Michigan optometrist helps the world see

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service

LANSING — Thirty-one years ago, Nelson Edwards decided to see the world. Since then, he has helped the rest of the world see.

While studying optometry at Ferris State University, Edwards joined Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH), an organization with a mission to provide eye care in developing countries. Edwards is an optometrist in Fowlerville.

Edwards’ first mission was to Haiti in 1986. But that trip was cut short by a social uprising and overthrow of the Haitian government.

Upon returning to Michigan, Edwards realized he wanted to go again.

Continuing to volunteer with VOSH, Edwards has participated in 40 missions. His 41st was planned to be to Nkuru, Kenya, beginning Oct. 26. But reminiscent of that first trip to Haiti, politics and safety again disrupted his travel plans.

After the Kenyan presidential elections in August, accusations were made against the incumbent president of irregularities in ballot counts and interference in the election.

While protesting the election results, 33 civilians were killed as a direct result of police violence, according to a Human Rights Watch report. After an appeal, the Kenya Supreme Court nullified the election, and a new election was planned for the same date in October that the VOSH group was to arrive.

David Muiru is the director of projects for the Nairobi Utumishi Rotary Club and has worked with Nelson to plan VOSH missions to Kenya since 1998.

That inaugural mission was also met with adversity as the American Embassy in Kenya was bombed just months prior to the group’s arrival.

“When Nelson and I chose the date, we thought that the election fever would have settled down,” says Muiru.

The group now plans to arrive in Kenya on Jan. 12, 2018, and stay for 13 days. Muiru says the change was made because political disagreement would not allow the clinic to get the attention it deserves.

Muiru is responsible for ensuring that all the permits and procedures are followed.

The first step, Muiru says, is to notify local medical facilities and apply for the required licenses from the Kenyan medical board. Locally the process begins with contacting the county medical officer to request local doctors and nurses, working with government and police departments, and arranging transportation and lodging.

During the 11-day clinic each doctor will examine and prescribe glasses for about 500 patients. Most patients will receive three pairs of prescription glasses and one pair of sunglasses.

“Because we never know what kind of glasses or prescription requirements a patient might need, we bring between four and five thousand pairs of refurbished eye glasses,” says Nelson.

Any extra glasses are left with local eye care clinics.

If a required prescription is not available, VOSH and its partner Lens Crafters will fill the prescription upon returning to the U.S. and mail the glasses to the patient.

The Illinois chapter of VOSH has gone a step further. During a mission to Guatemala in 2014, the group engineered a field lab capable of completing glasses on location.

Most commonly the glasses are donated through groups such as the Lions Club, according to Daniel Wrubel. Wrubel is the faculty advisor to the Student VOSH program at Ferris State.

“We receive around a third of a million pairs of Lions Club glasses in a year,” he says.

First-year and second-year SVOSH students are responsible for assessing, tagging and verifying prescriptions to be taken on missions. Funds are raised for students in their third year to go on a VOSH trip if they’ve put in enough volunteer hours.

“We raise about $30,000 a year to cover the cost of their trip,” says Wrubel. “Last year I believe they only had to pay the deposit, so around $250.”

That is also the amount of hours that Wrubel estimates he puts in each year preparing for a mission to Dominique. Wrubel has captained the Dominique mission for 21 consecutive years.

Working with VOSH is only one of nearly 40 projects that Muiru works on in Kenya. He credits his education with instilling an understanding of community.

“I can never do enough for my community, I consider it a part of my life,” he says.

For Wrubel, the desire to help others comes from his own problems with sight.

“In school, I was held back, made fun of, because I had trouble reading,” he says. “Fortunately, there was a therapist who helped me. So I can relate to what it’s like to struggle without proper eyesight.”

For Nelson, the gift is not just a chance to see the world, but to see the world differently.

“You make friends and you hear news stories about a country you’ve been to,” he says. “You make a personal connection.”

Past pay should not affect women’s income, Dems say

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Many women were forced to take pay cuts to do work they were overqualified for during the economic recession, Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, said.

And now they’re being penalized for it, Greig said.  

As women seek new positions, their future salaries or hourly wages are often based on previous compensation — even though their skills and experience would suggest higher pay. This, among other factors, creates a disparity between men and women’s pay known as the “gender wage gap.”

In Michigan, women earned an average of 74 percent of what men made in median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers in 2015, according to the American Association of University Women. That’s worse than the national average of 80 percent. Continue reading

State laying plans to put new criminal justice laws to work

By LAINA STEBBINS

Capital News Service

LANSING — For the 18 criminal justice revamp bills signed by Gov. Rick Snyder last month, the next step is making the changes necessary throughout Michigan’s criminal justice system to spur them into action.

The updates to the state’s criminal justice system as a whole are meant to signal an emphasis on prisoner rehabilitation, as well as reducing recidivism and streamlining the system. This mostly involves incorporating more evidence-driven programs, or initiatives that have proved successful elsewhere.

