Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Football's Friend

Who has the football? 

It's the most common question we hear from Dr. Ross while in Nicaragua. And if no one knows the answer, we're pretty much doomed.

The football is our code name for the bag that contains every important document we need in order stay afloat while abroad. Our passports, our reservations, our credit cards, our cash - it all stays in one central location and under constant supervision by at least one member of the group. So when Dr. Ross says, "Who has the football?", there had better be a quick response from someone.  

I'm happy to say that, unlike the Steelers, our RMU group has never once fumbled the football. Here is the infamous bag, being closely supervised by yours truly, at Bush International in Houston....

And this trip, the football has a friend. It's a bit more colorful than the football, packing a lot more personality than that black bag of importance. In a surge of creativity, we've nicknamed this new guy.....drum roll please....the softball. 

Everyone, say hi to the softball….

Hi Softball!

From the beginning of the trip, the softball has been guarded almost as closely as the football, perhaps at the same ratio at which the Secret Service protects the Vice-President in comparison to the Commander-In-Chief. 

We put our Olympic goalie in charge of its security when we passed through Houston...

...as you can see, she took her job very seriously. 

Before we entered Central America, though, we made an executive decision to double security…

We didn't want anyone messing with the valuable contents of the softball. So by now, you're probably wondering, What's in this bag that would require such close supervision? 

Allow me to show you…

350 pairs of reading glasses. All of them donated. All of them en route to needy people in Nicaragua.  

Okay, so a few pairs were used to play around with...

...but you get the picture.

The story behind the softball started back in Pittsburgh several months ago. Dr. Ross had been invited to the annual Roberto Clemente Museum fundraiser, an event organized by Duane Reider, our incredible photographer for the ChangeALife campaign. Let's all say hola to Duane...

 Hola Duane!

Anyway, after speaking to the crowd at Duane's museum about RMU's program in Nicaragua, Dr. Ross and one of our nursing students, Nicole Spellman, were approached by a woman named Susan Henault, the Pittsburgh director for a charitable organization called Mission Vision. This non-profit provides prescription reading glasses for inner city youths who have trouble reading due to poor vision. 

Mrs. Henault had a big idea. She wanted to provide us with eyeglasses for our next trip. Lots of eyeglasses. All Dr. Ross would need to do was provide two students to receive training on how to perform eye screenings. Twin sisters, Dana and Nicole Spellman, both senior nursing students at RMU, immediately volunteered. And so, when we departed for Managua last week, our football had a friend.

In the Matalgalpa, Dana and Nicole went right to work screening kids, which allowed them to determine what strength of eye correction they would need in order to read without strain.

In the process, they taught the simple screening method to fellow nursing students, both from RMU and our sister university, UPOLI. For the Spellmans, the visual impact of Mission Vision here in Nicaragua was immediately crystal clear. During one of our many bus rides around the country, they shared their reactions with me. “At first, a lot of the people we screen don't realize that we are giving them the glasses, not just letting them try them out.” Nicole tells me. “When it hits them that they can take them home to keep, their faces just light up.” Her sister Dana nods. “It's so exciting to see the kids reading the letters. They just grin and want their pictures taken with their new glasses on. I'm so thankful we're able to do this.”

I’m also personally thankful for Mission Vision. Because of this organization, I am able to fulfill a promise to a dear friend of mine, named Alvero. Let's say hey to Alvero...

Hey Alvero!

I first met this man last November while in Nicaragua as a student with my class. He was the father in the family assigned to me and my teammate Ashlee. Here we are all together in the barrio last November.

Throughout that week of working with his family, it became clear to Ashlee and me that Alvero was stuck in a pretty desperate situation. After losing his electrical shop to financial failure, he was forced to move his family into the barrio where they struggled to find enough money to feed their four children. Alvero also had issues with his eyesight, having a very lazy left eye. A pair of eyeglasses would not fix this issue, but they would make it easier for him to continue his freelance electrical work. Ashlee and I did find him a pair before we left, but when I returned to shoot the RMU commercial in July, Alvero brought sad news. His glasses had been broken when he was chased home by a gang soon after we left. He was back to square one. 

So I promised him we’d figure something out. And today, I'm happy to tell you that Alvero walked to the clinic with me to be properly screened for his vision. He walked home with a new pair of glasses, and a spare pair, just in case. He's just one of the nearly 200 people in Nicaragua who are seeing much better tonight, thanks to the wonderful work of the Spelllman twins and Mission Vision.

To learn more about how you can change a life like this little guy through Mission Vision, please click here.

You'll be glad you did.