At PHC 57 on December 17th, REDF brought a group of 23 volunteers who donated their time across 10 volunteer service areas. REDF, or Roberts Enterprise Development Fund, is one of our valuable fiscal supporters who helps us keep our mission alive. Here is an account from Valonna Fowler of Culture, People & Performance at REDF, who helped in the vision area of the event. As a reading glasses volunteer, Valonna assisted participants as they found the right strength of reading glasses for their needs.
One of the greatest parts of the day was having conversations with the participants. Here’s the thing: people instantly transform from statistics to human beings when you shake their hand, ask their names, look into their eyes.
One of the first people I met was Michael. His old pair of glasses had broken, and he felt like everything was out of focus. We tried on a few pair and I adjusted the nosepads. These new glasses were going to be his Christmas present. His eyes started to water as he looked through the lenses and the world came into focus. For myself, I couldn’t say anything beyond Merry Christmas.
I met Val, who had diabetes. She had a bright aqua umbrella and wore a tan bowler. I loved her style. She just wanted to feel pretty in the glasses she chose. Diabetes was hard enough to manage, she explained, so ugly frames weren’t going to work. We discussed polka dots, leopard prints, and finally found the perfect pair of striped glasses. She sat for a while, testing the lenses, whether the glasses fit her nose, and even examined the width of the stripes. I have to admit her attention to detail made her a kindred spirit to me. In the end, Val felt pretty as she stood up to continue her day at PHC, wishing me happy holidays as she went.
A little while later, I met another Michael. This Michael put on one of the strongest prescriptions available, and exclaimed how he could see across the room now. It made my heart hurt to know he probably needed a full eye exam, but those appointments are scarce. Once he finished at PHC, he planned to go home and watch TV. He’d moved into an SRO about a month ago and a TV was one of the first items he wanted, because that made it feel like a real home. This was his Christmas present, he said, and his excitement was contagious.
These interludes may read like a disjointed tapestry, but they’re all part of what makes San Francisco. The volunteers that day were few compared to the population. The resources were in short supply. Yet an overriding theme kept rising to the top as I dispensed pair after pair of reading glasses. These wonderful, fun, and lively individuals I interacted with aren’t simply a statistic. They are breathing denizens of my beloved city, with stories in their eyes and contributions at their fingertips. To them, a pair of glasses, a meal, a health appointment could be their Christmas present. Why do we hold back our time, resources – ourselves? The people I met last week certainly didn’t.
By Valonna Fowler