While bringing clarity to the eyesight of young children in an underprivileged area, Logan Towne discovered a new focus of his own.
Towne, a psychology major who expects to graduate in 2018, was looking for meaningful community service opportunities when he learned about a group called Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity. The organization combined his interest in outreach with the family business; his parents own a Vision Pro Optical store and he has worked there.
His first foray with VOSH was a mission trip to Guerrero, Mexico in June 2016. He worked in a community optometry clinic, matching clients with glasses that fit their taste and prescription. The experience had a profound impact on him.
"I was the one that actually got to hand the glasses off to the people and see them look at something, and smile, and know that they could see," Towne said. "That was the great part. It just totally changed their lives around, and mine too, I guess!"
As rewarding as the trip was, one shortcoming stuck with him.
"It was tough because there really weren't any children's glasses," Towne said. "I had to give kids adult glasses. It was obvious that they weren't going to wear them."
He was inspired to create his own nonprofit to address the need. He founded Mission4Sight to collect glasses for children. People can donate glasses that they or their kids have outgrown in drop boxes at Vision Pro Optical stores in Duluth, Superior and Cloquet. Towne also received hundreds of glasses through an optometry convention, and hopes to add collection boxes around campus this fall.
"If we just start getting the word out and start shipping off these glasses, it will make a huge difference because kids are kind of a forgotten population," he said.
Towne's second trip to Mexico with VOSH, in July 2017, was much more gratifying. This time, when children lined up at the free optometry clinic, he was ready for them.
"All the kids who came left with the right glasses. That was the most important thing to me," Towne said. A little girl about 4 years old made a particularly strong impression on him. At first, she didn't understand what was going on, and she cried when he put a pair of glasses on her. She had a strong prescription, and the glasses needed to be adjusted.
"So I sized them up and put them on her, and she just immediately stopped crying. She was looking around the room ... she was so curious because she had never been able to see that well in her whole life, most likely. That was really cool. She was so happy."
Mission4Sight has started attracting attention. This summer, the organization won a bronze "Stevie" award for Nonprofit of the Year at the American Business Awards, and Towne attended an awards ceremony in New York City.
His next goal is to collect at least 500 pairs of glasses for VOSH's upcoming trip to Tanzania.
He hopes his story will encourage other young people to get out of their comfort zones and find a way to give back.
"It's very simple just to get out there and do whatever you can."
For more information, visit mission4sight.org.