The waiting room is part of the friendly and inviting atmosphere that Amaus Vision Services promises when it opens in the Bishop Curley Building in the next couple of months. The all-volunteer staff will include optometrists and opticians. (Sun photo | Tom Maguire)
AVS gearing up to offer free eye care to those who need it
By Tom Maguire | Associate editor
Father Richard Prior, among the lucky who need glasses only to read, views this one with easy clarity.
“Great gift for the area, the city of Syracuse, the Diocese of Syracuse to be able to serve the needs of those who have vision issues that have nowhere else to go, so it’s quite a blessing,” he said of the planned free service with an all-volunteer staff: Amaus Vision Services (AVS), a ministry of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse.
Father Prior, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Cicero, was among the dozens of attendees at AVS’ open house July 29 in the bright refurbished offices in the Bishop Curley Building downtown. In about two months, AVS will start offering gratis eye exams and glasses to the uninsured or underinsured of all faiths or no faith.
“We’re gonna do this God’s way — if somebody comes in, they need this, they’re in,” explained AVS Optician Stacy Daniel, who noted that vision problems can affect kids’ behavior and their ability to learn; for adults, poor vision can cause depression and social anxiety.
“There are definitely ways to help,” said AVS Business Manager Barry Vaughn — he hopes to attract more volunteers including optometrists, opticians, schedulers, technicians, and receptionists.
Vaughn figures there is pent-up demand for free eye services in CNY, so his team is busy ordering equipment, working on technology, lining up processes, and doing publicity.
AVS (motto: “See the Good”) had planned to open by about Thanksgiving on the second floor of the Curley Building, but a $130,000 donation from Todd and Amy Caputo, of Manlius, for startup costs has accelerated the process. “What an incredible gift!” said a grateful Vaughn. “Todd and Amy are amazing people. We are so thankful for their generosity and also for the tremendous outpouring of support from the community.”
More donations are needed (amaus-vision.org) to support ongoing operations and expected high demand.
Some time ago, Vaughn, frustrated by a bad experience trying to get an eye exam, contacted Optician Daniel, who sent him to Dr. Richard Malara, an optometrist in Liverpool and Fayetteville who then prescribed glasses for Vaughn. Daniel filled the prescription and mentioned her dream of opening an eye service for people in need.
Vaughn connected Daniel to Deacon Dr. Robert Fangio, the volunteer Director of Operations for the free Amaus Dental Services — another Cathedral outreach in the Curley Building. Dr. Fangio then talked with Msgr. Neal Quartier, rector of the Cathedral, who also helped the project take off.
“The space is gorgeous,” said Vaughn, who noted that his sister, AVS Project Manager Maria Miller, supervised a major makeover of the offices. “We cannot wait to serve our neighbors,” Miller said. “It’s just gonna be awesome.”
Patients will make an appointment and come to the waiting room, featuring comfortable yellow and green chairs and, by then, new windows. Displayed on racks will be sample eyeglasses they can browse. Donated by the Essilor Vision Foundation through its Changing Life through Lenses platform will be bifocals and single-vision glasses.
AVS’ Dr. Malara, the President of the Central New York Optometric Society, has participated in close to 20 foreign medical missions “to give back a little bit to the people in need.” But amid the coronavirus pandemic, he saw “there was a need to meet right here. … It’s a blessing to be a part of this with such great people and a community that we can serve. … Just grateful to be a part of this.” His comments drew applause from those attending the open house.
Thank you, giants
“This wouldn’t work without Dr. Malara because you’ve got to have eye exams, and he’s been awesome,” Vaughn said. “And he’s a really busy guy …, very humble, modest guy. But he’s another giant, and we’re just grateful to have him here.”
Vaughn also views volunteer dentists Dr. Fangio and Amaus Dental Executive Director Dr. David Dasher as humble giants doing extraordinary work. Dr. Fangio attended the open house and gave tours of Amaus Dental, which is across the hall from the soon-to-open vision service.
Other attendees included Marilyn Crosby and Jeanne Arnold, parishioners of the church where Dr. Fangio ministers as a deacon, Holy Family in Fairmount.
Crosby noted that many people cannot afford vision services. She added that people with poor vision probably can’t read the newspaper or balance a checkbook — “everyday things that they can’t do.”
“I think it isolates you,” said Arnold, who roomed in college with the sister of Dr. Dasher. Arnold figures that if people have trouble addressing issues with their teeth, they also may have trouble addressing faulty vision.
Open-house attendees Sue and Tom Cunningham are also parishioners at Holy Family. “It’s fabulous. Just fabulous,” Sue said of AVS. “And it’s so dignified to respect people as they’re coming in — people who sometimes have a hard time just will feel really loved here, you can tell.”
Tom added, “I think this is a great expression of our Christian faith in action — treat people the best.”
That’s what AVS open-house attendee Thomas Mueller did in the years that he volunteered as an administrator for Amaus Dental, where he saw tears of gratitude from the patients who came from different walks of life. One tearful patient was helped and then told Mueller: “I’ve been in so much pain I have been afraid to go near my children, ’cause I didn’t want to yell at them. I can’t wait to get home tonight.”
Dignity and respect
Echoing what Sue Cunningham said about the dignified service that AVS patients will receive, Mueller said that when patients have an appointment at Amaus Dental, “they’re taken in, we call their name — and just the respect that we can show for them. … Respect. It’s a huge thing.”
Father Prior, AVS Business Manager Vaughn, and AVS Project Manager Miller were part of the original founding group of Joseph’s House, which promotes “the sanctity of life and the dignity of women by providing a nurturing home for mothers facing an unplanned pregnancy or homelessness.”
Miller had told him about the AVS open house. “So I said, ‘Oh, I gotta be there, I gotta see this, I gotta see what you and Barry are doin’, this is so exciting,’” Father Prior recalled.
AVS, said Father Prior, “is really addressing an immediate need that has to get taken care of. But it’s really the multiplication of the loaves and fishes; if God wants it God’s going to provide. So it seems as though God wanted Joseph’s House and God provided the resources and the personnel to make that happen. God needed a dental clinic and the dental clinic is here. God apparently needs an eye clinic and God provides and here we are.
“But God does invite us to be a part of it. We have to say yes and sort of put our trust in God’s hands and let the power of grace just do the miracle.”