Opening Day delights patients and also all-volunteer staff

By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

Patient No. 1 gave an “A-plus” to the new free vision service in town.

“It’s a great resource for the community,” said Susan Bates, of Lyncourt, who received a referral for cataract surgery from Amaus Vision Services (AVS), an outreach of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse.

Bates found out through University United Methodist Church that AVS (, 315-314-7004) offers free eye exams, by appointment only, to people of any race or creed who cannot obtain those services any other way.
“Very thorough, very good eye exam,” Bates said on Opening Day, Oct. 9. “I’ve had my share of eye exams in my life because I’ve worn glasses since I was in the first grade. So I know what a good eye exam is and he [Dr. Richard Malara] gives a very good eye exam.”

Msgr. Neal E. Quartier, rector of the Cathedral, has said he sees AVS as a “focused effort” in refurbished space on the second floor of the Bishop Curley Building at 259 E. Onondaga St., across the hallway from another Cathedral outreach, the free Amaus Dental Services.

Patients’ service at AVS (motto: “See the Good”), with its state-of-the-art equipment, is worth hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Offered are free bifocals and single-vision glasses provided by the Essilor Vision Foundation.

AVS Business Manager Barry Vaughn chats with patient Susan Bates after her eye exam. “Thank you so much,” she says to Vaughn, who replies: “It’s our pleasure.”

That critical donation

AVS had planned to open by about Thanksgiving, but a $130,000 donation from Todd and Amy Caputo, of Manlius, for startup costs accelerated the process. Donations are still sought for operations and additional equipment. Hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays; the hours may grow, with even an extra day, depending on the size of the all-volunteer crew of doctors and other workers.

Patient No. 2, Kenneth Rolle, said he would “still be thankful” if he were Patient No. 1,000,000. Rolle, who has been living in Syracuse recently, said he served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and lived in Florida for about 60 years. His lack of eyeglasses has been restricting his life about 30 to 35 percent, he said.

Rolle prays morning, night and in between, and when he goes to bed, he says, “‘Lord, wake me up another day.’”

  The good Lord keeps him going, he said, and he added that “what I do with that is up to me. … I believe in my Creator all day long every day.” He also is thankful for assistance from Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Syracuse and the Samaritan Center in Syracuse.

“He’s a wonderful gentleman,” Dr. Malara said of Rolle. “Getting to know him and talking with him a little bit today and just finding out more about what his needs are and … then to be able to meet that need—that’s really what it’s all about.”

Gratifying for doctor

Dr. Malara grew up in Lyncourt, a hamlet in the Town of Salina, so he knows the house that his first patient on Opening Day lives in and who lived there before. “It’s just amazing,” he said. “It’s a small community and to actually have the opportunity to help her was a personal gratification for me because I know exactly where she comes from.”

Dr. Malara volunteers at AVS in addition to working weekdays in his private optometry practice in both Liverpool and Fayetteville and serving as the President of the Central New York Optometric Society.

He determined that Patient No. 2 Rolle “is a great candidate for some glasses that help him see. So we’re going to get him set up with some bifocal glasses that will clear his distance and his reading vision up much better. … So we did it all today.”

“Such a great person, you can just tell by his personality—definitely someone you want to help and make his life easier,” AVS optician A.J. Marrone, of Cicero, said of Rolle. Marrone is “so happy to be able to do this service and work with everybody here and get people glasses, help them see.” Patient No. 1 Bates hopes to have cataract surgery but does not need new glasses.

A call for more patients

Just as AVS is seeking more volunteers, it is looking for more patients. It has reached out to organizations such as the Syracuse City School District, Syracuse Adult & Teen Challenge, the Syracuse Rescue Mission, In My Father’s Kitchen and food pantries.

“We’ll treat ’em all,” said Barry Vaughn, AVS Business Manager. He added: “I can’t wait to see some kids—that’s gonna be great.”

The Opening Day patients “were absolutely lovely,” said Vaughn’s sister, AVS Project Manager Maria Miller.

“We had several volunteers come in,” she said, “just because they wanted to observe the flow and how it goes with patients, and come to find out, all three of our receptionists used to work together in the operating room at Crouse Hospital, and it was like the family reunion—they were all hugging each other and … totally unplanned and they had no idea that each of them had volunteered to work here. …

“It just goes to show you that God’s hand is here; and I’ve been thinking so much about the Caputo family, about Todd and Amy and how happy they would be to see the looks on people’s faces when they come in and they are able to get these services, and so we’re so grateful to them that this equipment is beautiful, and it’s state of the art, and we’re going to be able to serve a lot of people.

“So I think my heart is filled with gratitude to the Caputos and to all of the churches and donors and people who have stepped up and donated monetarily and prayed for this ministry, and all the volunteers for this ministry.”

“What a great day, what an exciting day,” Dr. Malara said of the AVS opener. “It’s been a slow start but a good start—gives us a little time to get acclimated and become familiar with how things are going to flow and move and how to best serve patients. …

“This is where my heart is and this is the joy that I have in helping someone get their vision fixed. … My week can be busy, it could be crazy, but this is an opportunity to give back in a different way, and so it’s very enjoyable.”

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