Helping The World See What It's Missing

August 19, 1994|By Patrick Hickerson | Patrick Hickerson,Contributing Writer

After trotting the globe to help people in developing countries see more clearly, Michael Henningsen is looking closer to home.

He's executive director of Vision Care International (VCI) Ministries, a nonprofit organization founded in 1987 to spread the Gospel and to provide eye-care services to mostly developing countries.

VCI's Center for Blindness Prevention in historic Savage Mill will conduct free vision screenings for school-age children as part of its back-to-school offer from Aug. 29 to Sept. 3. The screenings take less than 5 minutes and are directed by Mr. Henningsen, who said "90 percent of treatable eye problems" can be detected.

The California native, who has worked at Bethesda Naval Hospital and the Wilmer Eye Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, is a certified ophthalmic technologist, an optician who can help ophthalmologists in surgery. He's also a minister.

VCI, which combines the visual and the spiritual, has completed more than 20 projects around the world as noted on a giant map that covers one of the office walls.

Mr. Henningsen, 39, said eye checks can always yield surprises -- even in a developed country.

"At a school in Beltsville, a brother and sister couldn't see the big 'E' on the chart," Mr. Henningsen said. "It came on with a big growth spurt. The progression of myopia correlates with normal childhood growth."

Most of the eye problems the center sees are either in children about to enter school or students about to enter their teens.

"Prior to starting school, if children have eye muscle problems that are left uncorrected, they can develop lazy eye," he said. "Then in early adolescents, myopia can set in.

"How well can you do your assignment if you can't see the homework on the board?" Mr. Henningsen asked.

The center is not only headquarters for VCI but a repository of discarded glasses for Mission Opticians, a spectacle recycling center for VCI. The center takes discarded glasses, sanitizes and fixes those salvageble and distributes them to poor communities.

"Seventy percent of the need [in poor areas] is for glasses," Mr. Henningsen said.

Working on behalf of VCI, Mr. Henningsen, who lives in Elkridge, said he's been to 20 countries on five continents.

Along with the center, he works part time for Columbia Medical Plan.

The center is seeking to triple its space in the basement of the Carding Room at Savage Mill from its current 600-square-foot office, where Mr. Henningsen also sells frames and fits eyeglasses for customers. Some of the revenue funds missionary trips. The expanded center will offer eye exams, community screenings and education programs.

The center is open from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. For more information about the free vision screenings, call 498-2325.

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