Says Joe Maddon: “The volunteers are the unsung heroes. Without them, none of our efforts occur.” Every month, the Respect 90 Foundation will salute a distinguished volunteer from the communities of Tampa, FL, Chicago, IL, Mesa, AZ, Southern California, or Joe’s Hometown of Hazleton, PA. Respect 90 will present a $1,000 grant to that volunteer’s charity. Should you have someone who is deserving, please let us know.
Alvin Tagayun | Serve the People Community Health Center
The little girl couldn’t see well. An astigmatism had seen to that. But she wasn’t going to wear glasses. No way. Her parents told her she was too young for glasses. She thought it would make her look funny.
Alvin Tagayun knew better. And he wasn’t going to give up.
Tagayun, a volunteer with Santa Ana, California’s Serve the People Community Health Center, had faith in the center’s Mobile Vision Clinic Program for at risk students in the local school district. The center is a nonprofit organization that provides medical, vision, dental, mental health, and substance abuse services to over 7,000 low income, uninsured and homeless patients in Orange County California.
“With our process, the students are able to be with their peers when they get their glasses,” says Alvin. “There are plenty of kids that start crying and say I don’t want to do this. But when they see their classmates going through the process, it’s different than if you are going with your parents.”
The once recalcitrant student, surrounded by her fellow near- and far-sighted classmates in the mobile eye clinic, inched closer to a set of frames before finally sneaking on a pair. She liked what she saw.
“When she put her own pair on for the first time, she just could not believe how much better she could see. It was so amazing to see the look in her eyes as she was seeing details of things in the nurse’s office. And the kids were giving her so many compliments. This kind of immediate gratification is so overwhelming,” says an emotional Alvin, who will be a first-time father in February. “This is what it is all about for me.”
It’s stories like that that remind Alvin that he chose the right career path among several that lay before him.
Alvin was well into a successful career in the health management business when he decided he wanted to make career change.
“When I was young, my parents had always asked me about becoming a doctor,” recalls Alvin who earned his undergraduate degree in biology. But once he graduated the thought of eight more years of school wasn’t very appealing.
So health management was the choice. But while he was busy hiring medical professionals, doctors and nurse practitioners at the Bakersfield Family Medical Center, Alvin realized that caring for people was still in his blood. And so he enrolled in pre-med classes and left his job.
But there was one more hitch. “I saw a piece in the newspaper about Serve the People Community Health Center and signed up to volunteer. My wife (Faviola) and I like to do all types of volunteer work,” says Alvin. “Then when once I got there I was first able to see the magnitude of the immediate gratification, to see their faces while allowing people to see.”
That was all he needed. Instead of medical school, Alvin set his sights on optometry school.
He began helping the center develop their mobile school vision clinics as well as their mobile clinics aimed at assisting various local homeless shelters.
The program has gone well. In 2019, Serve the People’s mobile homeless shelter vision clinic provided no cost eye exams and new prescription glasses to over 2,000 homeless patients in Orange County. Their mobile school vision clinic provided vision screenings to over 6,000 students at low-income schools, performed 1,500 no-cost eye exams and made 1,200 no-cost new prescription glasses.
“So many children go to school every day who cannot see properly, whether it is virtually or in person, and it greatly affects their ability to learn,” says Sam Hahn, Vision Services Manager for Serve the People Community Health Center. “Similarly, when a homeless person cannot see properly, it restricts their ability to hold a job and puts them at greater risk of theft and violence. By providing eye exams and new prescription eyeglasses we are helping our community’s school children and the homeless families and individuals have a better chance to succeed in their lives. Alvin is an exceptional person and has been a great asset to the vision program.”
Such an asset was Alvin that he was hired on full-time for a time before COVID-19 arrived and forced a shutdown of the mobile school and homeless shelter clinics.
The mobile units are now back up and running and Alvin has returned as a volunteer while caring for his elderly grandmother and preparing for optometry school. And the Yorba Linda native is already getting an education of sorts.
“To my knowledge this is one of the most hands-on programs anywhere and with the homeless population there is more than just visual impairment, there is a lot of pathology or ocular health on top of other issues they might be dealing with in terms of their individual lives,” says Alvin.
“We had one patient come in who said his vision was a little blurry. We were able take a photo of the back of his eye and immediately saw blood draining in his eye, even though he felt fine. We talked to the doctor who double checked it and she sent him to the ER. He could have lost his vision if he had waited another day. We have had doctors say they only had read about some of these cases in textbooks. I’m so grateful to do this work and to help change their lives for the better and in terms of being a student it’s a real opportunity for me to see a lot of these pathologies in certain people because of the population we are serving.”
Rick Vaughn | Executive Director, Respect 90 Foundation
Anyone interested in learning more about Serve the People’s vision services for schoolchildren, homeless shelters and the greater community can contact Sam Hahn directly at email@example.com or (949)338-9340.