Giving the gift of vision, one pair of eyeglasses at a time

Charley Chaney has been an optician for decades, helping others get a clearer view of the world.

Besides providing services to local customers, the owner of The Optical Shop and Showroom at 24444 State Road 54 in Lutz, also volunteers his skills to Living in Faith Ministry.

Lutz optician Charley Chaney has fabricated thousands of pairs of eyeglasses for poor people living in Haiti and Cuba. He volunteers his skills to a ministry called Living in Faith, based in North Tampa. (B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)

Lutz optician Charley Chaney has fabricated thousands of pairs of eyeglasses for poor people living in Haiti and Cuba. He volunteers his skills to a ministry called Living in Faith, based in North Tampa.
(B.C. Manion/Staff Photo)

Rev. Russ Montgomery, president of Living in Faith Ministry, also is an optician. He met Chaney in 2006 through Professional Opticians of Florida.

Montgomery said Living in Faith began after he had visited Cuba in the mid-1990s and was handed some eyeglass prescriptions and asked if he could help.

“So, I went and paid full retail price to have the glasses made, and I said, ‘Lord, if this is what you want me to do, make it affordable,’” he said. “About six phone calls later, I was in touch with an optician up in Maryland and we started making glasses through him.”

During the past two decades, the ministry has branched into Haiti and has conducted eye exams and distributed more than 20,000 pairs of eyeglasses.

The ministry also tests for glaucoma and arranges cataract surgeries to be done by volunteer American-trained ophthalmologists. Montgomery trained so he could conduct eye exams and do glaucoma testing.

“When my friend in Maryland passed away, we used few other people (to make glasses), but our volume was too high for them,” he said. “And then I met Charley, and he’s been a huge blessing.”

When Chaney found out what Montgomery was doing, he got involved.

“It seemed worthwhile,” Chaney said. “When you hear the stories about how people can’t afford glasses, and you hear that they are sometimes led in by their arms. They’re 50 years old and they haven’t had an eye exam in their whole lives. Some of these people literally cannot see their hand in front of their face.”

The Lutz optician does the lab work, fabricating glasses from the orders Montgomery delivers.

“Out of all of the optical shops in the (Tampa) Bay area, this is the only one that’s helped us consistently,” Montgomery said. “We had one in Pinellas County that maybe made 20 glasses and they said, ‘That’s it.’ A couple of other ones might make 10 or 12 and that’s it.”

But Chaney will stay after hours to work on the ministry’s glasses, Montgomery added. Chaney’s experience and technical skills enable him to resolve difficult cases.

The ministry uses frames that are donated by various distributors, Montgomery said, noting, “we’ll get frames with price tags on them anywhere from $200 to $500.”

The ministry sells its eyeglasses in Haiti for $30 a pair, but will provide eyeglasses for free when someone simply has no means of paying, Montgomery said.

“We’re trying to give them something that’s functional and practical at a reasonable price,” Chaney said.

The need for vision assistance is enormous, Montgomery said.

“We’re seeing people who have extremely strong prescriptions. We’re getting a lot of people in that are 20/200,” he said, compared to normal vision, which is 20/20.

“We have people in Haiti that have not seen the night stars for years. With their glasses, they can see the beauty,” Montgomery said. “We’re a mile away from a mountain down there. We’ve got people who haven’t seen the mountain for years.”

Montgomery plans to travel to the mountains of Haiti, at 5,300 feet, specifically searching for people who have mature cataracts.

“We know they’re there. They’re probably stuck in their homes,” he said. “They can’t get out. Cataract surgery is a 20-minute surgery and it gives them new life.”

He believes Living in Faith is a ministry that offers people a chance to see God’s love in action.

“In the book of John, it talks about the blind man,” Montgomery said. “He’s been blind since birth. The Pharisees were asking, ‘Whose sin was it, the man or the parents?’

“Jesus said, ‘Neither, but his condition was such that when he was healed, the people would see the hand of God at work,” Montgomery said.

Published July 16, 2014

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