Never has the need been so great for Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief (OFDR) as it has been in 2017—and never have so many doctors of optometry applied for help.
Deadly hurricanes came barreling ashore one after another—first Harvey, followed by Irma and eventually Maria in a matter of days in late August and early September—and they lingered, inflicting billions of dollars in property damages. Optometric practices from Texas to Florida to Puerto Rico didn't escape the storms' triple doses of high winds, pelting rain and widespread flooding.
And the donations came flooding in to OFDR, too. About 400 donors, including individuals and corporations, have given more than $300,000 to OFDR since August, following an appeal for donations by AOA President Christopher J. Quinn. About 100 doctors of optometry were given grants under the fund.
Nichole Soto, O.D., whose Rockport, Texas, practice was damaged and her family home destroyed by the fall of a 200-year-oak tree, was one of the beneficiaries of the fund. Rockport has been described as ground zero for Hurricane Harvey.
Disaster grant 'a blessing'
For a time, Dr. Soto's family was split up and her practice shuttered. Although her practice has reopened, her family remains displaced but together while their home is rebuilt. She is, nevertheless, grateful for the OFDR grant. Humbled but hopeful, she is looking forward to watching her daughter march in the holiday parade in Houston on Thanksgiving.
"The grant was so helpful in a stressful and difficult time," Dr. Soto says. "The funds went to help get our office up and running," Dr. Soto says. "In a time without income, it was such a blessing. Each day is a new day to take a step forward, a day to be thankful for the ones you love and grateful for what you have. Even as we were homeless without a place to stay, I had my family and the love, prayers and support of my optometry family.
Other recipients of the OFDR grants also reacted with gratitude after being notified they would receive funds. Among their responses.
- "Thank you so much for all your efforts. We appreciate that more than you know." — O.D., Texas
- "That is WONDERFUL news! Thank you! I have tears in my eyes. I can't thank you enough! Things have been tough. Even though we have the office back open and running, the patients are not returning like they were prior to the storm. In addition, the services, internet, phones, etc., have been spotty in service making it more difficult. We had damage in our home as well and things there are moving very slowly. This money will be put to good use, specifically deductibles and for my staff." — O.D., Florida
- "Wow! Thank you so much to the AOA Foundation! It was very thoughtful of you all to be thinking of us in Puerto Rico during this tough time. Wishing everyone a happy holiday!" — Student, Puerto Rico
- "That's amazing! Thank you so very much! Insurance still is not giving us the time of day after their denial. We appreciate this so much!" — O.D., Texas
- "Thanks! I appreciate your thoughts. We are luckier than many others, but it has definitely been an ordeal! My practice was closed for 2 weeks and we will be lucky to be back in our house before the end of the year. I will definitely put this grant to good use and I will remember you when I am back on my feet and be in a position to give back to those who have given to me!" — O.D., Texas
- "Thank you so much for making this possible! I have been working hard to rebuild and recover from this. It's almost like starting all over. I am grateful for the committee consideration, for the TOA and for the AOA." — O.D., Texas
- "Good evening. The recovery has been very slow. Still waiting on inspectors to complete their estimates. The good news is that tonight will be our LAST night at our hotel and we will be moving into a temporary apartment (12-month lease) tomorrow! Our whole community was destroyed, and it will definitely take some time to get back to our normal living. Our health is good and our children are thankfully away at college. Lots to be grateful for. We are very grateful for this optometry fund." — O.D., Texas
- "Thank you so much to Optometry Cares and the committee for this generous grant!" — O.D., Florida
- "I am the recipient of a $4,000 check from Optometry Cares. I would like to sincerely extend my thanks and appreciation to the AOA Foundation and the AOA for their help in a time of natural disasters. This sort of commitment to the profession by the association is what makes our profession stand tall. Thanks again for all your support." — O.D., Texas
- "Thanks to all. I am very emotional. Thanks for your help. God bless you all." — O.D., Puerto Rico
How can you help doctors of optometry in need?
Donate to Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief to ensure funds are available in the future when another disaster strikes.
The fund was created to help doctors of optometry in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. A program of Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation, Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief aids doctors of optometry whose practices have been structurally damaged so they cannot serve patients, which hampers a practice's ability to generate income.
Among the industry partners that donated to OFDR in 2017 are Luxottica Wholesale, Essilor of America and CooperVision. The Foundation extends special thanks to Vision West, Inc., Eyecare Partners, PERC+IVA, California Optometric Association and Vision Expo for their support and outreach to their members.
In a virtual kick-off, the AOA launches Leadership Institute with 130 doctors of optometry from across the country. A project of the AOA Leadership Development Committee, the Institute is a yearlong program designed to grow and support the next generation of leaders in the profession.
At the 2021 Leaders Summit, AOA-member volunteers set priorities for the year and launched new initiatives to lead the profession forward.