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LOFK busGeoff Brandon was at a fundraiser for another not-for-profit organization in late 2013 at the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown, Pennsylvania. There he ran into Helmuth Baerwald, then township manager of East Norriton, Pennsylvania.

Brandon, the senior vice president/regional vice president for TD Bank in the Philadelphia market recalled that Baerwald asked him if he was aware of the Looking Out for Kids program that The Eye Institute of Salus University offered to the children in the Norristown School District.

“I said, ‘No, I don’t know anything about it,’” Brandon recalled. “He said, ‘Well, you need to. I’m going to introduce you to Susan Oleszewski. She’s going to tell you all about it.’”

Brandon and Dr. Oleszewski, OD, MA, the now retired vice president for Institutional Advancement and Community Relations and faculty emeritus, started a dialogue about the critical need for better eye care and eyewear for students in Norristown and other communities in the Philadelphia area.

“Dr. Oleszewski’s passion and enthusiasm for the program resonated with me both personally and professionally,” said Brandon, who grew up in the borough of Norristown, is a graduate of Norristown public schools and has a firsthand understanding of the critical needs in that community. “We quickly engaged a team at the TD Charitable Foundation and identified a nexus for programmatic support for Looking Out for Kids.”

Lighthouse award presentationThat relationship between Salus and TD Bank is still going strong to this day as TD Bank was named the Lighthouse Award winner at the annual Looking Out for Kids (LOFK) charity fundraiser May 1, 2021. Brandon accepted the award for his colleagues at TD Bank, many of whom were watching virtually, including Thomas Shoemaker, TD’s Pennsylvania market president.

This year’s event was a combination livestream and virtual event, with a specific focus on the University’s Mobile Healthcare Unit, affectionately known as the Big Red Bus (BRB).

The BRB is a traveling sight and hearing examination clinic on wheels that’s on the road during the school year to provide services to schoolchildren in the Philadelphia School District and surrounding communities.

Since its inception, vision services and eyeglasses have been provided to children in Philadelphia schools expanding in 2013 to include the Norristown Area School District and more recently, with the mobile care unit, in Montgomery and Delaware county schools.

If needed, children receive two pairs of glasses, one for home and one for school. With approximately 15 percent of school-aged children experiencing some degree of hearing loss, the program has expanded to provide hearing screenings as well, with portions of the funding used for the hearing aid loaner bank, which are provided to children while they are waiting to receive their own device.

But the bus is in critical need of being replaced and this year’s LOFK event raised money to make that a reality.

“We refer to it (the bus) as a she. She’s a labor of love and we spend a lot of time together. She’s a member of our team,” said Brandy Scombordi-Raghu, OD, pediatric optometrist at The Eye Institute (TEI) and coordinator of the School Vision Program, as well as the primary provider on the bus. “She’s 20 years old. In 2009 we got this nice new wrap (exterior) and she looks fantastic on the outside. But on the inside, she needs some work and she’s showing her age. We need updated equipment and a more efficient layout.”

Cathie and BrandyReplacing the BRB has also been a highly personal goal for Cathie Muhr, who joined TEI in 1981 as an optometric technician, the third generation of her family to work in optometry.

After retiring from TEI in 2010, an opportunity presented itself to Muhr, as the University’s School Vision Program expanded to a new model, doing eye exams inside Norristown schools. She joined the team, and also provided patient care services on the BRB that traveled to other schools.

Her commitment to the program is why she recently donated $100,000 to the Big Red Bus project in the name of her family, which provided a tremendous financial foundation on which the LOFK event could build to fund a new vision van.

Rosemary Connors and kidsDuring the virtual portion of the program, attendees heard a report from Rosemary Connors, NBC-10 anchor in Philadelphia and longtime host of the pre-pandemic LOFK event, about the needs of the BRB; and from Reade Fahs, chief executive officer of National Vision Inc. and a member of the Salus Board of Trustees since 2017, who spoke about National Vision’s — sponsor of this year’s LOFK event — support for the University.

He shared what he called three pillars of common values that National Vision shares with Salus: (1) Devotion to quality healthcare and patient care; (2) Devotion to advancements of the professions that both work in; (3) Devotion to serving low income and uninsured patients who would not have access to services were it not for programs like LOFK.

The $15,000 goal set at the beginning of the fundraiser was quickly surpassed as the live event opened up for pledges. By the end of the evening, the University has raised more than $25,000 in pledges. The event attracted 100 people, who logged in to join the festivities virtually. A silent auction of items was held open until Sunday morning, May 2, to help raise more funds. In total, LOFK raised $170,000 for the bus.

LOFK group picture in front of busSalus officials were pleased that the event was a success and attracted pledges that far surpassed the goal. “You never know how it’s going to go with a hybrid event, but we didn’t want to pre-record it all because you can’t capture the passion,” said Jacqueline Patterson, MPA, vice president of Institutional Affairs and Community Relations. “We were able to thank our donors and meet our goal, which is to make enough money to replace the bus.”

Salus president Michael H. Mittelman, OD, MPH, MBA, FAAO, FACHE, was pleased with the event as well. “This was fabulous. It’s a great cause and it’s not hard to get people involved. But speaking from the heart like Cathy (Muhr) and Geoff (Brandon) did, that serves everybody,” he said. “I loved the virtual/live hybrid event. It’s a little nerve-wracking to start, but once you get into it, it’s not too bad. But I think it was very effective.”

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