Some people have the gift of seeing the world without borders or obstacles, as if through a superhuman lens that strips away seeming roadblocks, language barriers, and cultural boundaries. It is perhaps no wonder that our angel of such pure vision is an optometrist—Dr. Phil Ortiz of Morris, Illinois. We originally puzzled over how this Midwest doctor happened to be in Avila Beach, throwing an annual fundraiser for his foundation, I Care International. But after learning that his nonprofit organization—founded in 1989 to bring better eyesight (and also hearing) to the less fortunate of the world—had touched the senses and sensibilities of people in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and other Latin American countries, as well as Native American tribes in Arizona; migrant workers in Florida; and the less fortunate in his own hometown; and that it had also spurred two spin-off foundations (I Care Canada and I Care Mexico) it was not so surprising that Ortiz should also have roots in California.
Creating a web of connection with everyone he meets, Ortiz seems to effortlessly bind together the various nations and peoples he visits with the common bonds of humanity and compassion, thus making the world a smaller place and its problems less daunting. In fact, one of his most dedicated volunteers, Avila photographer Lance Kinney, became involved in I Care after simply overhearing Ortiz speak about an upcoming trip. Kinney, a contractor on Ortiz’s Avila home at the time (he over-winters there, which explains the Avila-Illinois connection), jumped on the opportunity to help through photography; he now has all but taken the torch from Ortiz, recently meeting with the Guatemalan president to garner support for their upcoming mission. “It doesn’t take much to get people to get involved,” Ortiz laughs, adding that his spring ’09 trips are already almost full, without any solicitation. But his modest and matter-of-fact tone and quick, light-hearted laugh, which swiftly put to rest any misgivings, can certainly be accredited with facilitating an “I Can” attitude in those around him.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this spring, I Care International has worked to aid over 200,000 eye patient (through conducting acuity tests, eye exams, and fitting prescription eyeglasses) and more than 10,000 hearing impaired. Committed to two to five trips per year (lasting four to five days each, and handling 500 to 1,000 cases per day), the independent volunteers of I Care (most of whom have no optometry background) have spent their own time and money to give misfortunate people world-round not only a clearer vision, but also a brighter future and an improved view of humanity. “We get paid by the gratitude,” Ortiz says simply, adding that as the child of two immigrants from Mexico, he feels lucky for the education he was able to get and is happy to have found a way to give back.
I Care International warmly welcomes volunteers who want to support their vision missions, whether by traveling, donating funds, or giving used hearing aids (which get recycled for credit used to purchase new pieces) and new and used eye glasses. On each trip, they bring 8,000 – 10,000 people the gift of a crisper, clearer, brighter experience of life—as much for the patients as for the volunteers. See for yourself at www.icareinternational.org