Seeing Eye to Eye
The EyeSight Foundation of Alabama's Long-Standing Partnership with UAB
The EyeSight Foundation of Alabama (ESFA) is on a mission to be a catalyst for improving eyesight through education, research, and access to care. It’s a daunting task considering that in Alabama alone there are nearly 53,000 cases of blindness and vision impairment. But the ESFA remains committed to its goals, its longtime partnership with UAB standing as a testament to this commitment. In fact, the ESFA is one of the largest continuing donors to the university.
“The EyeSight Foundation’s stalwart support of UAB over more than a decade has produced results vital to the university’s ongoing efforts in vision science and care,” says UAB President Carol Z. Garrison. “This closely knit partnership flourishes because of the ESFA’s dedicated board and staff. We are so appreciative of their involvement and look forward to continuing to work together.”
According to Torrey Smitherman, executive director of the ESFA, the foundation has made contributions and commitments of almost $40 million since it was formed in 1997. The majority of those funds have been granted to UAB to support vision research and eye-care programs. “Obvious partners for us from the start were UAB and the Callahan Eye Foundation Hospital,” Smitherman says. “Over the years, those partnerships have grown and strengthened, and we’re very proud of the number of programs and research efforts that we’ve been able to support and, in some cases, help initiate.”
The foundation’s support for UAB averages $2 million to $3 million per year. A significant amount helps with indigent care at the Callahan Eye Foundation Hospital and UAB Eye Care. The ESFA also provides operating support to the Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation, a joint program of the School of Optometry and the Department of Ophthalmology. Two of the many programs the ESFA supports are the School of Education’s Rural Alabama Professional Training for Teachers of the Blind and Visually Impaired, which provides stipends for public-school teachers to become certified in education of the visually impaired, and the School of Optometry’s Preschool Peepers vision-screening effort.
“Over the last decade, the ESFA has provided more funding to the School of Optometry than any other private source,” says John F. Amos, O.D., dean of the School of Optometry. “They are committed to improving all aspects of vision care, and they have proven this through their partnership with the School of Optometry and with UAB as a whole.”
The Black Belt Eye Care Consortium has been a favorite program of the ESFA because of its collaborative nature. It is a project for which UAB has played a major role through several different disciplines. The foundation also enabled the purchase of a 14-ton magnet for the UAB Center for the Development of Functional Imaging, which is one of only four fMRI facilities in the world dedicated to vision science. The ESFA’s support extends across campus from the Department of Ophthalmology and the School of Optometry to the schools of Education, Health Professions, and Social and Behavioral Sciences.
“We are so fortunate to have the continued support of the EyeSight Foundation,” says Shirley Salloway Kahn, Ph.D., vice president for development, alumni, and external relations. “Their financial support for important initiatives across this campus has directly impacted our students, patients, faculty, and staff. The outcome of these investments has resulted in better teaching methods, research outcomes, and service opportunities. This is a wonderful partnership, and we are grateful for our shared vision for the future at UAB.”
A few years ago, the ESFA gave $2.5 million to establish the EyeSight Foundation of Alabama Endowed Chair of Ophthalmology, currently held by Lanning Kline, M.D. “There’s been tremendous growth in the Department of Ophthalmology over the last few years,” Kline says, “and ESFA funding has been the main reason. This type of funding is particularly important right now when other sources of funds are not as available. The ESFA is a key driver of our success.”
According to Robert R. Rich, M.D., senior vice president and dean of the School of Medicine, the ESFA’s continual support “has been critical to the academic development of the Department of Ophthalmology and to the consequent improvement in care for patients with eye diseases.” He adds, “We are exceptionally grateful and look forward to a long partnership with them, with a shared goal of bringing vision-related research, teaching, and clinical care to increased national and international distinction.”
“We have some of the best philanthropic leaders in the community on our board,” Smitherman says. “One of the things I enjoy the most about my work is having the benefit of the expertise and dedication of these successful people in their own rights who truly care about the foundation being effective and have given me and the entire staff the wherewithal to figure out how to do that. I can’t stress how fortunate the whole eye-care community is that the ESFA has such an outstanding volunteer board.”
Smitherman adds, “I feel fortunate to be part of this partnership. We’re interested in helping these programs do bigger and better things. They’re already doing great things, but we would love to see more. And we look forward to continuing to work with all of our colleagues here.”
Where It All Began
In 1950, Alston Callahan, M.D., treated a five-year-old girl whose eyes had been crossed since infancy. Dr. Callahan was able to straighten the girl’s eyes, but he refused to charge for treatment. Instead, he asked the child’s grandfather Robert I. Ingalls Sr., founder of Ingalls Ironworks and Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation, to donate money for an eye hospital.
Mr. Ingalls answered with a challenge grant of $10,000, and Dr. Callahan raised the matching funds to purchase a lot for the Callahan Eye Foundation Hospital.
The little girl Dr. Callahan treated was Barbara Ingalls Shook, who passed away in September of this year at age 69. A generous philanthropist herself, Mrs. Shook supported many local organizations, including UAB, through the Barbara Ingalls Shook Foundation. Without her, the Callahan Eye Foundation Hospital and the EyeSight Foundation of Alabama may never have existed to help countless people over the years. Her passion for life and generosity will live on through the lives she touched both directly and indirectly.