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Patient smiling during the Gift of Sight event.

By Christie Brown

Almost 300 underserved individuals from the Birmingham area received eye exams and glasses at no cost as part of the UAB School of Optometry’s Gift of Sight event that took place December 2-5, 2015.

As the outreach arm of the School of Optometry and its UAB Eye Care clinics, the UAB Community Eye Care program has been serving the local community for 40 years. Through this program, UABSO faculty, staff, and student interns provide vision care and services at many area schools, senior centers, community events, and local shelters year-round. The program has a clinic within the Jefferson County Department of Health’s new Western Health Center in Midfield, and also sees patients on a regular basis at The Foundry in Bessemer, the Lovelady Center in East Lake, PATH Clinic on Birmingham's southside, and the United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham’s Adult Day Program at LincPoint in Homewood. In addition to serving the local Birmingham community, the CEC program partners with other UAB programs and entities to provide care in many communities within the Black Belt region of Alabama.

"The School of Optometry is extremely proud of our outreach efforts that take place year round. Through those efforts, almost a half-million dollars in vision services is given back to the community every year. But, what make the Gift of Sight so special is that it is an event that allows our faculty, staff, and students to come together during a time of year that is marked by giving and generosity, and make a positive impact on our community,” said Kelly K. Nichols, OD, MPH, PhD, dean of the UAB School of Optometry.

In 2014, clinic coordinator Scelelar “BB” Jefferson and the CEC team began to envision what would become the Gift of Sight – an event that would focus on helping those who had the greatest need, and would serve them during the holiday season. With the help of community sponsors, external agencies, and faculty, staff, and student volunteers, the event not only came into fruition, but garnered a tremendous impact.

“Our optometry students care for patients in our clinics every day, but this event gives them a chance to experience what it’s like to truly give back and provide health care for those in need,” said Elizabeth Steele, OD, associate dean for Clinical Affairs in the School of Optometry. “Because these patients are typically from underserved populations, we also have an opportunity to make referrals to other specialties and assist in making sure they receive any other care that may also be necessary.”

Patients applied through the Jefferson County Department of Health and were vetted for participation based on a set of requirements set by the program. Eyeglasses were provided to patients who needed them thanks to the generosity of the program’s partners, VSP, Remote Area Medical, and Allergan. Each patient also received a gift bag with cold weather supplies such as hats, scarves, and gloves, as well as lunch - all donated by the local community.

“While the Gift of Sight event is in its early years, providing care to the community is something that we have been doing and will continue to do,” said Felton Perry, OD, associate professor and director, UAB Community Eye Care. “As clinicians and advocates for eye and vision health, it’s our responsibility to ensure that everyone receives the care they need, but it is also a privilege for us to be able to provide free care for those who need it most.”

To see photos from this year's Gift of Sight, view our photo album on Facebook. If you would like more information about UABSO's Community Eye Care program, please call 205.975.2020.

An eye exam during the Gift of Sight event