The La Plata County Eye and Ear Program, ready to fold from exhaustion three months ago, has found new life and
continues to provide eyeglasses and hearing aids to children and adults of modest means.
Twenty-six years of working to supply audio and visual aids had taken a toll, Eye and Ear board member Judy Michalski
said recently. Funding sources had dwindled and board members had grown old, she said.
But a Feb. 15 front-page feature in The Durango Herald about the program's dire straits brought a 180-degree turn in
A couple of days later, we received $5,000 from a retired woman who wants to remain anonymous," Michalski said. Then
we got $2,000 of stimulus funds from La Plata County, $1,000 from the Southwest Community Foundation and $250 from the
United Way of Southwest Colorado has $8,000 budgeted for the program this year, Michalski said. The $10,000 allocated
by the agency last year was about half of Eye and Ear's revenue.
Noah Toro, 11, a fourth-grader at Needham Elementary School, isn't sure how many pairs of glasses he's received through
the Eye and Ear Program but remembers getting his first pair in first grade.
I couldn't see the clock on the wall or posters or pictures in the hallway," Noah said. It was all blurry, and I
couldn't read real well unless I held the book close."
Noah also learned that playing baseball and basketball requires keen eyesight.
(Not seeing well) really messed me up trying to hit the ball," Noah said. It was weird, but the glasses help me a
Community members have stepped forward again to help people like Noah, said Chandace Jeep, a Durango audiologist and
president of the Eye and Ear board.
Our community is remarkable," Jeep said. People responded by making monetary donations and by volunteering to be
board members so that the program would not only survive but also thrive."
The Eye and Ear Program has no paid staff.
When I read (the Herald's) story, it upset me so much that I signed up 10 people to help," said Heather Erb, a Realtor
at Coldwell Banker and the incoming president of the Durango Area Association of Realtors.
Erb rounded up a bookkeeper to help Eye and Ear with its finances, an experienced grant writer to look for funding and
others to contact past donors to see if they could help.
I can't imagine going through life without anyone helping me," Erb said. Children and elderly people are falling
through the cracks."
The ability to see and hear well are basic needs, Erb said.
We have to do something," Erb said. The problem is not going away."
Eye and Ear revenue stretches considerably because the cost of eyeglasses and hearing aids is split three ways. As a
rule of thumb, the recipient pays 25 percent, Eye and Ear 37 percent, and providers 38 percent by discounting goods and
services. In the 2008-09 fiscal year, 51 adults and 23 students received glasses. Eight people received hearing
Recipients of hearing aids and glasses tend to not qualify for Medicaid and have no health insurance, Michalski said.
Families whose children receive free school lunches pay a flat $25 for glasses or $45 if they pay for reduced-price
meals. Otherwise, families pay on a sliding scale based on the national poverty level. The San Juan Basin Health
Department takes applications for glasses and hearing aids, but the needs of children often are discovered at
Four or five area optometrists and Jeep's Animas Valley Audiology offer discounts on goods and services to the Eye and