New Eyes for the Needy: Giving the Gift of Sight
New Eyes for the Needy’s mission is vision, and this New Jersey-based nonprofit volunteer organization works hard to guarantee that anyone who needs glasses gets them. New Eyes has helped more than seven million sight-impaired people throughout the world. “Our goal is to fulfill 100 percent of the requests we receive,” executive director Susan M. Dyckman told Education Update.
Through a voucher program in the United States and a recycling program overseas, New Eyes provides glasses for those who can’t afford them. Founded in 1932 by Short Hills, NJ resident Julia Lawrence Terry, New Eyes has become a primary resource for charities and medical missions seeking to distribute glasses. Terry had volunteered at a food depot during the Depression and noticed that many people had vision problems, which affected their ability to read forms and complete applications. She began by collecting old glasses from her friends and redistributing them. She soon realized that she could sell the gold frames of the collected glasses and use the proceeds to purchase new glasses.
Terry enlisted her friends to assist her and launched a nationwide appeal for donations. Using donated offices, New Eyes for the Needy was born. Now the organization operates two programs. The first is a glasses redistribution program similar to the one started by Terry during the Depression. Used eyeglasses, including readers, sunglasses, sports glasses, and protective eye gear are donated to organizations in more than 56 countries, according to Dyckman. The other is their U.S.-based voucher program. Prospective recipients file an application to determine financial need, and if approved, receive vouchers worth about $60, covering the cost of a new pair of glasses.
Volunteers manage the operation. High school students and adults assist in sorting the thousands of glasses sent each month, testing lenses to determine the prescription, and preparing glasses for mailing. In the Short Hills office, countless boxes of glasses are stacked against every wall space.
New Eyes for the Needy solicits funds from grants and foundations, and conducts an annual gala event each year. School groups, often seeking to fulfill a public service requirement, also assist with fund raising. This year students from a local high school organized a “Kids Rock for Vision” concert and netted nearly $8,000. Additionally, New Eyes runs a resale boutique, selling estate and costume jewelry and other gift items.
Every recipient of a glasses voucher receives a postcard, asking them how the glasses impacted their lives. For Dyckman this provides a way to “get to know” how the glasses are appreciated. “If you have difficulty seeing, your entire world is distorted. By giving the gift of glasses, we improve the quality of people’s lives.” #