When TV golf personality and military veteran advocate David Feherty chose I Care San Antonio as a recipient of his charitable work this year, the Northern Irishman and naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in Dallas brought the spotlight to a small but important San Antonio nonprofit that few in the city know well.
The story of I Care San Antonio, a unique nonprofit vision care organization operating at Haven for Hope, is one that can warm hearts, renew faith in humanity and unite otherwise divided people.
Feherty was the keynote speaker at I Care’s Thursday morning fundraising breakfast at the Tripoint YMCA. Hundreds gathered to take in Feherty’s signature delivery of irreverent, politically incorrect, confessional Irish humor. The former professional golfer gained fame and a following from his years as a quick-witted golf analyst for CBS Sports and then NBC Sports and the Golf Channel, where his interview program, “Feherty,” was the ratings leader.
Humor is Feherty’s strong suit, but he also is deeply revealing.
“Good morning. I’m delighted to be here, but to be perfectly honest with you, I’m delighted to be anywhere. This has been a strange couple of years, to say the least,” Feherty said, cracking jokes about his own deafness, declining vision and weakened bladder at age 63. “I now need my reading glasses to take a leak.”
Minutes later, he told the audience more.
“I’m an alcoholic, I’m a drug addict, and I live with bipolar depression. That’s either three or four things; I’ve never been able to do the math,” Feherty said. “There is a part of me missing, too, which I think is why I have such an affinity with the wounded.”
Click here to watch a brief on-air clip of Feherty thanking World Hall of Fame golfer Tom Watson for saving him from his addictions.
Nothing is sacred or off-limits with Feherty, who regards one’s sense of humor as a “sixth sense.” On occasion, his zingers have landed him in trouble, while not necessarily diminishing his popularity. Feherty became a U.S. citizen in 2010 and has become a widely admired campaigner on behalf of American military members and veterans in need.
An Irish accent, I believe, is essential to Feherty’s well-received onstage delivery. He had an audience of business leaders, active and retired U.S. military, and I Care supporters rolling with laughter. Most would be terrified to attempt some of the jokes and laugh lines, but Feherty connects with audiences and makes it work.
The Greehey Family Foundation was the event’s lead sponsor, and NuStar Energy Chairman Bill Greehey, the force behind the creation of Haven for Hope in 2010 and its largest private donor since then, was on hand with family members and colleagues.
Thursday’s cause was a worthy one.
Haven for Hope, often mischaracterized as San Antonio’s homeless shelter, is actually a campus where shelter is one service in a complex network of 67 organizations working in coordination to serve the city’s neediest residents, including children, seniors and veterans, with even more nonprofits providing off-campus services.
Safe shelter is essential, but the real goal is to give people hope and put them on a path to recovery and a new start, and to end their homelessness.
Many of the nonprofits working at Haven for Hope go unheralded, their missions critical yet their organizations hardly household names. They seldom make the news or achieve broad public awareness.
One of those is the I Care San Antonio vision clinic, a state-of-art facility with eight exam rooms, extensive diagnostic equipment, clinical operating room and three lasers, located steps away from the Haven’s intake center. The faith-based 501(c)(3) was founded by ophthalmologist Dr. Robert Rice and other members of Covenant Presbyterian Church in 1991.
Rice, an Air Force Academy graduate and retired lieutenant colonel, has assembled a team of 40 private practice ophthalmologists and optometrists who donate one half-day of work each month to provide vision care services to those in need, including many uninsured residents who are not sheltering at Haven for Hope but lack the means to afford eyeglasses or surgeries to remove cataracts, reattach retinas or address other vision issues.
Vision care might seem like a dry subject until you witness a nearsighted child putting on her first pair of eyeglasses and no longer feeling lost in a classroom, or listen to a once-homeless mother describe the embracing treatment afforded her family at the clinic, or watch a truck driver who was nearly blinded in one eye climb back into his big rig after cataract and retina surgery.
The volunteer service of some of San Antonio’s top physicians with sub-specialties in retina, glaucoma, pediatric and cornea ophthalmology allows I Care to deliver levels of service to uninsured and homeless populations that would cost many millions of dollars annually without the pro bono work of such professionals.
Since its founding, I Care SA has provided vision care to 55,305 patients, performed 5,178 surgeries and dispensed 38,616 pairs of glasses or optical vouchers. I Care also co-sponsors international missions to support eye care and surgeries in impoverished countries through its medical ministry outreach program.
KSAT-TV Managing Editor Steve Spriester, who emceed the early morning event while noting he does his best work in the evenings, said it best: “I get up to host the breakfast (each year) because I’ve seen what I Care San Antonio is all about. They give homeless and veterans and their families in need the ability to see a brighter and better future.”