Fayette Groups Reach Out
Most people in the Southern Crescent can probably name at least a few of the area’s many non-profits. But it may come as a surprise that some groups based here have an international impact. From food, clothing, and shelter to education and eyeglasses, they provide assistance in developing countries across Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. Some of the groups offer opportunities for volunteering abroad. All of them rely on stateside support as well.
Founded in 2006 by Peachtree City optician Bryan Kaiser and his wife Jennifer, God’s Eyes improves the quality of life for some of the world’s poorest people by dispensing free prescription eyeglasses. Unlike programs which recycle/repurpose used glasses, God’s Eyes provides all-new frames and lenses.
“This year we have already sent out six teams to the Amazon basin in Peru, plus Belize, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, and Uganda,” reports Bryan Kaiser. (God’s Eyes also works locally with A Better Way Ministries and the Peachtree City Eye Center.)
“Our first goal for God’s Eyes was delivering a thousand pairs of glasses a year,” Kaiser continues. “We exceeded that in 2007. Now, nearly every month we’re dispensing a thousand pairs of eyeglasses — and in some months, even more.” The next goal in the long-range plan is a thousand pairs a week.
Many of the clients of God’s Eyes have amazing stories, like the young girl buried for five days in the Port Au Prince earthquake and a 91-year-old widow in Panama caring for an invalid adult son. Many have never before experienced clear vision — having glasses makes all the difference in learning to read, in getting a better job (or a first job), in really seeing the faces of loved ones for the first time.
To leverage its efforts, God’s Eyes works closely with medical missionaries operating clinics, and partners with relief organizations such as Operation Mobilization and the Fellowship for the Advancement of Medical Evangelists. In areas without medical facilities, God’s Eyes works directly with local churches, schools, and orphanages, bringing in the necessary equipment and personnel. The group is also establishing “mini-clinics” to help meet needs between trips.
Volunteer Carolyn Strack is a veteran of five trips for God’s Eyes and her enthusiasm is typical. “To bring vision to the world — to me it’s so inspiring to be a part of that.”
Bryan Kaiser notes of volunteering, “We can always use anyone with an optical background, but we welcome everyone on our trips. There is always something to do.” Other ways to help include donations via the website or stateside activities. “We can always use warehouse volunteers to help sort frames and lenses. We could also use people with web design backgrounds. And we are always willing to come and share the stories we have with civic or church groups.”
Dr. Scott Bowser of Peachtree City Eye Center has been a staunch supporter of God’s Eyes for the past four years. In a “buy one, give one” program, for every purchase of glasses, the price of a pair of glasses is donated to God’s Eyes — the equivalent of almost 5,000 pairs to date.
In addition, Bowser has been on two trips to Nicaragua. “We were able to help hundreds of the less fortunate,” he recalls. “Words cannot describe the joy on the faces of those who are seeing clearly for the first time in their lives. God’s Eyes is a truly worthwhile organization.”
HeartCry focuses on orphans and other vulnerable children, both at home — through promoting fostering, adoption, mentoring, and support of organizations like CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and the Fayette Youth Protection Homes — and abroad, where most of the youngsters live in extreme poverty. HeartCry is a program of New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville.
The international efforts center on orphan care and often involve collaboration with other groups. In the Caribbean, HeartCry partners with New Hope in Haiti on an orphange. In Asia, HeartCry works with the Asian Alliance International (AAI) and New Hope’s Thailand Mission Team to aid orphans and refugees in Myanmar and orphans in Thailand. For example, HeartCry funds provided AAI with a four-wheel drive truck, used to bring in supplies such as food and medication and to transport sick children to hospitals.
HeartCry partnered with Orphan Relief and Rescue to complete a new orphanage in Liberia, complete with plastered walls, latrines and showers, bunk beds, mosquito nets, and dishes and other housewares. The group also held a book drive and sent 1,500 volumes to help stock a children’s library and promote literacy. In Uganda, HeartCry provided a new community kitchen so Amazima Ministries could better serve needy children. Amazima provides 1,200 meals daily, and for many of its young clients, it’s the only food they’ll have all day.
Various mission trips are conducted throughout the year, and volunteers are needed. Other ways to support HeartCry are online donations, sponsorships, and helping prepare printed and electronic materials.
A major upcoming fundraiser for HeartCry is the annual Harvest Classic Footsteps for the Orphan Race and Walk in November. Proceeds will support projects like new facilities for an orphanage in Haiti. While providing good care for over a hundred children, it’s located in an unsafe, unsanitary urban area. Moving to the countryside will provide a better setting and allow for various upgrades. And for the first time, the youngsters can enjoy the classic childhood experience of playing outside. At the current facility, they remain locked behind gates for their own safety in a complex that’s mostly concrete.
SOUNS FOR LITERACY
Souns is an outreach of Counterpane Montessori School in Fayetteville. A hands-on early literacy program for infants and toddlers, Souns teaches letter-sound associations and positions youngsters to move seamlessly into the fundamentals of reading and writing. (It can be adapted for certain family and adult literacy projects as well.) Souns works equally well for any language that uses the Roman alphabet.
There are programs here in Georgia, such as classes at libraries in Senoia, Newnan, and Peachtree City and at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Atlanta; in other states; and in Puerto Rico and South Africa.
Most of the African Souns programs are in impoverished areas where the school itself may be little more than a modified shed. The potential of education to improve a child’s life in such situations is almost unimaginably vast. Annette Nelson, Education Coordinator and mentor for the Knysna Education Trust, praises Souns for bringing “such a gift of literacy.” She adds, “Since I have been teaching, this has been one of the most interesting, invigorating, and inspiring journeys yet.”
The Rotary Club of Peachtree City was an early sponsor of local Souns projects, and from that initial connection has grown a strong Rotary-Souns bond with global dimensions. Souns is one of Rotary International’s Literacy Resource Group’s instructional options, and various Rotary clubs, districts, members, and Interact Clubs (an affiliate program for students) have supported Souns. In just one case, District 6900 and District 9350 (through MG #69357) provided Souns for 36 preschools near Knysna and four preschools in townships near Cape Town.
Brenda Erickson originator of Souns and Director of Souns and Counterpane, sums it up: “The world needs to know how simple it can be for every — yes, EVERY — child to read!”
Donations to Souns can be made online; click on “Give the gift of literacy.” And sponsors and participants are needed annually for the Counterpane Golf Classic, a Souns fundraiser held at the Whitewater Country Club in Fayetteville. (This year’s event is September 21.)
OPERATION MOBILIZATION (OM) USA
Operation Mobilization (OM) USA describes itself as a “portal to global mission” for individuals, churches, groups, and businesses, with activities in more than 100 countries. It includes development support, education, and relief as part of its efforts, such as aid to marginalized and abused women through health projects, training, employment, and micro-economic projects.
How did OM USA come to be based in Tyrone? Rick Hicks, North American Area Leader and a past president, says that the original headquarters in New Jersey grew too expensive. “We visited several places looking for a new location, including Atlanta. We liked it here and decided to locate in Tyrone because it was so close to the airport.”
The website details many international volunteer opportunities. Donations can be made online, and offer the option of designating a specific project or country.
Visitors are welcome at the Tyrone office for tours and presentations; call to schedule a time. Local volunteer opportunities include publicity and other activities.