donating their time and efforts to help others.
DK: Three years ago when I became president of the Board, I had the idea to start a “giving culture” among optometry students. We started the Student Giving Travel Fellowship Matching Program, in which optometry students donate individually to the AAOF and if their school raises $750 (the cost of a travel fellowship), the AAOF would match that, so two students from that school could attend the AAO Annual meeting. The number of schools participating has grown every year.
KS: We are working with Southern Methodist University, which is analyzing five years of data to understand the impact of our efforts on a North Texas school district. This white paper will show academic performance improvement when a child receives a vision exam and glasses prior to testing.
Q: WHAT IS THE BIGGEST HURDLE IN RAISING MONEY AND AWARENESS FOR YOUR CHARITY?
AB: Charities are competitive. Also, there are politics involved. This has always been a frustration for me. Another fact of life is that although a significant percentage of optometrists are quite generous with their time and money, others are hard to reach and motivate.
DK: Traditionally, the single biggest reason individuals do not give to charity is that they are not asked. Our board works very hard in making the case for the importance of the AAOF and will ask for donations at the right time and in the right way.
KS: Awareness of the issue of poor vision for underserved communities is the absolute biggest hurdle. Uncorrected vision has not been deemed a major issue in the U.S. The public associates poor vision with third world countries, when, in fact, we know more than 12 million U.S. children need vision services every year.
Q: DO YOU THINK COLLEGES OF OPTOMETRY SHOULD REQUIRE CHARITY WORK FOR GRADUATION?
AB: Yes. I feel that students should be indoctrinated into the habit of giving. Optometry is a giving profession, and philanthropy is a positive habit to start early, as students enter the profession.
DK: I don’t think the colleges of optometry should require charity work. They should create a culture among the students, staff and faculty where each group would want to give freely of their time and resources.
KS: I don’t think charity should ever be required. Of course, it is quite rewarding, and those who participate often give back throughout their careers, but it cannot be forced.
Q: WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS CONSIDERING GETTING INVOLVED IN ANY CHARITABLE ORGANIZATION?
AB: Step one is to come to grips with the fact that optometrists are generally blessed with prosperity and an opportunity to give to the general welfare of others. We all have our problems, but there really is no excuse not to contribute our money and services to Optometry Cares. Step two is to jump in feet first, and get involved.
DK: Charity work is very rewarding. My grandfather-in-law used to say, “Whatever you give to charity, you get back tenfold.” When you volunteer your time and donate your funds to a worthwhile cause, like the AAOF, you know that you are supporting the future of our profession. You are giving back to the profession that has allowed you to be successful. It is very rewarding to know that you are smoothing the path for those who follow.
Specifically, I would recommend that you become a member of the President’s Circle of the AAOF, and encourage all your colleagues to do the same. We provide educational support for future faculty members at our schools who will teach the next generation of optometrists.
KS: I think there is a common belief that people care, but that there is little they can do to make a difference. As a charity, every effort makes a difference. Spreading the word on social media, making a donation or just being an advocate for the cause all has an effect. Sometimes, making a difference isn’t about making a difference to the masses, but to the one person who is standing right in front of you.
Q: WHO ARE THE MEMBERS OF YOUR FAMILY, AND WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO FOR FUN?
AB: I have three children (two sons and one daughter), all of whom range in age from 32 to 39 and are married. I also have two great daughters-in-law and one great son-in-law and one two-year-old granddaughter.
My wife, Susan, and I have been married for 43 years. We met at SCO, where she attended the technician program. We are quite fortunate to have all our children living in North Carolina, and we enjoy spending time together at the beach.
DK: My wife, Alyse, is a psychologist and is the director of Student Counseling Services at Marshall B. Ketchum University. I have three children, Matthew (a pediatric-neuro critical care doctor at the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia), Shayna (the western U.S. manager for TearLab) and Todd (a biomedical engineer working on heart catheters for a company based in San Diego.) I am also very lucky to have six wonderful grandchildren. For fun, we like to travel, especially with the whole family.
KS: My sons are 10 and 12. We love to ski, dance and travel. This spring we will try camping for the first time. I am terrified but doing it anyway!
Q: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK, MOVIE, BAND AND ADULT BEVERAGE?
AB: Book: “The Grapes of Wrath;” Movie: “Chariots of Fire;” Band: Eric Burdon and the Animals; Adult Beverage: pinot grigio.
DK: Book: “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds;” Movie: “Charlie Wilson’s War;” Band: Maccabeats; Adult Beverage: pinot grigio.
KS: Book: “Divergent;” Movie: “Yentl;” Band: Cold Play; Adult Beverage: gin gimlet. OM