Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Seeing is believing as Reynolds opticianry students change lives in Jamaica

Jamaica is often thought of as a place for relaxing vacations, swimming in crystal clear waters, enjoying the spectacular scenery and food and taking in the native culture - but for a group of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College students and faculty members the reason for a recent visit was entirely different.

On October 12, a group of eight students and four faculty members left Richmond for a ten-day journey to serve with the international humanitarian eye care project iCare. 

“It was an opportunity for them to see the world is much larger than Richmond and that they can make a difference, not only locally but internationally as well,” said JSRCC Opticianry Program Director Yvonne Metten.

iCare is a life changing program that harnesses the compassion and expertise of humanitarian eye care professionals by sending them to Jamaica to give the gift of sight to thousands who can’t even afford a pair of reading glasses.

“At first we looked at the trip as what can we really do as a student?” said Megan Heiser, who commutes an hour and a half to the College’s Downtown Campus twice a week from Courtland. “We didn’t have a lot of experience in the industry and we wondered how much of a difference could we make.”

Once in Jamaica the students and faculty members quickly found out any help they could provide was very much welcomed and needed.

“Normally even if they can come up with the money, it is a two year waiting list to even see an eye doctor,” noted JSRCC student Leah Elkins who commutes to Reynolds from Williamsburg. “It costs them about a month’s salary just for an eye exam, so many of the people there have accepted that they just won’t be able to see.”

In areas where the group worked, there are no publicly available optometrists, and only one ophthalmologist for over 1/2 million people. The students and faculty members’ skills of being able to perform visual screenings, checking vital signs such as blood sugar, blood pressure and glucose levels and dispensing of eye glasses was very much appreciated by their patients.

“I lost the fear of working with people,” noted Elkins. “You are thrown right into it, so you can’t be scared. I didn’t have a lot of experience working with people directly before, so it definitely helped me overcome some of my fears.” 

“By the work being hands-on, we are now better trained to fix the problem and not just identify it,” said Rachel Williams, a 2011 Caroline County High School graduate. “By working with the people of Jamaica, I have definitely become a better person."

During their stay, the students and faculty members served over 1,700 Jamaicans in a space the size of two classrooms.

“We changed lives. They will never be the same as they will be able to do things they have never been able to do,” said Jaclyn Salsbury who entered the opticianry program after serving four years as a pharmacy technician. “It was a great opportunity to help others - it gave me the feeling of meaning – that what we did meant something to others.”

The JSRCC opticianry program has a long history of participating in community service programs including annually volunteering with OneSight, which spends five days at the Arthur Ashe Center providing local children with eyes exams and glasses.

“I feel it is important to give back to people that might not have as much as others,” noted Metten describing the need to volunteer. “While there is a lot we can teach in the classroom, we can’t teach compassion….they need to experience it.”