I Care International began as an organization on July 12, 1989. When you look back at the history of I Care, Jesse Gutierrez was a vital part of the organization and worked hand in hand with Phil Ortiz. They shared the same dream and worked hard to obtain it.

Jesse Gutierrez and his family were personal friends of Dr. Phil Ortiz and volunteered on I Care missions from the very beginning 34 years ago. Based in the Joliet community, the Gutierrez family shared their enthusiasm for I Care with their friends and brought many volunteers with them. The Gutierrez family, like la familia Ortiz, was another group of Mexican American siblings who traveled together with a purpose and in doing so bonded even more tightly. In addition to Jesse, the Gutierrez generation who gave so much to I Care International are Joe, singer and guitarist in a mariachi band, Dan, a physician, Tony, a school superintendent in Joliet, and their sisters Hope and Carmela, both involved in real estate.

But it was Jesse who developed a keen interest in the work and stepped forward to lead missions, the first ever to take on that role in addition to Dr. Phil. Jesse became the face of I Care to many communities in Mexico, including Villahermosa, Huatulco, and others. Because of his Spanish language skills, Jesse was able to communicate directly with community leaders in Mexico and organize missions independent of Phil. This enabled I Care International to often have two missions or more a year. Phil and Jesse just had to coordinate the dates of their missions, so the equipment was always available to travel.

Phil gave Jesse the post of Executive Director of I Care International sometime in the last century. Like much of I Care’s history, we can’t pin down the date. We do know that Jesse stepped down from that post in May of 2022. Suffice to say that Jesse and Phil worked hand in hand gaining the trust of volunteers, the respect of community leaders throughout Mexico and Central America, and served thousands of people during their time together.

Jesse helped organize sorting and packing events in Sheridan and elsewhere. He regularly took raw glasses to his basement and neutralized them himself with a manual (and now antique) lensometer (see below). He was fastidious in taking the proper equipment on missions and built a list of necessities we still use when we embark on trips. Jesse was a public schoolteacher whose hobby was optometry. He helped thousands of people obtain glasses, led hundreds of volunteers on successful missions, and helped build I Care’s model of service in a huge way.

And he was so quiet about it. Humble is the word that comes to mind. We’ve been wanting to recognize Jesse in a formal way. Maybe this is the beginning. You did so much, Jesse. And thanks also to your wife, Donna, for supporting both you and I Care so well over the years. Could we have done it without you? Maybe. But we certainly wouldn’t have served as many. And we wouldn’t be doing it as well now without the benefit of your experience and guidance.

I Care has awarded the first Jesse Gutierrez and Phil Ortiz Stipends to the two optometry students (Karrissa Siegel and Tiffany Lee) that participated in the 2023 I Care clinic to Guatemala. Thank you both for your hard work and dedication. It will not be forgotten.

(From Dave McClure)