The Gift of Sight
Walking into the Chamber of Commerce Services building behind Shrimp Plaza on Friday October 6, 2023, I see the familiar line of people waiting patiently out the front door. People gathered today, a Friday, to bring their children to receive no-charge vision services. Inside I am overwhelmed by the number of volunteers, equipment and pairs of glasses waiting for them in the conference rooms. There are blue shirts on the Hope Alliance volunteers that flew into Phoenix from Park City Utah and then took the shuttle down across the vivid expanse of the Sonoran Desert to our not so little anymore, fishing village of Puerto Peñasco. Another contingent is sporting white shirts emblazoned with the logo of an eye with the words “il regalo de la vista” or “the gift of sight” on them. Several teens and many adults all waiting to work with the children in line for help with their vision.
I look around the 2 big rooms at all the volunteers and optical equipment and I am impressed by the genuine looks of excitement on the faces of the volunteers. It took me back to my first clinic with the Flying Samaritans group to Lopes Mateo in Baja last winter. This clinic is so well equipped and staffed compared to Sam’s clinic in the old cannery building on the beach with no windows in Baja. And yet the sincerity of the volunteers and the needs of the people coming to the clinics is the same.
“When your heart’s joy meets the world’s great need, you will have found your calling”. I remember someone telling me. These volunteers have so much heart and the patients so desperately want to see better that the joy is palpable when the two come together at one of these vision clinics. I am about to learn “why” so many people with big hearts have been working for years to make this annual clinic happen for the 12th time in Peñasco.
Looking around I see the familiar tall man that played basketball in his youth, with his infectious smile and embracing attitude in the middle of the first group of blue and white shirted volunteers. Dr. Scott Farrell, who I now call my friend and one of the lead optometrists for this, one of his 20 international clinics this year. In an effort to understand what motivates someone to pack up literally hundreds of pounds of equipment, hundreds of pairs of glasses, dozens of people and travel to remote corners of the world, I decide to inquire of the quiet Dr. Scott, what is his “why” for being here. He tells me that when he returns home from a clinic and his wife asks him about his trip, he answers that for him “it is like I went to Hawaii on vacation. I am rejuvenated.” He smiles his welcoming smile and tells me that he wants his kids to emblazon his tombstone with the words “He wore out his shoes in service to others”. Gosh I am humbled by this gracious man’s heart. I ask Dr. Scott who else in this sea of people is responsible for bringing all of this assistance to so many others. He points out three ladies, two in blue Hope Alliance tees, Arlene and Diane from Utah and “Katty” in a white Vistamerica one. Repeating my question of what is your “why” for being here to each, I am touched again by great hearts in service to others.
There is Diane Bernhardt, her bright blue eyes sharing with me the story of the childhood blindness of her beloved son, that lead her here. It was quitting her job in software to home school her son as his vision faded with rare and irreversible childhood blindness, that changed her focus in life. She then found herself involved with Hope Alliance and their free clinics in Utah, Uganda, Mexico, and Guatemala offering vision medical care to underserved communities. Describing her dedication to helping others to see, she asked me “how do you walk away from your own community, to go help kids in another country”. Wanting to help both and recognizing the need in her own communities, she along with Dr. Scott and Arlene, were instrumental in establishing permanent free vision clinics in Park City and Moab, Utah along with the ground-breaking for a permanent vision clinic in Bwindi, Uganda scheduled for November 2023.
I watch as an energetic woman with red hair in a bright blue Hope Alliance tee is moving from diagnostic table to table answering questions and sharing smiles with the kids and volunteers. I am introduced to her as another one of the primary team here, Arlene Reinecke. Arlene sits with me to tell me of her journey with the vision team, only to be interrupted several times by people needing her assistance to troubleshoot an issue with equipment or forms, etc. She circles back to me to share a story with me about her “why”. She asks me to look to my left at the 10-year-old boy fidgeting in the folding chair next to me. Her eyes well up with tears as she quietly explains that he is cross-eyed and that after age 7 or so, it is very difficult to help his condition without surgery. The team is going to see if corrective lenses will improve his vision for him. We talk about how both she and Diane have seen the posture and even personality of people remarkably change when they receive corrective lenses to see. Clear eyesight, something that so many of us take for granted.
Along comes a bright petite dark-haired lady in one of the white tee shirts. These shirts are emblazoned with a logo of a seeing eye and the words “il regalo de la vista”. Catalina Rios, known as “Katty” to the group, explains that it means “the gift of sight”. Hers is the story of getting involved in her hometowns of Caborca and Peñasco, through her surgical supply company to bring vision clinics to the towns for the last 12 years. Katty is a member of Puerto Peñasco’s local Rotary Club and tells me of the special relationship between the Park City Rotary Club and the Puerto Peñasco chapter. Together they organize, support and staff these events that can see up to 500 people in a weekend. When asked about her “why”, Katty describes how, since she was little, she “has been looking for a way to do something for somebody else”. She found her chance to help in these clinics and sees the rewards in the expressions on the faces of the kids and adults when they come back and are fitted with their shiny new glasses. Remembering a special young child’s undiagnosed eye issues from the Esperanza Orphanage, turning around and squealing “I can see!” when they looked through their new glasses. She tells me that “the gift of sight” changes their world.
Another local Rotarian, tall Eduardo Vallejo sits down to chat about the extensive preparations that happen in Peñasco in advance of the annual vision clinics. In the months before the clinic Eduardo and other volunteers visited every one of the local schools to pre-screen the children for vision issues, making appointments for those 200+ with challenged vision, to come to this year’s clinic to have more extensive testing. Testing necessary for the individual prescriptions they write to make a personal pair of glasses for each of them. This year the parents are also able to come to the clinic to receive vision care.
In all 106 children were seen at the 12th annual clinic, 144 adults as well. Over 300 pairs of readers and sunglasses were distributed to the people and 360 pairs of prescription glasses are on order. Kids receive 2 pairs! The prescription glasses will be delivered and custom fit to expectant faces over the next month. Three patients with serious medical eye conditions will be referred to a local Puerto Peñasco ophthalmologist for additional care.
My heart is full of the honor of watching these volunteers share their great joy meeting the vision needs of these children and their caregivers. Remembering what Dr. Scott told me on my first clinic adventure to Baja last year, “sight is the most important of our senses to our health and wellbeing”. From the stories I have been told by the volunteers and clinicians, it even affects our posture, confidence, and health. The joy that shines in the eyes of people as they receive “the gift of sight” is reflected in the eyes of the givers of this gift of a “simple” pair of glasses. It is a good “why”.
Bring a smile to your own heart and “the gift of sight” to others by donating time or resources to one of these organizations: For Vistamerica contact Catalina Rios at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope Alliance contact Dr. Scott Farrell, Diane Bernhardt and Arlene Reinecke at email@example.com. Get involved with the good works of the local chapter of Rotary International at clubrotariopuertoPeñasco@gmail.com.
1- Catalina Rios with Vistamerica
2- 2023 Vision Clinic members from Vistamerica, Hope Alliance and Club Rotario Mar de Peñasco
3- Dr. Scott Farrell and Arlene Reinecke with Hope Alliance
4- Bre Welch with Hope Alliance
5- 6 optometrists seeing patients in the clinic
6- Wendy ParsonsBaker with Hope Alliance and Lucy Yanet Bustamante with Club Rotario Mar de Peñasco