Optometry student, Darnel James, is also the historian for the Salus University National Optometric Student Association (NOSA), and as such, historical perspective is important to him. So when he got a chance to participate in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Jan. 20 with seven other NOSA students, it had significant meaning for him.

“It meant a lot of things for me,” said James, who shares a fraternity affiliation with Dr. King as both are members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. “I’m from North Carolina and Dr. King is a big deal there. This is not the first time I’ve been a part of MLK Service Day. I love volunteering, so seeing the tradition still lives on meant even more to me.”

NOSA MLK DayJames was part of contingent of Salus Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) students who
volunteered their time to perform vision screenings at Girard College. Joining James were fellow students Sarah Bilal, Brandon Garces, Simone Wallace, Sean Lewis, Kierra Washington, Ashley Wright, and Jeredine Kallon, along with Dr. Ruth Shoge, Pediatric and Binocular Vision Services Optometrist at The Eye Institute (TEI).

“It’s always important for our students to truly understand the need to serve the community in which they work, and what better way to do it than on MLK Day of Service,” said Dr. Shoge. “Part of the National Optometric Association (NOA) and NOSA’s mission is to serve those who are underrepresented and disadvantaged, so serving in this capacity helps fulfill the organizational mission. Additionally, PCO, TEI and Salus have a legacy of participating on this day, and that is an extension of that legacy.”

Students checked patients for things like visual acuity, eye muscle issues, performed color vision testing and used a direct ophthalmoscope to see the back of the eye during the screenings. Dr. Shoge then took  the findings from the screenings to decide if patients needed follow-up visits with an optometrist, who were referred to TEI.

“This service helps our students continue to develop their clinical skills as well as the interpersonal skills needed to interact with, and gain the trust of, the community they serve,” said Dr. Shoge.

Sean Lewis, also shares a fraternity kinship with another giant in Dr. King’s circle of influence. Both Lewis and Bayard Rustin are members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Rustin, who died in 1987 at the age of 75, was a leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence and gay rights. Along with labor unionist and civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph, he organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963, where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

“I’m part of the LBGTQ community like Rustin, and he is an influence for me to go out into
underprivileged communities and give back,” said Lewis. “Those aspects are so important. I used to teach, and it’s sad when you find out that a student has gone their entire academic career with a vision problem, and they could have had a completely different experience if they had gotten screened earlier.”

Lewis added that his experience is that a lot of areas of healthcare have been taken for granted.

“If we had more support for healthcare for people in at-risk communities, then a lot of lives would be changed dramatically,” he said.

NOSA MLK DayTwo NOSA students – Sarah Bilal and Brandon Garces – experienced the MLK Day of Service for the first time, and both came away with memorable experiences.

“For me, it meant that there are so many people out there that are unaware of their eye health or don’t know that they need glasses,” said Bilal. “The whole experience of doing service on MLK Day was great because we’re a diverse group and there is a diverse community out there. I’ll do it again.”

Garces agreed.

“It feels really good to be able to help people, especially the kids,” he said. “It was good to connect with the community and see the smiles on people’s faces. I’d definitely do it again.”

Dr. Shoge has been participating in MLK Day of Service for years.

“I’m glad that NOSA has kept up the time-honored tradition of serving in this manner,” she said. “What I observe in my students every year is the reward they get for making themselves available and in seeing those who may not have otherwise received these services get the timely assistance they need.”