Jennifer Staple-Clark (2011)

Read the New Frontier Award® announcement


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.

Remarks by Caroline Kennedy

Thank you, Trey and thank you, Dean Ellwood. It’s an honor for me to be here with both of you and with so many who are answering the call to public service which animates this institution named for my father.

This year we commemorate the 50th anniversary of my father’s presidency, and during the past year we have celebrated many accomplishments. Among them, the founding of the Peace Corps and the U.S. Agency for International Development, two institutions established by President Kennedy to put American innovation and ideals to work solving public challenges around the world.

This evening, we recognize two young Americans who embody that spirit. The New Frontier Awards are especially meaningful because they unite two organizations – the Institute of Politics and the Kennedy Library Foundation – dedicated to the proposition that none of us are too young or too old to make a difference in the lives of others.

It is fitting to be here in the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, where my brother spent a lot of time and did so much to carry forward my father’s legacy and his belief that all Americans should be participants, not spectators, in our public life. I know he would have great admiration for our two honorees.

Luke Ravenstahl and Jennifer Staple-Clark are leaders on the newest frontiers of public service. In a time of great economic challenge, Luke Ravenstahl is helping to create a sustainable future for the citizens of Pittsburgh. Jennifer Staple-Clark is mobilizing ordinary people all over the world to conquer the scourge of unnecessary blindness. By demonstrating that great opportunities are often disguised as unsolveable problems, they are inspiring a new generation to improve our world.

I am pleased now to recognize Luke Ravenstahl, who became Mayor of Pittsburgh in 2006 at age 26. When cities across this country are struggling to preserve essential services in a brutally unforgiving economic climate, Luke has helped Pittsburgh transform from a community dominated by a vanishing steel industry to one that supports good jobs in education, health care and other industries.

Mayor Ravenstahl’s belief in public service extends far beyond his own office. In 2009, shortly after President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, Luke pledged that the City of Pittsburgh would help the country achieve the goals of the Act by joining with mayors from around the country to launch the Cities of Service coalition. Pittsburgh’s program servePGH has harnessed the power of volunteerism to positively impact neighborhood development and youth engagement.

Luke is also a co-founder of Pittsburgh Promise, a remarkable public-private partnership that provides scholarships, promotes public school reform, and leverages economic development. Today, the Promise offers $40,000 dollars in college scholarship money to every graduate of Pittsburgh’s public schools with a GPA of 2.5 to attend any college in the state of Pennsylvania.

For his commitment to educational opportunity and his innovative service to all the people of Pittsburgh, I am happy to present Mayor Luke Ravenstahl with the 2011 New Frontier Award.

In 2000, as a 19 year old sophomore at Yale, Jennifer Staple-Clark made a discovery that changed her life and the lives of more than a million other people (so far). During a summer job in a doctor’s office, she learned that many cases of blindness could be prevented with routine screening and inexpensive medication. So she founded Unite for Sight to send volunteers from Yale into the community to educate people about the importance of regular eye care and free screening programs. Now Unite for Sight has university chapters throughout North America, including here at Harvard.

Jennifer’s vision reaches far beyond the United States. With Jennifer serving as CEO, Unite for Sight has become a worldwide leader in providing cost-effective eye care to more than 1.3 million of our planets poorest citizens, including more than 49,000 sight-restoring surgeries. Unite for Sight has also trained more than 7,900 Fellows to eliminate preventable blindness in their local community and abroad and nurtures the next generation of global health leaders through the Global Health University. For her leadership and dedication, please join me in welcoming Jennifer Staple-Clark to the stage to accept the 2011 John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award.


Remarks by Caroline Kennedy as prepared for delivery.