Monday, May 21 , 2018, 2:15 am | Fair 58º


Local SEE International Branch Moves Back Home to Hollister Avenue Goleta Location

Santa Barbara Vision Care Program, a division of the nonprofit organization, has reopened inside Goleta headquarters

Santa Barbara Vision Center Program nurse Maria Escareno examines a boy’s vision at the SEE International clinic in Goleta.
Santa Barbara Vision Center Program nurse Maria Escareno examines a boy’s vision at the SEE International clinic in Goleta.  (SEE International photo)

Low-income patients seeking eye care will no longer have to find a way around Goleta to get to the free clinics and services offered at the Santa Barbara Vision Care Program.

The program, a local counterpart to the globally-known nonprofit SEE International, is now housed in the same 5638 Hollister Ave. headquarters in Old Town Goleta — the first time the two divisions have been under the same roof in at least a decade.

Before now, Santa Barbara County residents seeking eye exams or prescriptions to get new glasses or contacts traveled between the headquarters and a separate office four miles across town at 6950 Hollister Ave., across from Costco.

Now the Santa Barbara Vision Care Program, founded locally in the 1980s, is on the first floor of the SEE facility, a fact that was celebrated during a reopening celebration this month. SEE International is on the second floor.

“Being located in Old Town and right adjacent to a bus stop … means patients have very easy access to the clinics,” said SEE International CEO and president Randal Avolio.

“It just worked out better for everybody.”

Most people who hear about SEE International tend to think of its international efforts to offer free vision exams, eye health checks and cataract or other surgeries to poor populations in more than 40 countries.

The nonprofit was established in 1974, and a key figure in its founding, Dr. George Primbs, launched a second division to take care of needy Santa Barbara-area residents.

The program also hosts vision clinics in Santa Maria and Lompoc.

Dr. Mark Silverberg examines a young patient’s eyes during a vision exam at a SEE International clinic. Click to view larger
Dr. Mark Silverberg examines a young patient’s eyes during a vision exam at a SEE International clinic.  (SEE International photo)

Although Primbs retired last year from his life’s work as an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon, his giving spirit carries on in Santa Barbara Vision Care Program’s remaining two eye doctors and in the 12 others who volunteer to see patients at his or her practices.

The program provides 1,400 to 1,500 eye exams a year to low-income families, with more than 30 surgeries a year, according to Lara Rich, coordinator for Santa Barbara Vision Care Program.

Since it inception, 55,000 community members have received free eye care.

“The opening of the clinic was also a dedication of the clinic to Primbs,” Rich said, noting the relocation has made “a huge difference” to increase program capacity, flexibility and staff efficiency.

She said median income of patients was $10,000 to $20,000 and services were offset by donors who see more than 96 cents of every dollar given go directly to patient care. Glasses for the program are provided by Rick Feldman at the Eyeglass Factory.

“A lot of people think that Santa Barbara is such a wealthy community that really we don’t have a population that doesn’t have access to eye care,” Avolio said.

“It’s the kind of program where if there were only one or two providers that were taking the lion’s share of the patients, it would really be overwhelming. The program is now really more resourced than it has been at any time in recent history.”

Demand for SEE International services locally and abroad is outpacing growth, unfortunately, but that doesn't quell the passion of dedicated volunteers.

Santa Barbara ophthalmologist Dr. Mike Paveloff has been donating his time and skills to the nonprofit for 16 years, working to fit cataract procedures into his busy schedule, both locally and abroad.

“The biggest issue, really what I get out of it, is the fact that you’re giving back to somebody what they’ve lost,” Paveloff said.

“When someone becomes legally blind, it’s a ripple effect. The whole family is affected.”​

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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