In 2000, then a 19-year-old sophomore at Yale, Jennifer Staple-Clark took a summer work position as a clinical researcher of glaucoma in the office of her childhood ophthalmologist in New Haven, Connecticut. She was shocked by what she saw there: scores of low-income and homeless patients whose glaucoma had needlessly progressed into blindness. Over and over, she would hear the regret of patients who wished they had visited an eye doctor sooner. She felt compelled to do something.
Staple-Clark formulated two main objectives: educating people about eye disease, and assisting the less-fortunate in obtaining affordable or free eye care. She started Unite for Sight, and began sending college volunteers into the New Haven community to educate people about the importance of regular eye exams and the availability of free screening programs. Within a couple of years, Staple-Clark expanded the model to other universities across the country. Unite for Sight now supports over 1,000 volunteers in more than 50 university chapters throughout North America, each of whom serves as a community advocate for underserved patients.
Staple-Clark then envisioned and brought to fruition partnerships with local ophthalmologists in Africa, Asia and Latin America to coordinate outreach to rural communities for patients unable to find or afford eye care. Unite for Sight now provides vehicles to transport patients, offers grants to hire additional nurses, and pays the clinic bills for those who can't. It also trains volunteers to assist international medical professionals by administering eye tests and distributing medications.
In addition to its direct work in communities around the world, Unite for Sight has become a leading voice in the field of global health. It convenes an annual conference of more than 2,200 thought leaders, change-makers and practitioners from across the spectrum of international development, public health and social entrepreneurship. Participants come from all 50 states and more than 55 countries to share ideas and best practices.
To date, Unite for Sight has provided eye care for more than 1.2 million people, including nearly 50,000 sight-restoring surgeries. Jennifer Staple-Clark holds a B.A. from Yale University.