When Joseph Carbone was eight years old, he did not have a vision of the man he would one day become. At that time, Carbone had a tough time reading, let alone imagine himself as a successful CEO someday.
“I have a learning disability,” says Carbone. “In school, I never read a book cover to cover—ever. But I could mimic the drumline from any song. I could hear each drum part in my mind.”
By the time Carbone was 10 years old, he was in a band. His bandmates were from 16 to 18 years old.
“I started doing things that a 10-year-old shouldn’t be doing. I was hanging out in bars. I thought that rock and roll was a lifestyle, not a type of music,” he says.
Carbone believes he would have stayed on that destructive path if his older sister had not intervened.
Carbone got his life together and started going to school at night and working at one of the most exclusive optometry facilities on Madison Avenue in New York.
“All the stars were patients there. Anyone who was a celebrity came in the doors,” he says.
Eventually, Carbone moved to Utah. He and a partner opened an optometry practice called The Eye Doctor in 1978. Carbone also volunteered in the optical department at the Fourth Street Clinic (serving mostly lower-income or homeless patients). In the mid-1990s, he saw an increasing need for children to have an eye exam or glasses, but many families could not afford them.
One day, a young Navajo man came to Carbone’s office after driving seven hours from his home on the reservation. The young man had never had a vision screening or eye exam. A volunteer had driven the young man to the office and paid for the exam and his glasses.
“I remember he looked out the window and cried. He said, ‘I didn’t know that trees have leaves,” Carbone recalls.
Giving the Gift of Proper Eye Care
This was the turning point for Carbone. He and his wife, Jan, decided to create a nonprofit organization to help children receive the eye care they needed.
“Many children go without eye care because their parents can’t afford it or it’s not accessible to them. I wanted to bridge that gap, so I started EyeCare4Kids,” Carbone explains. “Since 2001, we’ve helped over 400,000 kids get professional eye exams, vision screenings, and new cool eyeglasses.”
Madalyn Manning is one of the thousands of parents whose children have benefitted from EyeCare4Kids. They helped her daughter, Khloe, who was less than two years old at the time.
“When Khloe was 16 months old, I started to notice that one of her eyes was turning in. I panicked because I had a lazy eye when I was young, and it was so difficult. I didn’t want my child to have to go through the same thing,” Manning says.
She took her daughter to a pediatrician at first, then to see Dr. Leah Owen, a board-certified pediatric ophthalmologist at Primary Children’s Hospital. Dr. Owen confirmed that Manning’s daughter had amblyopia (lazy eye) and performed strabismus surgery to repair the muscles around Khloe’s eye.
“Dr. Owens did a fantastic job,” recalls Manning. “But even after the surgery, Khloe still had to have mirror flex glasses with a strong prescription. I had saved my birthday money hoping it would be enough to get Khloe her glasses, but I found it out it wasn’t enough. I also learned she would need new glasses every six months because her prescription might change. I had no idea how I was going to afford it. It was overwhelming.”
Manning talked with a family friend who knew Carbone and was familiar with EyeCare4Kids. The friend gave Manning Carbone’s number. She called him and explained her daughter’s situation.
“When I told him Khloe’s story, Joseph told me he was going to cover all the costs for Khloe’s new glasses. I tried to protest, but Joseph insisted and said that it would be a privilege for him,” says Manning.
Carbone helped Manning set up an appointment for Khloe. Khloe had her exam, received her prescription, and picked out her new glasses.
“She was so happy. The relief I felt was so monumental. He helped us so much,” says Manning.
When Manning thought the visit was over, Carbone told her he wanted to give Khloe a backup pair of glasses.
“Then to my total surprise, he also insisted he would cover the costs for new glasses for me. It was overwhelming,” Manning says.
A Bright Outlook
Cinthya Kimberlin is another parent Carbone and EyeCare4Kids have helped. She brought her daughter, Fate, in to have her eyes tested. She was under five years old at the time. Fate only ever wanted to watch movies on Kimberlin’s phone because she needed it to be close. The doctor at EyeCare4Kids told Kimberlin that Fate had a high case of hyperopia (far-sightedness) and astigmatism (a problem with the curve of the eye that causes blurriness and near-sightedness).
“When Fate put her glasses on for the first time, she was giggling and running around in a circle. She was looking at the floor and back up. She said, ‘Oh, Mommy, I can see colors very bright and there are leaves.’”
The doctor suggested that Kimberlin might want to have her younger daughter’s eyes tested as well because the condition can be genetic.
