How One Licensed Owner Helps Change Lives at Home and Abroad
Longtime Pearle Vision® Licensed Owner Gary Tonsager has used his optician career to help change lives through volunteering and his own nonprofit
Pearle Vision Licensed Owner Gary Tonsager’s optician career and work with Pearle have enabled him to make a big impact at home and abroad. Working with Pearle introduced him to the work of OneSight, one of the leading global vision care nonprofits, which has taken him around the world to help improve eyesight and even inspired him to found a nonprofit of his own.
“The optical business is interesting because it’s really three things: It’s retail, fashion and health care, and I can’t think of anything else that has that combination,” he says. Tonsager owns two stores in the Minneapolis area and his career with Pearle Vision spans well over 20 years. “Pearle Vision has systems in place that are designed to make my job better. They also have great name recognition and marketing, so I’m able to leverage the Pearle Vision name to bring customers in. I like running my own business because I’m able to take care of my customers the best way that I know how, and that’s what brings them back.”
How an optician career can help you help others
For Tonsager and many other Licensed Owners, their dedication to their patients goes beyond the walls of their Pearle Vision locations. They’re doing great work for their communities at home and even around the world through organizations like OneSight.
Tonsager had volunteered with mobile eyecare clinics in the Minneapolis area and heard from colleagues within Pearle Vision who had participated in OneSight clinics. Pearle Vision’s parent company, Luxottica, is the global founding sponsor of OneSight and maintains a close relationship with the organization. Intrigued by what he learned, Tonsager signed up to volunteer and has since been on three international clinics, in Mexico, Chile and Benin in West Africa.
“You get to see and be part of so many unique experiences at the OneSight clinics. You get to see kids who need glasses who are wearing them for the very first time,” says Tonsager. “And there are a lot of different ways that people can help, even if you’re not an optometrist or optician.”
And it’s not a one-off commitment, as OneSight also helps set up ongoing clinics that can continue providing quality eyecare to people in need. Volunteers transfer skills to local staff to build capacity in each community. That helps sustain the work of the clinic volunteers and can help lead to long-lasting and positive changes to the state of local vision care.
Connections that continue to flourish
Tonsager’s optician career and his involvement with OneSight also took him on the path to founding a nonprofit of his own, Baseball in Benin, which grew from his involvement in OneSight clinics. Alban Guidi, a university student in the country of Benin who volunteered as an interpreter at the clinic, told Tonsager about his love for baseball, and they sketched out plans to bring a youth baseball program to the area.
The program has grown tremendously since. More than 20 coaches, many of whom were also OneSight interpreters, and over 300 kids participate in baseball leagues and clinics. In addition to working and coordinating with the trainers and coaches in Benin, the organization holds youth baseball tournaments in Minneapolis, gathering monetary and equipment donations to send back to Benin.
And in 2016, the organization brought something special back to Minnesota, as a team of players from Benin flew in to play in the tournament themselves, taking third place overall. They even got to go to a major league game and got baseballs signed by players from the Twins.
Visas and passports can be difficult to obtain, but the group received some help from an unexpected local connection in Benin.
“There was an official in the U.S. Embassy there who had grown up in Minnesota. He knew some of the same people we knew, and he helped us along. It was a real collaborative effort,” says Tonsager. The official even happened to be in Minnesota at the time of the tournament and stopped by to show his support. “He came out with his family, threw the first pitch at the tournament and watched the games. They won their first game 13-12, and he could not have been more proud. The Benin team played some really good baseball and beat some really good teams. They’re all just such good kids and they were so excited.”
And the good work continues, as the program grows even larger.
“It’s grown from me talking on a bus with Alban into a league of its own,” says Tonsager. “We’ve been training and certifying other coaches, and it’s spreading. Now instead of just one coach, we’ve got more than 20 coaches and it’s really taking off. We ended up with a great group of people.”
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