Explore UAB

by Satina Richardson

Janene Sims, OD, PhD, FAAO, has won the Odessa Woolfolk Community Service Award. This award was established by UAB to recognize one of its faculty who has rendered outstanding service to UAB’s community.

Sims renders service to the Birmingham community and beyond in the areas of education, health care delivery, social services and human rights.

“Serving others has always been a part of my life,” Sims said. “My parents taught us that no matter what you have, you can always bless someone else who is less fortunate. As a farm girl, I would watch my dad personally deliver fresh vegetables to elderly neighbors who could not afford them. When they offered to pay, he would say there was no charge. My upbringing provided me with the willingness and love for helping others.”

As an associate professor at the UAB School of Optometry, Sims oversees one of the critical first steps students take towards becoming healthcare providers in a clinical setting. As director of Community Eye Care (CEC), the community service arm of the school, she helps second and third year interns hone their optometry skills. This is done through various local caregiving opportunities organized by the CEC team.

Through CEC, her leadership takes students to senior centers, area churches, schools, JCCEO Head Start and preschools, and the Black Belt (eight times annually prior to the COVID-19 pandemic). The Black Belt program delivers eye and vision care to areas of our state where people would otherwise never receive treatment. Since CEC began leading the Black Belt efforts, care has been provided to 3,000 patients.

Sims is the organizer of Gift of Sight, optometry’s largest giving event of the year. In its eighth year, this event provides eye care, special testing, and glasses to uninsured and underinsured patients. Many of the patients are from homeless shelters, rehabilitation facilities, and senior centers, in the Birmingham metro area. Due to her persistence and creativity, the event took place despite the pandemic. A total of 277 patients in need safely received care. That was more patients than in the previous year.

She is the co-chair of the school’s Diversity Committee. When the nation was fighting for social justice in 2020 following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others, Sims created EyeCare4Justice. The initiative brings attention to matters of injustice and inequality. She led a powerful moment of silence for the UAB School of Optometry community, inviting faculty, staff and students alike to participate.

Sims continues to champion social justice by writing a column called Teachable Moments for optometry’s weekly and monthly newsletters. Her column educates readers about the challenges faced and successes had by the diverse populations that form the nation.

“Dr. Sims has a heart for service,” said UAB School of Optometry Dean Kelly Nichols. “She works tirelessly as an educator. Additionally, she is an advisor, healthcare provider, and advocate for justice and for the underserved every day. It is for these reasons that I am thrilled that Dr. Sims has won the Odessa Woolfolk Service Award.”

Read more about Dr. Sims  commitment to community service