“My little one wasn’t even 2 years old. She had a tough time with balance. She had learned to walk recently but she would crash into walls. She didn’t have the depth perception she needed. We got her glasses as well. My daughters just love their classes. They don’t take them off until they are about to go to bed,” says Kimberlin.
Like Manning’s daughter, Kimberlin’s daughters’ prescriptions change every nine months, but EyeCare4Kids helps her with the glasses. “They are so sweet. They are amazing to help because the cost is just so expensive to get a decent quality pair of glasses,” says Kimberlin.
Serving Families for More Than 20 Years
Eyecare4kids is now in its twenty-first year. They have nine clinics in four states: Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and New Jersey. The headquarters is at 6911 State Street in Murray, Utah. The nonprofit also has three mobile vision clinics and other school-based clinics.
“We take the services to the kids,” Carbone explains. “There is no reason why a child should go years without an eye examination or a pair of glasses. My mission for the rest of my mortal life is to make sure that every kid who needs a pair of glasses will get a pair of glasses.”
Whatever type of clinic a child chooses to come to, Carbone says, “We want to give them more confidence, more self-worth. We tell them, ‘Pick whatever frame you want. If you like the green ones, get the green ones. If you like the red ones, get the red ones, because if you love them, you are going to wear them.’ It is pride and ownership. We try to meet different needs while we are providing the service.”
A Whole New World
The Utah mobile vision clinic recently visited Roots Charter High School in West Valley City. Doug Jardine, EyeCare4Kids Assistant Director, was happy to be able to serve the young people there.
“Roots High School is an alternative high school. Some did not fit in or were treated badly at other high schools. These kids are not little kids, but that doesn’t matter. We help everyone, no matter the age,” says Jardine.
Jardine says that children who go to their mobile clinics are treated exactly like they are the ones served in their regular clinics.
“They have a professional eye exam, and we have all kinds of different frames they can pick out on beautifully displayed racks. It is so fun to see when these children put their glasses on. It is a whole new world for them,” says Jardine.
Affordable for Every Child
Carbone wants eye care to be affordable for every child and their parents. At EyeCare4Kids, a child receives a vision screening, an eye exam, and a pair of glasses for $35 (and $50 for adults).
“Everything is 35 dollars. Because we’ve been in the optical industry for a long time, we’ve made a lot of wonderful relationships. We acquire frames, lenses, cases, and all the different supplies at absolute cost or on the wholesale dollar. Corporations and family foundations donate and help offset the costs,” Carbone explains.
Carbone says comparable glasses with nice lenses and a decent frame would normally cost between $300 and $400 plus the cost of the eye exam.
Kimberlin was so impressed with the care she received from EyeCare4Kids, she became an employee there. “Parents think, ‘I want to protect my kids’ eyes, but that is very expensive.’ Patients come in here and are shocked by the price,” she says. “Sometimes they will buy two or three pairs because they are affordable and are the price they would have paid for one pair with insurance somewhere else.”
Helping Children Around the World
EyeCare4Kids does focus on children, but anyone is welcome to come in.
“You don’t need a recommendation, and we accept any tier of income. We help everyone,” says Kimberlin. “We help people with vocation rehab, with Medicaid, and with or without insurance. If a person has a current prescription, then you are always welcome here.”
Carbone hopes to help as many children as possible in the United States and throughout the world in the years to come. He is opening clinics in Mali, Uganda, and Kenya.
“It’s our mission to ‘Sight The World.’ We hope to help an additional million children by the end of 2025,” he says.
Carbone plans to do this with his virtual clinic, sighttheworld.org.
“There are 500 million children worldwide that need vision care but do not receive it,” says Carbone. “This is where we get the idea to “Sight The World.” We are using technology so they can order the glasses. We are collaborating with a company that helps us do the refraction testing with an iPhone so we can come up with a prescription. You can have a virtual try-on where you take a picture of yourself, and you touch the frame, and it shows up on your face. This technology is for a person who lives on the upper east side or the wrong side of the track.”
Carbone says he hopes to run this like a microbusiness. He hopes to find mothers all over the world who might want to make a little money by becoming a team leader for EyeCare4Kids and Sight The World. They would provide the mother with an iPhone with the loaded app. Then she would then find people in her village or town to have their eyes examined and receive the glasses they need.
“We can compensate her for work, and she can become self-sustaining. Moms are smart. Moms know that their children need things that they can’t give them because of access or because of finances,” says Carbone. “And so, we feel that if we partner with moms, they will get the services that their children need. It’s extremely rewarding.”
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