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Helping Improve Vision Around the World One Pair of Glasses at a Time

November 18, 2021

By Melody Borgman, Correctional Industries Manager & Kimberly Isham, Correctional Industries Specialist Department of Corrections
a man holding a pair of glasses

An incarcerated individual inspects a pair of donated eyeglasses. Correctional Industries (CI) is teaming up with Lions Clubs International to assist the Northwest Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center (NWLERC) in Olympia, Washington. (Photo taken by DOC Employee)

Correctional Industries (CI) is teaming up with Lions Clubs International to assist the Northwest Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center (NWLERC) in Olympia, Washington. NWLERC’s mission is to provide used eyeglasses free of charge to people in remote areas of developing countries, delivered at the hands of volunteer eye care professionals. They also redistribute specifically marked readers and sunglasses within the United States.

Founded in 2004, the NWLERC is one of 18 Lions’ eyeglass recycling centers around the world, 12 of which are in the U.S., including the one located in Olympia. As of November 1, 2020, NWLERC has received 2.86 million pairs of used eyeglasses, in which 1.81 million pairs have been recycled. Now CI’s optical lab at Airway Heights Corrections Center will be helping with the recycling efforts.

CI optical received its first boxes of 7,000 pairs of used eyeglasses from Lions Clubs throughout Washington State and northern Idaho the end of May. Incarcerated workers sort, clean, neutralize (read the prescriptions), catalog and send them to NWLERC where they will be placed in inventory for distribution to eyeglass missions around the world annually. NWLERC has been involved in 350 worldwide eyeglass missions where 291,000 pairs of glasses have been donated to those in need.

“When our NWLERC Executive Board was introduced to this potential partnership we were excited to see where it would go. We appreciate Past District 19B’s Governor, NWLERC’s Director and CI’s efforts to make this happen. Thanks to all the hard work it looks like together we will help the world see one pair of glasses as a time. The incarcerated workers at CI optical were interested in having a donation box of their own and excited to be making a difference with their newly developed skills,” said NWLERC President Suzanne Gayda.

CI optical is also working with Lions Clubs International to help minimize landfill waste by supporting precious metal reclamation and scrap processing for the damaged and unusable eyeglasses.

“I value our community partnerships. The partnership between CI optical and the Lions Club is one that I am very proud of. Not only are our incarcerated workers learning valuable skills, but it gives them opportunity to give back to the community and to those in need. I am so happy that we can play a part in this amazing program,” said CI Director Sarah Sytsma.

Anyone can donate old eyeglasses at their local Lions Club drop-off location or mail to 9013 Mullen Rd. SE, Olympia, WA 98513. When you mail in your donation, be sure to include the NWLERC Eyeglass Delivery/Donation Form (pdf).