Seeing eye-to-eye with volunteer groups - Tucson Local Media: Business

Seeing eye-to-eye with volunteer groups

Local optometrist does his part

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Posted: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 4:00 am | Updated: 11:37 am, Wed Dec 28, 2011.

When Dr. Robert Mulgrew decided to open Affinity Eye Care in 2009, he did so with the hope that he could better serve Tucsonans with an independent optometry office. Since its opening, patients have become increasingly familiar with Mulgrew and the vast services offered at his office.

What many may be less familiar with, however, is the extent of Mulgrew’s generosity outside of the exam room.

“He has done so many great things for the community. He deserves some recognition for all those he has helped,” said coworker Nancy Allen.

Over the years, Mulgrew has been a member of several charitable organizations that offer aid to individuals and communities who are in need of eye care, but lack the means or availability of doctors.  

“I feel it is important for every person to utilize whatever skill or talent they possess to help others less fortunate,” said Mulgrew.  “You never know when that little act of kindness will make a profound effect in someone’s life.” 

VOSH, or Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity, is one of the most recent organizations that Mulgrew has dedicated his time to. Since it was established in 1971, VOSH has been helping sustain vision care across the world, while aiming to eliminate preventable blindness by 2020.

With the help of volunteers like Mulgrew, they may just succeed. In his most recent mission, Mulgrew, along with several volunteers from the Saddlebrooke area, traveled to Caborca, Mexico, to help communities in need of vision care.

“Some missions are large, where a team of seven or eight doctors, and a support staff of 15 will see around 25,000 people in a 14-day clinic,” said Mulgrew. “Others are in smaller villages, and we may only serve a couple thousand people.”

Mulgrew addressed the need for donations to make missions like this one possible.

“We mainly utilize donated glasses, so that is why it is important to have people donate their unused glasses,” said Mulgrew. “Our office collects glasses as well as most Lion’s Clubs.”

Lion’s Club is another organization that aims to prevent blindness across the world.

Mulgrew has participated in numerous Gift of Sight missions in Bolivia, Panama, Ecuador, China, and Bulgaria.

In a mission that he recalls vividly, Mulgrew met a young girl who was brain damaged from encephalitis at birth, and had no sense of awareness of her surroundings.

“I did an exam on her and I found out she was extremely farsighted,” said Mulgrew. “We found some glasses for her and after a few minutes you could see some expression in her face. Her parents actually wept for joy since they had never seen any expression on their little girl’s face. It’s little moments like that which drive me to go on these missions.”

Mulgrew has also been a member of The Flying Samaritans, a non-profit group which, as the name suggests, flies volunteers to offer medical services to small villages in Baja California, Mexico.

“We have a group of pilot volunteers, and, in addition, we take interpreters with us and helpers with no specific skills, as there is always a job for anyone willing to help,” said Flying Samaritans’ spokeswoman Judy Austin.

Mulgrew has been one of those willing to help, having visited Mexico several times as a member of the group, and providing eye exam clinics to residents there at no cost.

Mulgrew and the rest of the volunteers also pay their own expenses for attending these clinics.

Locally, Mulgrew has also dedicated his time to Sunnyside School District. Partnering with the school, Mulgrew and his office offered 75 needy schoolchildren free eye exams and glasses with the help of VSP, a vision insurance plan.

Next year, Mulgrew plans to aid The Boys and Girls Club to provide exams and glasses for children in need.

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