By Gayle Daniels, OD
Oct. 5, 2016
Why Volunteer: A Personal Perspective
Volunteering in your community allows you to professionally, as well as personally, adhere to the “Golden Rule”: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
By sharing our talents and expertise, we may be offering help and assistance far beyond a simple pair of prescription glasses. Many individuals benefiting from charity agencies have struggles we can’t imagine, and the time and care rendered by a volunteering eyecare provider (ECP), could be a life changing experience for both the doctor and the patient.
When the ECP volunteers their time and services in the community it reflects their compassion and integrity for humanity, not only to the individuals helped, but to their staff and patients, as well.
Spotlighting community charity involvement with e-blasts and social media posts is a great marketing tool that may attract same-minded people to your practice.
Searching for community charities can begin by contacting local churches and schools, as they usually have collaborations with charity organizations in need of health care professionals.
Most large business in your area also have non-profit foundations that give back into the community.
In addition, local organizations like The Lion’s Club and state optometric associations are active in providing charity support, and can often match an OD up with an organization in need of their help.
Find Your Own Path
My journey into charity work started with a Student Optometric Service to Humanity (SOSH) mission in my fourth year at the PA College of Optometry. We traveled to Queretero, Mexico, for a week. After fulfilling my goals and aspirations (U.S. Air Force, multidisciplinary clinic, private practice), the memory of that mission experience became my passion. In 2008, I joined a church-related mission group that traveled abroad every summer offering medical and dental care. The extent of their vision was having the patients try on reading glasses to see which pair gave them clear vision. I still travel with them to various countries, and started volunteering closer to home in the Dallas, Texas, area, after I was asked why I travel abroad when there’s such a need here in Texas.
Remembering a local homeless shelter where I volunteered with my church in serving dinner meals, I contacted them about the health services offered in their clinic. In 2010, I was invited before the board of Union Gospel Mission of Tarrant County to introduce Better Vision Better Hope, the non-profit organization I established for this purpose. The monthly vision program schedules 12-15 appointments on Thursdays, and we have served over 1,250 sheltered and un-sheltered individuals.
Daniel Migael Foundation, Inc, is an IRS recognized 501(c)3 public charity. Our main project is Better Vision Better Hope. Our mission is to provide eyecare and vision services to those in need by making it completely affordable (FREE) and accessible (we travel to them). We established this charity in response to the need of eyecare to those thousand of uninsured, low income, homeless adults in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Being organized as a non-profit allows us to solicit for funding from grants, in kind gifts and tax-deductible donations.
Many local non-profits that share similar missions will collaborate together with resources (volunteers and/or equipment) when attending events and programs. For-profit companies may also participate as a community service opportunity for their employees or with donations (monetary or in-kind gifts).
Once we established the vision services at Union Gospel Mission, case managers from other local shelters were asking for our services. We now have five agencies in the Dallas/Fort Worth area that we provide access to eyecare and prescription glasses. As a non-profit, we rely on grants, fundraisers, in-kind gifts and donations to cover our operating expenses. Patients are never charged for the eye exam services or the prescription glasses.
We just got a Ford E450 shuttle bus donated to our community program. We are converting it into a mobile optical lab so that we can fabricate single-vision finished lenses. We are trying to acquire and install a FastGrind surfacing equipment for flat-top bifocals also. Historically, the homeless community is very transient, and being able to dispense the same day as the exam would be a significant blessing.
Create a Schedule that Works for You
The good part about volunteering is that you can schedule times that work best for you. If you are signing up to join existing programs, then you must select times the program is available, but you still have that choice. If you are fortunate enough to create your own program of giving, you have more freedom in the time you donate.
We started off with four hours a month (Thursday morning), which extended to six hours due to the growing waiting list. Currently, we rotate the second Saturday morning with the additional shelters while maintaining the monthly Thursday with Union Gospel Mission.
Connect with a Point Person at Charity & Apply
The shelters that we serve have case managers, or clinic staff, who are responsible for scheduling and confirming the appointments. Challenges are expected since the homeless population is transient, but generally most appointments are kept due to the urgent need for vision care and prescription glasses.
Most charity organizations will require a volunteer application. If the shelter houses minors, the application usually includes a background check.
Dr. Daniels provides care to a child in need in concert with Essilor Vision Foundation’s efforts to provide under-served communities with vision care. Dr. Daniels also has her own non-profit foundation set up, the Daniel Migael Foundation, Inc. She says there are opportunities in every community for optometrists to volunteer services and products. Churches and local organizations, like the Lion’s Club or Kiwanis Club, can put you in touch with health care charities in need of eye doctors.
In addition to volunteering your time as a doctor, or if you are unable to attend, you can always donate frames. Programs like Better Vision Better Hope that provide glasses at no cost to those less fortunate rely on donations from frame vendors, companies and private practitioners.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, frames and lenses are products regulated as “medical devices,” and in most states, it is considered unethical to dispense used glasses in the U.S. So, it is imperative to the success of community programs such as Better Vision Better Hope to constantly solicit and receive donated frames.
We initiate a frame campaign every October encouraging private practices, frame companies and vendors to donate their under/over stock frames to an IRS-recognized 501(c)3 non-profit organization which will generate a tax deductible receipt for their in-kind donation.
Tax deductible receipts are available when in-kind donations are made to IRS recognized 501(c)3 organizations.
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Gayle Daniels, OD, is the founder of the Daniel Migael Foundation, Inc., in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Daniels also volunteers her services with Essilor Vision Foundation (EVF). To contact: firstname.lastname@example.org