KAILUA-KONA — For clients of the Hawaii Island HIV/AIDS Foundation (HIHAF), a pair of eyeglasses or a vision exam can mean a world of difference in improving their quality of life.
While poor vision might not seem like a huge difference maker, it most certainly can be.
“Because if you can’t see, then you can’t leave your home,” said Teri Hollowell, HIHAF director of programs. “Then you get isolated, then you get depressed and then your life is bad.”
To help improve sight for a population prone to vision issues, the Lions Club of Kona members on Thursday handed a $10,000 check to HIHAF, an organization dedicated to providing and coordinating services for people with HIV/AIDS. The organization currently has about 275 clients islandwide — about 125 of them are in West Hawaii.
Hollowell said people with HIV can be more susceptible to eye problems, such as retinitis, and the disease can also accelerate the deterioration of vision over time.
But vision isn’t always covered under health insurance plans, and without resources like HIHAF, clear sight might otherwise be out of reach for those who need help.
The grant money comes from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and will help HIHAF provide eyeglasses as well as appointments with optometrists for its West Hawaii clients who are HIV-positive. The money will also help cover transportation costs to get clients to their eye exams.
“Whether it’s sitting down reading a newspaper for the first time or being able to communicate with friends because you can see them for a change, all this deals with the quality of life issue and making their life the best possible,” said Bruce Merrell, HIHAF executive director.
Merrell said HIHAF has previously been able to pursue eyeglasses with funding from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, one of the organization’s major funders. That changed this year when the Ryan White program shifted its own objectives.
This opportunity, then, offered HIHAF the ability to continue its efforts.
The Lions Club of Kona nominated HIHAF for the money through the Weinberg Foundation’s “Weinberg Friends” program, which allows service clubs such as the Lions Club to put in 100 man-hours into a community service project and then nominate a nonprofit organization to receive a $10,000 grant from the foundation.
Jack Vore, chair of the Weinberg grant committee for the Lions Club of Kona, said they typically select different organizations to benefit from the service project and the grant, intensifying the impact they can have on the region.
“So we’re able to do two good things in the community,” he said.
Vore said they reviewed about half a dozen applications for this grant.
“It’s always very difficult to choose one out of the group,” Vore said, “because all the organizations have really good programs and needs — and not a lot of funding.”
And more than just paying for eyeglasses, the grant will also help pay for eye exams — something Hollowell said HIHAF considers to be “very, very important for all of our clients” — as well as help getting clients living in areas like Hawi and Ocean View to their appointments, given accessible transportation can often be a major hurdle for them.
Altogether, it boosts HIHAF’s ability to continue working to meet the needs of anybody who comes through the organization’s doors.
“We don’t have to scramble,” Hollowell said. “We can go, ‘OK, glasses? Got money for that.’ We’ll get you an eye exam; we’ll get you the glasses.”
And the Lions Club, which itself has long dedicated itself to championing access to vision screenings and care, said it’s whole-heartedly behind HIHAF’s efforts.
“Anything that can be done by any organization that helps the quality of life of our community is OK by us,” Vore said.