March 26, 2014 - Imagine if the only thing preventing you from being able to better see the world was the inability to afford or obtain a simple pair of eyeglasses.
Waterford residents Brenna (right) and Abby Hayward collected nearly 400 pairs of eyeglasses for Walton & Becker Eyecare in Oxford. The optometry practice will donate them all to an organization that distributes them to folks in Third World countries. Photo provided. (click for larger version)
It sounds trivial, but it happens to people everyday in Third World nations across the globe.
But thanks to the efforts of two kindhearted little girls and an Oxford optometry practice, the world is about to become a much clearer and brighter place for hundreds of these impoverished folks.
Waterford sisters Brenna and Abby Hayward collected nearly 400 pairs of prescription eyeglasses (both regular and sunglasses) for the Oxford-based Walton & Becker Eyecare to donate to SVOSH, the student branch of Michigan VOSH, which stands for Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity.
"I thought we would only probably collect like 200 (pairs). I was really surprised," said Brenna, 10, a fourth-grader at Schoolcraft Elementary who's a low-vision patient of Walton & Becker Eyecare.
"I wanted to help people who couldn't see and who couldn't afford glasses," said Abby, 8, a third-grader at Schoolcraft Elementary. "We got a lot more than we expected."
"I thought it was just brilliant (what they did)," said Dr. Elizabeth Becker, co-owner of Walton & Becker Eyecare. "They did something that wasn't about themselves. But (Brenna is) that kind of kid. She's very outgoing (and) doesn't dwell on her issues."
Michigan VOSH is a nonprofit, volunteer organization dedicated to helping provide vision care to people that would otherwise not receive such care in different parts of the world.
Last year, Michigan VOSH went on several mission trips. During a mission trip to Dominica, an island nation in the Caribbean Sea, earlier this year, VOSH members conducted more than 1,700 eye exams and dispensed more than 3,000 pairs of eyeglasses and more than 1,200 pairs of sunglasses.
"The biggest reason for blindness in the undeveloped world still today is the lack of glasses," Becker said. "These are people who have no access to eyecare and even if they can get the eyecare, they can't get the glasses."
Becker understands the level of need so well because back in the 1980s, she went on a vision mission trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar in East Africa.
"To me, that's just mind-boggling that with all our sophistication, it's still the leading cause of blindness in the underdeveloped world," she said.
Becker will donate the glasses to SVOSH this week when she visits the Michigan College of Optometry at Ferris State University.
There, they will be sorted by students, categorized by prescription and boxed up for distribution during upcoming mission trips to places like Honduras and Peru.
Brenna knows all too well what it's like to have trouble seeing. "If I didn't have glasses, I wouldn't be able to see good," she said. "They're really important."
Brenna is visually impaired due to a condition known as achromatopsia. Basically, she has an extreme sensitivity to light and difficulty seeing things both at a distance and up close.
"If you wake up in the middle of the night and (your eyes are) totally dark-adapted and someone turns on the lights, that sort of sensitivity is what she lives (with) all day," Becker explained. "(Brenna's condition is) stable; it's not progressive. But it's not fun to live with."
"She has red-tinted sunglasses she wears that help her see the lighted world better outside," said Brenna's mother, Jennifer Hayward. "Sometimes she has issues with fluorescent lighting as well, so she does have some lighter inside glasses."
"She goes to see Dr. Becker through the Oakland Schools youth low-vision program," Jennifer continued. "Dr. Becker is a low-vision specialist."
During a visit to Walton & Becker, Jennifer asked what happens to the used pairs of eyeglasses collected by the practice. She wanted to donate some of Brenna's old pairs.
"We didn't want to put them in a generic (collection) box at Wal-Mart," she said. "We wanted something special to be done with them because they've been so important to us."
The Haywards were told about the VOSH program.
"When we left the office, Brenna said, 'Mom, do you think we could get a bunch more glasses and give them to Dr. Becker to take on missions to help these people?' And I said, 'Heck yes, we can,'" Jennifer said.
Soon after, Brenna and Abby's Mission for Vision was born. Drop boxes were set up at seven locations in Waterford and Milford.
"It was their idea," Jennifer said. "They pretty much came up with the concept and the name."
The drive collected 365 pairs of glasses.
"I've received about 30 more pairs since then," Jennifer said. "So, it's close to 400 pairs now. This is going to help some very, very underprivileged people be able to have the gift of sight. It makes me very happy to be able to do that."
Jennifer said she's "super-proud" that her daughters "have the ability to think outside of their own little world."
"I'm just really pleased they wanted to help others," she said. "As a parent, that's what you want to teach your children – to think about others that are less fortunate. That's what we're trying to instill in our children."
Jennifer noted that despite her disability, Brenna "is always concerned about others" and Abby "by nature, is just a caring, nurturing little person."
"I really like helping people, especially in other countries," Brenna said. "I just think it's a really good experience."
Abby said this project taught her to "be nice to people, no matter what, and be helpful."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.