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Seeing before reading: free eye clinic empowers English-language learners

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Jackson receives a free eye exam, consultation, and new pair of glasses during the IRC in Boise's free eye clinic with Elmore County Eyecare. Photo: Megan Schwab/IRC


"How can someone learn to read, nonetheless in English, if they can't see?" says Tara Brandenburg, the Spark English Language Program Coordinator with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Boise.

Last year, 319 refugees were resettled in Boise through the IRC. All new arrivals (besides children, who enroll in school) are required to attend at least 4 days of English language classes a week. But it can be difficult to discern which students are having trouble learning the new language due to issues with their eyesight. 

Kate Gibbons, a certified optometry assistant, was better posed than most to notice this quandary. While serving her mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at the IRC, she noticed some Spark students struggling to see. Together, she and Tara collaborated to design a free eye clinic, on-site at the IRC for refugees and immigrants.


A client reviews the various choices for a new pair of glasses frames. Photo: Megan Schwab/IRC
Doctor Jeff Gibbons tests Jackson's eyesight. Photo: Megan Schwab/IRC

Kate invited her father, Doctor Jeff Gibbons, an optometrist, to bring a mobile version of his clinic, Elmore County Eyecare, all the way from Mountain Home. After advertising across the IRC's programs, word began to spread like wildfire as clients brought information back to their communities and faith groups. 

Doctor Gibbons, assisted by Kate and several members of their family, provided free eye exams, consultations, and a new pair of frames to almost 30 refugees and immigrants. One recipient included Jackson, whom had never received an eye examination in his life. As Doctor Gibbons clicked through various lenses, Jackson was astonished to discover how his vision should be like, particularly when seeing across far distances. 

Jackson chooses his favorite frames for his new glasses. Photo: PC: IRC/Megan Schwab


We extend our immense gratitude to Kate Gibbons, Doctor Jeff Gibbons, their family, and Elmore County Eyecare for bringing this service to refugees and immigrants in the Treasure Valley!