Since 2005, Roger Harrie, MD, his wife, and his church group have been volunteering every week at the Salt Lake Valley Detention Center, presenting the youth with classes on life skills such as how to go on a job interview and create a budget, along with spirituality based topics.After a few years, he realized the youth had yet another need: many of them needed correction for their poor vision. Dr. Harrie, professor of ophthalmology, John Moran Eye Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, was the perfect person to meet the challenge.
Dr. Harrie started a vision-screening program at the detention center that would follow his weekly visits. Since the detention center is the main drop-off location for minors who commit a crime in Salt Lake City, their stay at the unit can range from a few days to a few months, giving Dr. Harrie and his team an opportunity to screen a majority of the adolescents in the criminal justice system before they are assigned to a rehabilitation program or a long-term incarceration facility.
“We were surprised by these kids of how many don’t see very well,” Dr. Harrie said. “I felt that the number of these youth with significant refractive errors was disproportionately higher than would generally be expected.”
Bringing two or three volunteer technicians and/or medical students with him, the team commits to 2 hours of teaching soft life skills and about 2 hours for vision screenings. For those whose vision is not optimal, he brings a variety of glasses of different powers to give away.
During the 5-minute vision screening, Dr. Harrie tries his best to mentor the teens and let them know that people care about them. Along with the glasses, he gives the youths a paper handout informing them of the average hourly wages of people with various levels of education, and encourages them to finish their schooling.
In about 7 years since the vision-screening program began, he has given away over 3,000 pairs of glasses. Originally, the glasses were donated from people who had LASIK or cataract surgery, but Dr. Harrie soon found that the majority of the teenagers did not like them and only wanted new, ‘cool’ glasses. Since then, he has paid out of his own pocket to provide new glasses freely.
“It’s one of those things, you just realize what an impact it makes, ” he said. “It’s worth doing to know that just a pair of glasses can sometimes make as much a difference as doing eye surgery.”
All images are courtesy of Roger Harrie, MD