Thursday, November 6, 2014

"I didn't know trees have leaves."

Optician Joseph Carbone of Midvale, UT, can't forget the day a Navajo Indian boy from the reservation asked to be fitted with glasses. The cost was being picked up by an unknown benefactor. The boy put on his new glasses, looked outside and started to laugh and cry at the same time. He explained why in one sentence. "I didn't know trees have leaves."

"That touched my heart, it changed my life," says Carbone, who struggled with vision himself as a child in Queens, NY. His folks could not afford to buy him glasses until he was 17.

Because of that Navajo boy's visit, Carbone shut down his optician business and replaced it with EyeCare4Kids, a non-profit whose only quest is to put glasses on kids who can't afford them.

His new 6,000-square-foot facility has three examining rooms and churns out about 50 pairs of glasses a day. His showroom display cases look like any optician's office, except there are no price tags. All the glasses are free.

"Many children go without eyeglasses because families can't afford them," he says. "If a kid can't see to read what the teacher is writing on the board....." he leaves the sentence unfinished.

Carbone came to Utah because of the LDS church. He joined in New York when he was 19. His sister, a Catholic nun, was his biggest cheerleader. "She encouraged me to go to any church," he says, "because she thought it would keep me out of trouble." It did. After serving a two-year Mormon mission in Italy, he enrolled in opticians school at NYC College and then returned to Salt Lake City, or as he calls it, "Mecca." He met is bride here, and they have nine children and 18 grandchildren.

It was 2006 when he abandoned profit-making entirely. That was 75,000 free clients ago."I hope before I die we can help a million kids get glasses," he says. That's his vision.

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