VOICES: Vision Is Priceless Northeast Florida Celebrates 10th Anniversary

VOICES: Vision Is Priceless Northeast Florida chapter celebrates 10th anniversary

This month the Vision Is Priceless Council is celebrating a decade of keeping Northeast Florida eyes healthy.

In 1965, the organization began as a local chapter of a national organization. In 1996, the Vision Is Priceless Council decided to become a local, independent, nonprofit organization.

“It was a good decision for us,” said Roger Gibson, past chairman and current board member. “VIP has steadily increased the number of vision screenings and has managed to secure sufficient funding to fulfill our mission each year.”

Gibson, an insurance executive, has worked with VIP since its beginnings and continues to be a generous volunteer.

To date, VIP has successfully screened the eyes of nearly a million children and adults in the area. Screenings are held in private and parochial schools, day care centers, community centers, fire houses, libraries, corporations and more.

VIP is a collaborative partner with Duval County Public Schools, which screens more than 70,000 children each year. The children’s vision program, designed by Dot Mathias, vision clinician for the schools, is used as a model for other sites throughout Florida.

“We have a unique relationship with VIP,” Mathias said. “Together, we are able to provide services for all children in Duval County, with [the schools] screening the public school children and VIP screening the private and parochial, Head Start and day-care children.”

Numerous volunteers have provided direction and guidance for the organization. During Gibson’s term, the organization became independent. After that time, other chairs included Bob Hered, an ophthalmologist; Don Wiggins, a business executive; Janet Betchkal, an ophthalmologist; Mary Harvey, a business owner; and, currently, Warren Chandler, senior vice president and chief information officer at St. Vincent’s Health Systems.

Other supporters have been integral to VIP’s growth and success. Jerry Knauer provided motivation and direction and continues to do so, said Carol Baumer, executive director.

“He is a behind-the-scenes type of man who manages to accomplish great things by working one step at a time.”

Knauer, an ophthalmologist, expanded the board by recruiting Wiggins, who eventually served as chairman.

“VIP has been blessed by the remarkable quality of its board,” Knauer said. “I recommended Don Wiggins for the board due to the depth and breadth of his finance and market expertise.”

Long-time volunteer Anne McIntosh served as board secretary for years, retiring last June.

“VIP has come to depend on the volunteer efforts of numerous people, and Anne stands as a shining example,” said Harvey. “We open the doors and Anne is there to help — always with a smile and the strength of her commitment to community service.”

Harvey herself has been part of the foundation of VIP’s success. As a past chairwoman and a 10-year board member, she has coordinated numerous fundraising events, provided strategic counsel and direction and has even donated creative services from her advertising agency through the years.

“Taking over the chair from Mary was a smooth process,” said Chandler. “Mary had worked hard during her tenure and left me with a motivated board whose members were willing to embrace new ideas to best meet the mission of VIP.”

Financially, VIP was originally supported by a generous donation from Jane Wynn of Miller Electric Co. Before she passed away, Wynn was a leading donor for VIP and always a treasured friend.

The organization has also been a grateful recipient of funds from the Claude Nolan Brown Educational, Charitable and Religious Trust over many years.

“My mother had vision problems–glaucoma, cataracts and a detached retina and wanted to touch the lives of people with vision problems,” said the Rev. Lila Brown. “She thought VIP was the way to do that. The organization has a way of getting to people in the early stages of problems by providing preventive services.”

Ten years have been filled with history and the people who made it happen. Most importantly, these years have brought great services to Northeast Florida in vision screening, awareness and educational programs.

The nonprofit Vision Is Priceless Council works to preserve the vision of Northeast Florida residents through programs such as free screening and early detection of potential eye disease. All VIP programs are funded through donations of individuals, corporations and organizations. For more information, call 308-2020 or visit www.Jacksonville.com, keywords: vision is priceless.

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