South Charlotte Weekly
Dr. Mark Gifford, owner of Vision Eye Care Associates in Vision Works at the Aboretum Shopping Center, felt inspired to use his profession to help serve others who cannot afford eye exams and glasses.
As a member of Forest Hills Church, Gifford belongs to a men’s Bible study group. His “Life Group” was encouraged by the church to put their Christian values into action by helping those less fortunate in the south Charlotte community. In October 2012, Life Group member and longtime Hoskins volunteer Jeff Harrell arranged for the group to serve breakfast at Hoskins Park Ministries – a faith-based nonprofit that provides residential housing and other rehabilitation services to 60 homeless men in northwest Charlotte.
Because Hoskins Park Ministries is a faith-based organization, the breakfast event included a religious service by Hoskins program director and resident Pastor Johnny Allen. Gifford said during the service, he noticed many of the men were struggling to read the Bible.
“When people fall on rough times, medical care often gets neglected, even vision care more so than other medical needs, because of financial and transportation constraints,” he said. “Plus, when people get over 40 years old, they often need reading glasses.”
Gifford started talking to fellow Life Group members about purchasing mobile exam equipment and offering free, on-site eye exams and glasses to Hoskins residents.
Group member Jeff Harrell said, “The greatest thing about this is that we did it as a group – Mark came up with the idea and we’ve all been working together, using our individual strengths to make it happen.”
Over the next year, Gifford began purchasing enough mobile equipment to conduct a comprehensive eye care exam.
“There could be other medical issues. Who knows how long it’s been since they’ve had an eye exam? They could be diabetic or have other health problems that would be better detected with a more comprehensive approach than just giving them reading glasses,” Gifford said.
By 2014, Dr. Gifford said they formed their nonprofit, Seeing and Believing, and received 501c3 status. They held their first clinic at Hoskins in March 2014, providing 10 men with free eye exams and glasses. Since then, the organization has held two more clinics at Hoskins, as well as clinics at Hope Haven, Blessings in the Storm and The Harvest Center.
Hoskins Park Program Director Pastor Johnny Allen said, “It’s been a wonderful experience to work with Dr. Gifford and the folks involved with Seeing and Believing. They’ve been able to help the men we serve, who have no income and no insurance, get the eye care and glasses they needed.”
The weekend clinics are staged onsite at the partnering agencies in a minimum of a 100-square-foot space. Dr. Gifford said they set up equipment, including portable bio-microscopes, slit lamps, protractors, various lenses and handheld devices that measure eye pressure.
Four to five volunteers from the Life Group scribe for Dr. Gifford and another rotating volunteer optometrist, and they keep the flow of patients coming through the clinic. After each examination, patients are led to a different room to choose between 20 to 40 eyeglass frames. In two to four weeks, glasses are hand delivered to the patients.
Dr. Gifford said a professional friend in Missouri, optometrist and owner of Compete Vision Care and Complete Optical Lab Dr. Mark Kahrhoff, fabricates the lenses for the frames at his optical lab. By working with Dr. Kahrhoff, he is able to get a reduced rate, paying only $35 per pair of glasses.
He said each clinic costs about $500 to see 15 patients and everyone working at the clinics volunteers their time. At the end of every clinic, they also provide lunch for everyone involved at the organization.
“We want to reach out to everyone there, even if they didn’t get an eye exam that day,” said Gifford.
Seeing and Believing also raises money to pay for the glasses. Gifford said they’ve had a lot of support from family, friends and fellow church members. In September 2014, they hosted their first fundraising gala at Dilworth Grill and raised more than $2,500.
“When you feel like you’ve received and been fortunate to avoid some hardships that others have fallen prey to, it’s your responsibility to do your part to use the skills you have to help others get through them,” said Gifford. “I feel fortunate that my career lends itself to helping others.”
Visit http://www.seeingandbelieving.org for more information.