Nonprofit will give glasses to every Midvale child who needs them
Jun 18, 2019 02:41PM
By Sarah Morton Taggart
Joseph Carbone, founder of Eye Care 4 Kid, helps a child select a pair of glasses. (Photo courtesy Eye Care 4 Kids)
By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]
Arcelia Venegas was 3 years old when her parents noticed that she always sat close to the television. It was determined that she needed glasses, but the family couldn’t afford them. So her mother took her to Eye Care 4 Kids, where Venegas got an eye exam and a new pair of glasses for free.
“I remember being able to watch from a distance and thinking people see like this?” said Venegas.
According to Eye Care 4 Kids, 30 to 50 percent of children in economically-challenged communities go without necessary eye care services. The nonprofit organization was founded in 2001 by optician Joseph Carbone with the mission to provide glasses to every child who needs them.
Starting in August, the organization will partner with Midvale City and the Canyons School District to visit all 10 public schools in Midvale with its mobile clinic. Starting with the Title 1 elementary schools, every K-12 student will be screened and those who need them will receive a custom-made pair of glasses free of charge.
“This is the first time we’re trying anything like this,” Carbone said. “We’re hoping this is an amazing event.” Eye Care 4 Kids has previously held one-time events at schools in Rose Park, South Salt Lake and Davis County, but this is their first comprehensive effort to reach every student in an entire city.
Eye Care 4 Kids has found success working with school districts to find children to help. “My second good idea was working with school districts,” Carbone said. “They know who is showing a need and who’s getting in trouble. It’s often the kid getting in trouble who needs glasses. That was me growing up.”
The main Eye Care 4 Kids clinic is located in an unassuming building at 6911 S. State Street in Midvale. Appointments are required, and the clinic is busy five days a week. The organization also operates locations in Arizona, Nevada and New Jersey.
“If a child has Medicaid or CHIP, all services are free,” Carbone said. “If not, each child receives a vision screening, eye exam, new glasses and a case for $35.” Carbone said that in a typical retail setting those same goods and services would cost $550.
“And, if they break the glasses, they can come back and get a new pair,” Carbone said. “Even when you do have insurance, it only covers one pair a year.”
In order to subsidize costs, Eye Care 4 Kids relies on grants and donations. Partnerships allow the nonprofit to purchase frames wholesale and the grinding of the lenses (customizing each lens to the correct prescription) happens onsite.
Designer frames are available for an additional $10-$30 according to Jon Butler, chairman of Eye Care 4 Kids’ Board of Governors. “And that money goes right back into providing free glasses for another child.”
Eye Care 4 Kids’ mobile clinic also allows them to provide vision screenings and eye exams to children in rural locations such as the Navajo Nation located partially in southern Utah. The bus later returns to deliver any glasses that are needed.
“We give children one thing and that’s clear vision,” Carbone said. “Can you imagine a child not being able to take the journey of reading a book because they can’t see?”
Venegas, who got her first pair of glasses at age 3, grew up in Midvale and attended Copperview Elementary, always returned to Eye Care 4 Kids for her annual eye exam. She remembers picking out her frames when she was 6 or 7. “I really liked reading and writing when I was young and I needed glasses to see all the small letters. When I would try taking off my glasses when I was reading I would think, ‘Wow, I wouldn’t get very far like this.’”
Venegas went on to graduate from Hillcrest High School in 2017 and is now studying business, accounting and finances. She still wears glasses — her prescription is too strong for her to switch to contacts — and she still returns to Eye Care 4 Kids each year.
“They’ve been super nice with helping pay for my glasses,” she said. “They (glasses) are really expensive.”
Blurry vision isn’t the only health problem that a comprehensive eye exam can detect. At the Eye Care 4 Kids location in New Jersey, Dr. Ben Szirth screened a 12-year-old boy who turned out to have advanced glaucoma. “If he hadn’t been screened, in six months he would have lost the vision in that eye,” Carbone said. “It’s not just a question of seeing the blackboard. We’re diagnosing other problems, too.”
The organization started small, hoping to help 100 kids in a year. Now that number is closer to 3,000 per year. By 2021, they hope to serve 100,000 individuals annually.
One optician, with administrative support from his wife, makes every pair of glasses distributed by Eye Care 4 Kids in Utah and Nevada — approximately 150 pairs of glasses each day.
The couple arrived in Utah as refugees in 2009. They had been living in Iran with their young son, but decided to leave when conditions became dangerous.
“Here you can practice any religion, but in Iran you can’t,” said the man, who has asked not to be identified by name. He owned his own business as a lens technician but was unable to renew his license because of his religion. “We had an almost 2-year-old and saw a bad future. We left Iran and stayed in Turkey for a year and a half then came to Utah. We love the freedom in America.”
He has had perfect eyes all his life, but is now starting to need reading glasses and can relate to how excited the kids feel when they’re suddenly able to see clearly. “I’m a little sad when I make glasses with a strong prescription, but also happy that I can help,” he said.
In spite of the name, Eye Care 4 Kids also serves adults in need. During the recent federal shutdown, the organization offered to help the families that were affected and ended up helping nearly a dozen individuals. Other adults in need of eye care are also welcome.
For many years Carbone worked as an optician in a private practice and saw a need for affordable care. He also volunteered at the Fourth Street Clinic, which provides medical and other services to individuals experiencing homelessness in Salt Lake City. Eventually, with his wife’s permission, they mortgaged their house in Sandy and made the leap to start Eye Care 4 Kids.
“Life will take you on a little bit of a journey and prepare you to get you on the path you should be on,” he said. “Everyone should take what they’ve learned in life, take it and bless the lives of others.”