MIDVALE — Joseph Carbone watched as tears streamed down his patient's face as the patient put on his new pair of eyeglasses and saw the leaves on a tree for the first time.
More than five years ago, a 25-year-old American Indian man walked into the eye doctor's office in Midvale where Carbone worked as a certified optician. Carbone soon learned the man had never had an opportunity to have an eye exam.
"After the exam and the screening, we realized that he had a tremendous prescription," Carbone said, adding they decided to give him a pair of glasses.
The next week, the man came to pick up his glasses. When he put them on he looked out the window, saw leaves on the tree in focus for the first time and began to cry.
"Can you imagine a 25-year-old man not having the opportunity to see?" Carbone asked. "Everything was blurry, everything was out of focus. I could just imagine him in school during his formative years, he couldn't see the book he was reading nor the teacher in the classroom. I can't imagine how that affected his life. From that story, that true scenario, came the idea for Eye Care for Kids."
The event motivated Carbone along with his friends Dee Hadley, a marriage and family therapist, and Michael G. Thain, certified optometrist, to begin the Eye Care for Kids Foundation.
In the five years since creating the foundation, Carbone, executive director, who has been practicing as an optician for 30 years, and his team of professionals have helped more than 5,000 children receive eyeglasses free of charge.
"Our vision is their vision — to serve and administer relief, by providing proper eye care to visually impaired children in need and other individuals of our community," Carbone said. He said that more than 9,000 children along the Wasatch Front go without proper eye care annually.
Low-income children are referred to the foundation by local, state, and county organizations, including five school districts in Salt Lake County and Park City, and The Road Home.
Thain, who has also been practicing for 30 years, noted that most of the children the foundation helps are struggling in school and life because they cannot see.
"It is our mission here at the Eye Care for Kids Foundation to identify these kids and help them when possible," Thain said. "We have seen a lot of kids with various ethnic backgrounds from all over the world who are immigrating to Utah and it has been our privilege and blessing to help them."
Carbone added that helping these children does more for the volunteers than it does for the children.
The foundation's short-range goal is to help 5,000 children per year receive proper eye care, Carbone said. Currently, the foundation has one clinic located in Midvale, Carbone would like to open two more clinics in the Salt Lake area within the next few years.
To help expand the program, the foundation recently bought See-More, a 32-foot yellow trailer. Currently, See-More has 50 percent of the equipment it needs to be a full mobile clinic where it can travel to schools throughout the state to provide eye screening, eye examinations and eyeglasses to thousands. See-More will also allow the foundation to travel to American Indian reservations and the rural areas in the state.
Although the mobile unit still needs $30,000 worth of equipment to be fully functional, Carbone and two volunteer optometrists traveled to Aneth Community School in Bluff, San Juan County, on the Navajo Reservation in September. They borrowed the needed equipment from the office clinic.
"It was the maiden voyage," Carbone said. "The poverty was terrible. The school we were in, we figured that the children that needed eyeglasses that did not have the opportunity was about 70 to 80 percent."
During their four-day stay, Carbone's team examined 100 children. Eighty-eight of them needed glasses and 80 of those 88 had never had glasses before.
In the long-term, Carbone said his goal is to have a See-More and a clinic in every major city in the United States. He hopes to expand the program nationwide within the next 10 years.
"We would like to invite the public to help us bring this miracle to pass, because if you can't see you can't learn, you can't go to school, and you can't work. You are dead in the water," Carbone said.
Hadley noted it only takes a $25 donation to help one child's life change forever.
The $25 donation provides the examination, prescription and frames.
Most of the foundation's donations come from private and corporate donors. The three largest corporate donors are American Express, overstock.com, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Foundation and Roy Tonks, Carbone said.
Donations can be made during the foundation's upcoming fund-raiser, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." The dinner and auction will be at 6 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Best Western Plaza Hotel, 122 W. South Temple in Salt Lake City.
For more information, contact Carbone at 801-255-8525 or visit their Web site at eyecare4kids.org. Donations can be sent to the Eye Care for Kids Foundation, 6895 S. State, Midvale, UT 84047.