Amaus Vision Services will be another free outreach of Syracuse Cathedral
By Tom Maguire
The angel was trying to get in. No matter; he materialized later with a check.
Todd Caputo was hoping to tour the offices of the planned free vision service in the Bishop Curley Building in Syracuse, but the doorbell as the principals met upstairs was unheard. Later that day, Todd’s wife, Amy, took the tour. The couple right away decided to donate $130,000 that Amaus Vision Services needs to open. That means free eye exams, with a full 21-point checklist, and quality eyeglasses will be provided to the financially fragile in a modern, well-equipped office with an all-volunteer staff.
“The mission itself, I believe, is a good one. … My wife and I have always felt that it’s important to give back to the community,” explained Todd, of Manlius, a Le Moyne College graduate who owns Sun Chevrolet in Chittenango. He stressed that Amy and he do not seek publicity; he referred to Matthew 6:3: “Do not let your left hand know what your right is doing.”
Todd spoke with the Sun, he said, because the couple is “hoping that people will see that God put it on our heart to donate to this worthy cause” and that others may be moved by this ministry and donate as well. In order to let potential donors and volunteers see the value of the operation, AVS will hold an open house July 29 (see box) to raise funds for operations and additional equipment.
Now that the Caputos, whose own charity is www.givetothers.com, have stepped in, Amaus Vision Services (AVS) hopes to open in September or October, right across the hallway from Amaus Dental Services, which since 2014 has been another free outreach ministry of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Syracuse.
‘Buckle your seat belt’
“I didn’t know it’d be this accelerated,” said AVS Business Manager Barry Vaughn. “When you’re working for the Lord, you’d better buckle your seat belt, I guess.”
AVS (amaus-vision.org) will offer appointments in the offices formerly used by yet another Cathedral outreach, Amaus Medical Services, which for 12 years offered free care to people who were uninsured.
When Amaus Medical Services closed in October 2019, “I knew something good would come,” said Msgr. Neal E. Quartier, rector of the Cathedral. “I just knew it, and there it is. So, yeah: I think when you say God’s workin’, absolutely.”
The monsignor sees AVS as “a focused effort,” similar to the Poverello Health Clinic (315-423-9961) on North Salina Street in Syracuse, which offers free services to those in need under the auspices of Franciscan Northside Ministries at Franciscan Church of the Assumption.
AVS Business Manager Vaughn, an entrepreneur from North Syracuse, figures that God connected the people for the vision service. Vaughn needed a pair of glasses but had a poor experience. Then he remembered that his brother’s sister-in-law, Stacy Daniel, owns Frameology Optical in East Syracuse. She directed him to Dr. Richard Malara, an optometrist in Liverpool and Fayetteville.
Assist from the dentist
Happy with his eye exam at Dr. Malara’s, Vaughn got beautiful glasses at Frameology, where Daniel, a licensed optician who is working on opening a second Frameology Optical at Township 5 in Camillus, mentioned her dream of opening an eye service for people who are poor. Vaughn connected Daniel to Deacon Dr. Robert Fangio, the volunteer Director of Operations for Amaus Dental. Dr. Fangio then set up a meeting with Msgr. Quartier, and the AVS project snowballed.
Dr. Fangio, who is also the diocesan Director of Deacon Personnel for the Office of the Permanent Diaconate, said in an email:
“Amaus Vision Services will be another unique outreach to the underserved in our community that the Cathedral Parish sponsors. Under the gracious support of Monsignor Neal Quartier and the Cathedral community, the Cathedral now offers two very special health ministries, dental and vision care, that our target population will be hard-pressed to find … anywhere else in our community.
“Amaus Dental Services is excited about our partnership with Amaus Vision Services and can’t wait to see how far and fast we will grow together, all in the name of our great respect for God’s great commandment of our love of neighbor through service.”
“This is what I mean about the Lord making lemonade out of lemons,” Vaughn said of his journey toward his beautiful eyeglasses and now a new ministry, AVS, with a logo and a motto: “See the Good.”
