As a life-long volunteer, giving back has always been a priority for Dr. Lee Dodge, owner of Visualeyes Optometry in Sherman Oaks, Calif. And after almost a decade of providing free eye exams to those in need in his local community, he has decided to do even more with plans to start his own nonprofit for the Los Angeles area.
(PHOTO: Dr. Lee Dodge examines a young patient at the MEND vision clinic.)
On the MEND
Since Dodge joined Visualeyes Optometry in September 2006, he has been a volunteer of MEND (Meet Each Need with Dignity) — a nonprofit in Pacoima, Calif. that provides a variety of services for those in need, including food, clothing, job training and medical care.
For the past 10 years, one day a month Dodge donates his time to spend an entire day at MEND's vision clinic providing free eye exams. "(They're) full comprehensive exams — not just screenings," he explained. "We're giving them a refraction, getting them glasses, looking at the front and back of the eye — the entire visual system."
As many of the patients who come to the MEND clinic are Latino, Dodge said he sees a lot of patients with diabetic retinopathy and he has been able to catch potential problems.
"A lot of these times it doesn’t hit patients until they hear it from someone other than their primary care doctor that diabetes is a huge problem and if they don’t control their sugars, they can go blind," he added. "I’ve had many patients come by and say because of that information, I’ve taken better care of myself and I’ve seen the retinopathy it creates and they’re living healthier lives."
And the MEND clinic offers patients the opportunity to be seen by Spanish-speaking doctors. "They don’t have access to doctors who speak Spanish — especially eyecare providers who speak Spanish — who understand what they’re going through," Dodge explained. "Because (the practitioners) speak Spanish, it makes it easier."
Giving His All
In addition to his work with MEND, Dodge gives back in a number of other ways throughout the year, both locally and globally.
For instance, he recently volunteered with VSP Vision Care and its Eyes of Hope program at the Los Angeles LGBT Center to provide free eye exams and glasses. In one day, Dodge provided free full vision exams to about 35 patients. "(After) the last time I was with the LGBT Center and VSP program, I received a letter from a gentleman who said he hadn’t been able to find work or do anything because he couldn’t see," Dodge said. "And now that he can, he has some jobs lined up."
Dr. Dodge sees patients at a low vision clinic in Tijuana, Mexico.
Dodge has taken his volunteering to nearby Tijuana, Mexico to provide assistance to patients with low vision through a local organization called PRISMM. And he volunteers his time a few times a year to go out to local schools and talk to students about the importance of keeping their eyes healthy, either in classroom presentations or health fairs.
"A lot of my patients are teachers and whenever they want me to come speak, I’m glad to do that," Dodge said. "This is the time that kids are sponges and they soak up all of this information. We’ve reached them at an early age telling them how important it is to take care of their eyes, (and) I think it will definitely remain with them for a longer time."
And Dodge even gets his patients involved in his community efforts through his practice's annual Patient Appreciation Trunk Show. For the past five years, Dodge and his staff hold the event in coordination with World Sight Day, with part of the proceeds going towards the cause. Dodge's practice also is involved in Optometry Giving Sight's I Care & ShareTM program — for every patient who buys a pair of glasses in his practice, he donates money so someone in need gets a pair of glasses as well.
All told, Dodge and his team have donated almost $10,000 to various groups over the past 10 years.
More to Give
While obviously Dodge already donates much of his time to giving back to those in need, he still wants to give even more. For that reason, he plans to launch his own optometric charity with the ultimate aim of building mobile units and clinics to provide vision care for as many people as possible in his local area.
Dodge said he got the idea after his many years of volunteering in his community and realizing how many people truly need vision services. "I know there’s a lot of charitable organizations in optometry that help internationally and domestically, but I wanted to start something that people in Los Angeles could do to help people in our own backyard," he said.
Dodge has set up a GoFundMe campaign for his charity and also receives donations directly from patients. The first step, he said, will be to register his charity as a nonprofit. From there, he hopes to acquire donations from friends and colleagues of equipment, frames and lenses to help him get going. And he hopes as the word spreads about his endeavor, local eye care professionals will also want to get involved.
"I believe that giving and charity can be contagious, and the more you see it done the more it’s easier to pay it forward," Dodge said. "Because this is such an important part of my life, I like to share it. I like people to know so they have the ability to help out if they can."
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