Most of the bills will take effect on June 28.  Several of the bills will take effect starting Jan. 1, 2018.

Chris Gautz, a communications officer for the Department of Corrections, said the framework is being laid for a number of the new changes – especially those involving more complex issues and systems. Continue reading

Try 17-year-olds as juveniles, report suggests

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — Raising the age of juvenile offenders by a year could reduce crime, cost little, and lead to better lives for thousands of young people, a recent report concludes.

In Michigan, 17-year-olds can be tried as adults in court. Washington, D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute Executive Director Marc Schindler said placing juveniles in adult detention centers can create problems, like kids committing more serious crimes more often after being incarcerated with adults.

Seven other states have recently raised the age for juveniles to be tried as adults to 18, and Schindler said those states have seen some benefits already.

Kids incarcerated in juvenile centers are less likely to continue committing crimes when they’re released, unlike kids incarcerated with adults, Schindler said. Continue reading

Efforts lag to help mentally ill prisoners

By ISAAC CONSTANS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Despite recent efforts, treatment of people with mental illnesses in jails and prisons is still inadequate, experts agree.

Up to 64 percent of inmates in Michigan jails have a mental illness, according to an August 2014 report from the office of Gov. Rick Snyder. In Michigan prisons, the figure hovers just above 20 percent.

Stepping Up, a 2-year-old program launched by the National Association of Counties, aims to reduce the number of those with mental illnesses in jails across the state. By closely monitoring the status and collecting data on those with mental illnesses, the program aims to link various groups to solve the issue.

Despite the endorsement of the Michigan Association of Counties, the situation is still bleak. Continue reading

40 percent of households struggle in Michigan, study shows

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — While state officials celebrate the plunge of Michigan’s unemployment rate from its 14.9 percent peak in 2009 to around 5 percent today, more than a million families are missing the party.

Some 40 percent of Michigan households, or 1.53 million, are considered as either living in poverty or among the state’s working poor, according to a new report from the Michigan Association of United Ways.

That group includes both the 15 percent of households living beneath the federal poverty level and the 25 percent of struggling households that earn too much to meet poverty standards but not enough to afford basic household needs.

The United Way, a nongovernmental health and human services provider, reached these conclusions after studying income and employment in the state from 2007 to 2015. Continue reading

Bill would allow clergy to refuse to marry couples

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Some religious leaders are questioning the necessity of a House bill aimed at further protecting their First Amendment rights.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Noble, R-Plymouth, would allow ministers, clerics and other religious practitioners to refuse to marry couples who violate the religious beliefs of the clergy. Noble, who is a minister, declined to be interviewed.

Co-sponsor Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, said he feels that the First Amendment already provides these protections to religious leaders, but some legislators want statutory protections to go beyond religious freedom.

“I feel that religious institutions have come under assault in the past,” Barrett said. “We didn’t want to see a situation take place where people were forced to perform wedding ceremonies that would not meet the qualifications of their religious faith.” Continue reading

Public child support calculator can reduce conflict

By ISAAC CONSTANS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan has launched a free child support calculator to help parents determine what their unique child care responsibilities are.

The public online tool, which existed earlier through several private websites, lets parents enter a number of variables into the state formula for child support and returns a payment estimate. The result is the same as would be determined by Department of Health and Human Services staff although missing or misentered figures could lead to variations.

State officials said they hoped the calculator would help reduce the conflict between parents that can come from child support settlements, helping both parents understand how support payments are determined and improving the chance for dependable and prompt payments. Continue reading

“Tampon tax” bills a move toward equity, advocates say

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — An average American woman will spend $3,600 on feminine hygiene in her lifetime. That’s roughly $7 per month for about 40 years.

In Michigan, around $200 of that cost is spent in sales tax alone.

That’s the cost of nearly 67 boxes of breakfast cereal.

Or the cost of 40 jugs of laundry detergent.

Or if you ask gender equality advocate Jenny Kinne, that’s the cost of being a woman.

And women are already at a disadvantage. In 2016, Michigan women earned an average of 74 cents to a man’s dollar, according to the American Association of University Women, and the gap was even larger for women of color. Continue reading

New Adrian representative is working for her community

By CAITLIN TAYLOR
Capital News Service

LANSING — Bronna Kahle’s campaign for state representative came full circle when she was sworn in at a ceremony in her hometown of Adrian, rather than the state capital.

“A lot of people do that in Lansing,” said Kahle, R-Adrian. “But I just had to do it in Adrian. I’m representing Lenawee County.”

Over 100 people watched as Kahle took the oath of office administered by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in an Adrian College lecture hall in mid-December. Looking into the audience, she said it was humbling to recognize everyone in the room who helped with her campaign.

“I remember when I did that with that person, I remember when they made phone calls — oh, they hosted a coffee with me,” Kahle said in her Lansing office, gesturing toward the community members she recalled sitting in her swearing-in crowd. “I am honored to serve these people.” Continue reading