Vaughn and his sister, AVS Project Manager Maria Miller, who is retired from Verizon, were working on the founding of Joseph’s House when they met the Caputos. Since 2014, Joseph’s House has provided “a safe home and family environment for moms and babies who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.” The Caputos had donated a new Camaro and a new Tahoe to Joseph’s House raffles, and the couple still supports that ministry.
“We do believe AVS is something that the Lord wants to see open and wants to have happen,” Miller said on the same day when Todd Caputo came and rang the bell, “so we do believe that he will make the funds available.” Then she gave the tour to Amy, a teacher by trade who likes to do community service and take care of the couple’s three children, and the Caputos wrote a check for the $130,000. And it was Miller who spoke to Todd about giving an interview to the Sun.
“We really believe in Maria and Barry for sure — they’re wonderful people,” Todd said. “They’re very intelligent. We know that they’ll use every single penny that we’ve donated the right way, and they won’t waste it.”
Donating his eye-exam services will be Dr. Malara, the President of the Central New York Optometric Society. He has participated in close to 20 foreign medical missions over the years. “I have pictures from around the world, and the pictures I have aren’t the touristy places,” he said.
In one particular mission, he said, “I think our team saw 20,000 people in a week. You get recognized by the local government. So that’s nice, and they can throw a little party for you, but it’s not the pomp and circumstance; it’s about the individual who comes in who has some disruption in their story because they no longer have the ability to do what they need to do, and we help fulfill that need.”
A Syracuse native, Dr. Malara comes from a working-class family — dad, barber/hair stylist; mom, florist. “They were faithful to what God put in their heart to minister to people that walked in their doors,” he said, “and were very generous with giving to people in this community.”
“Most people think that their eyes are fine if they can see,” he said. “But there are lots of things that can happen to our vision,” such as diabetes, glaucoma, cataracts, and the effects of high blood pressure. “Those things can be treated to avoid loss of vision,” he said. And parents may think kids have behavioral issues when it fact they just cannot see well.
Dr. Malara will look inside the patients’ eyes and he will also assess their tracking, color vision, depth perception, and binocularity — how the eyes work together — as part of the 21-point checklist. Where needed he will write prescriptions for eyeglasses, which in many circumstances can cost $250 to $400, on the low level. So all told, patients’ free service at AVS will be worth hundreds and hundreds of dollars.
The prescriptions will be great, the patients will be able to “see very well and very clearly,” and the glasses will last a long time, said AVS Business Manager Vaughn.
Amaus Vision Services patients will receive free bifocals and single-vision glasses provided by the Essilor Vision Foundation. EVF USA is based in Dallas; there are other EVFs around the world.
Meredith Marmurek, Media Relations & Communications Writer for EVF, emailed this quote from Andrea Haymore, Vice President for Program and Alliances: “Essilor Vision Foundation is proud to support organizations like Amaus Vision Services with free glasses for patients in need. Vision is essential for school, work and life, and we encourage eye doctors and charities that provide free eye exams to use EVF’s Changing Life through Lenses platform to order glasses for qualified patients who may not be able to afford glasses or access vision care. We appreciate our charitable partners like Amaus Vision Services, a champion in the community that’s ensuring no one goes without the quality vision services they need.”
Marmurek added: “The platform supplies lenses, frame and lab services if that’s what the eye doctor chooses. Eye doctors have the option to order a complete pair of glasses using the CLTL frame line, send in their own frames with an order, or place an order for uncut lenses so the doctor can complete the glasses onsite. Eye doctors also can order a free frame kit with 30 trial frames for patients to try on.”
AVS Project Manager Miller has a vision of a little kid who is losing his tooth getting his eye exam from Dr. Malara and then accepting his pair of glasses from Optician Daniel. “We’ll take a photograph of him with that big huge smile — we have that vision and we’re running toward it,” Miller said.
Benefactor Todd Caputo hopes that when the patients of Amaus Vision Services “experience that love of Christ that they get from this service, they may come to Christ because of it.”