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Joseph Carbone
Joseph Carbone gives a vision screening, one part of a $35 package that also includes an eye exam, new eyeglasses and a case.

Joseph Carbone has helped thousands of needy children receive eyeglasses, and he says he owes all of his success as a humanitarian to his conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Carbone was 18 years old when he first met the LDS missionaries who helped him see the world in a whole new way.

"I went there with long hair, a big leather jacket and my cigarettes," said Carbone, who at the time was the drummer in his rock-and-roll band. "I think I even lit a cigarette during the discussion."

But the obstacle throughout his conversion that would later define his life's mission was neither his appearance nor the cigarettes. It was his eyes.

Carbone grew up in New York City with myopia — also known as shortsightedness — and astigmatism. The difficulty of reading challenged his learning in parochial school, and he often got into trouble in and out of school because of his frustration. He didn't receive his first pair of glasses until he was 16. But by then, he was already behind.

His sister, who at the time was becoming a nun, suggested that he meet with LDS missionaries. She was worried about his lifestyle and the choices he made, and she was sure that the missionaries would be able to help.

"They gave me a Book of Mormon, and as I tried to read, it was difficult," Carbone said. "But the feeling it gave me was that what was in there was true."

Carbone was never illiterate, but his inability to see discouraged him from even reading at all. The first book he read cover-to-cover was the Book of Mormon while he was serving a mission, which he did just over a year after converting.

Carbone made it his job to help others see when he became an optician and started a practice in Utah in 1978. For almost 30 years, Carbone made glasses for profit, and he began to notice that many children went without eye care because the expense was too much for low-income families.

Fueled by a very real and personal sympathy for these children, Carbone in 2001 founded Eye Care 4 Kids, a nonprofit clinic that provides inexpensive eyeglasses for kids from poorer families. Carbone ran Eye Care 4 Kids and his for-profit practice simultaneously for five years.

In 2006, he came home from work and told his wife that he was going to close his practice to do humanitarian work full time, to which she said, "OK."

"Then I said we need to mortgage the house for $150,000 to get this going," Carbone said. "She thought about that one for a second or two."

Carbone and his wife, the parents of nine kids, now call Eye Care 4 Kids their 10th child. Eye Care 4 Kids currently serves 40-50 kids each day out of its Midvale clinic and its three school-based clinics in Las Vegas.

Each child receives a vision screening, eye exam, new glasses and a case for $35. Carbone said a typical retail setting for the same services would cost $550. In order to subsidize the cost, Eye Care 4 Kids relies on grants and donations, and Carbone has often gone knocking on doors to get them.

"My wife used to introduce me as her husband Joseph, a board-certified optician," Carbone said. "Now she introduces me as her husband Joseph, a board-certified beggar."

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However, Eye Care 4 Kids is growing fast. It recently established clinics in Nevada, and it will soon open clinics in Arizona and New Jersey. Carbone anticipates serving 300 kids per day by the end of the year under all of its clinics, a sixfold increase from its current operation.

Carbone estimates that Eye Care 4 Kids has served 100,000 children and given $55 million in eye care to underserved children since its inception.

"If I didn't learn the importance of giving back and compassion and charity, I never would have done this," Carbone said. "Eye Care 4 Kids is part of my mission that I will be doing for the rest of my life."

Twitter: TaylorHintz