By Preston Fassel
As many of our long-time readers know, I’m a Houston native, and lived and worked in Houston for the majority of my time with 20/20 before a recent move to Dallas. As such, even though I was outside of the city when Hurricane Harvey hit, I still had friends and family there who were affected by the storm. It’s been an extremely troubling time, but I’m grateful everyone I know came out unscathed, and that, true to its nature, Houston has already begun the road back to recovery. It’s also been heartwarming to see that something else I hold so dear to my heart—the world of optical—has stepped up to lend a helping hand, with numerous individuals in the Optisphere pitching in on a variety of relief efforts to make sure Houstonians have clear vision with which to begin rebuilding our city.
“I gathered a lot of volunteers together that all had unique skill sets and that I knew had a proven track record of executing things like marketing and volunteer efforts and whatnot,” says Scott Balestreri, treasurer of the Mindful Eyes Foundation, a 501(c) (3) dedicated to providing glasses and eye health appointments to those who cannot afford it themselves. “I kinda stepped in and corralled them a little bit, to get a fundraising effort going. And I said, when I did that, ‘listen guys, Vision Expo is an opportunity.’”
And that opportunity was taken. Instrumental in the process was Van Rue, an eye care consultant and Vice President at Single Vision Express optical lab. “Van was one of the main people,” says Balestreri. “He was advising, launching, helping. Van had some connections in the optical business to get frames and stuff donated for people who lost their contact lenses or glasses in the flood. And he was able to get us some warehouse space in Texas, and he was able to solicit donations.” Also instrumental in the effort was Mindful Eyes’ nonprofit status, which acted as an incentive for individuals to donate: “As the result of having a 501 with the IRS, we were able to help get people a write-off if they wanted to donate. So it went from a grass roots effort to-- we got volunteers to launch a donation kiosk, and were able to get an online portal done to donate through that… We got a lot of frames. We got a ton of frames. Fewer lenses and needing more. And some contact lens supplies. And we got people to show up at the loft at Vision Expo. We had marketing guys ready, we had logos, we had posters, we were ready to go. The Loft opened their doors immediately to us.”
As relief efforts continue, the result of the optical community’s efforts will allow individuals who lost their glasses, contacts, and even RXs in the flood to take the burden of replacing them off their minds. Says Balestreri, “We can pay to ship frames across Texas out of the warehouse, we can rent spaces with that money, if we need to ship or buy lab work we can do that. We can support them 19 different ways as long as it’s a non-profit effort. And that’s good because they’re going to need that. They’re going to need UPS money to ship boxes, to ship frames as things settle down.”
Though I haven’t been part of the Houston optical world for over a year now, it’s good to know that I left my friends, family, and neighbors in good hands—and better yet, good hearts.
Relief efforts are ongoing. You can learn more about them and make a donation at http://mindfuleyesfoundation.org/donate/.