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How this Utah optician is still going strong despite giving away his product

Joseph Carbone helps fit Jessica Garcia, 10, with a pair of glasses at Eye Care 4 Kids in Midvale. Lee Benson, Deseret News
Joseph Carbone, founder of Eye Care 4 Kids, right, has appeared on the Dr. Oz television show – twice. Eye Care 4 Kids
Joseph Carbone, back left, and Dr. Don Lyon are pictured during an Eye Care 4 Kids humanitarian trip to Rwanda. Courtesy Eyecare 4 Kids
Joseph Carbone helps Jessica Garcia, 10, select some frames as her brother, Juan, waits for his turn at Eye Care 4 Kids in Midvale. Lee Benson, Deseret News

MIDVALE — By all logic, that guy in Midvale who gives away glasses should be out of business by now, right?

I mean, how long can you continue to offer free eye exams, free prescription lenses and free frames to any kid who walks through the door, with no gimmicks, no upselling, no small print?

Well … indefinitely, apparently.

Joseph Carbone, founder of Eye Care 4 Kids, right, has appeared on the Dr. Oz television show – twice.

Eye Care 4 Kids

Joseph Carbone, founder of Eye Care 4 Kids, right, has appeared on the Dr. Oz television show – twice.

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If anything, Joseph Carbone looks younger than he did the last time we talked, and that was 5 1/2 years ago. He doesn't think so, of course. He thinks he eats too many chocolate chip cookies and drinks too much Diet Coke. But the years appear to have been good to him, and at 66 his energy has certainly not flagged. He gets up at 5 and doesn't stop until 11, spending the majority of his waking hours keeping his nonprofit, Eye Care 4 Kids, up and running.

Carbone has been giving eyeglasses to underprivileged kids since 2001, dating back to when he was a full-time practicing optician and took a side trip once a year to the Navajo reservation to provide eye care to the Navajo children.

Joseph Carbone, back left, and Dr. Don Lyon are pictured during an Eye Care 4 Kids humanitarian trip to Rwanda.

Courtesy Eyecare 4 Kids

Joseph Carbone, back left, and Dr. Don Lyon are pictured during an Eye Care 4 Kids humanitarian trip to Rwanda.

In 2006 he decided to leave the for-profit world behind entirely and spend the rest of his life helping kids see.

By 2014 Eye Care 4 Kids had given away 75,000 pairs of glasses.

By 2019 the number is up to 300,000.

By the end of 2020 the projections are for 100,000 a year.

The little non-business Carbone started in Utah just keeps growing. Eye Care 4 Kids is now in five states, has 35 full-time employees, dozens of sponsors — and in addition to the trips to the Navajo reservation, travels once a year to Rwanda and Kenya.

Carbone shrugs his shoulders when asked the secret to surviving and prospering when so many well-meaning charities last "about a nanosecond." He credits a friend and mentor, Joe Lake, a co-founder of the Utah-based Children's Miracle Network, for counseling him that "you've got to run a nonprofit like a Fortune 500 company" — advice that has resulted in a strong board of trustees and a disciplined business plan.

But more than anything, he talks about the enormous, neverending goodness of people.

"The majority of people are just amazing," he says, "and once they learn about what we're doing, they want to get involved."

Joseph Carbone helps Jessica Garcia, 10, select some frames as her brother, Juan, waits for his turn at Eye Care 4 Kids in Midvale.

Lee Benson, Deseret News

Joseph Carbone helps Jessica Garcia, 10, select some frames as her brother, Juan, waits for his turn at Eye Care 4 Kids in Midvale.

It's helped that the media keeps getting the word out. Over the past five years Carbone has been a guest on the "Dr. Oz" show twice, has been featured on the NBC Nightly News, and has been included in the "Heroes Among Us" section in People Magazine.

After the Nightly News interview, Eye Care 4 Kids (eyecare4kids.org) received $75,000 in donations practically overnight.

When he was in the headlines in New Jersey for setting up a clinic at the Boys and Girls Clubs in Newark, he caught the attention of basketball great Shaquille O'Neal, a man who has his own soft spot for kids. After meeting Carbone, Shaq volunteered to become the national spokesman for Eye Care 4 Kids.

In his Midvale office, Carbone, who is maybe 5-foot-6, points to a photo of Shaq with his arm around him. "I'm the short white guy," he says.

Except for the photo with Shaq, another with Dr. Oz, and a few others of the trips to Africa, the office has changed little over the years. Carbone has been too busy giving away glasses to remodel or redecorate.

Not long ago, one of his very first patients, a girl named Arcelia, came in the office to tell everyone about the college scholarship she had just been awarded.

Arcelia was 3 when her mother first brought her to see Carbone.

"She had severe eye problems and her mother brought her in every year," says Carbone. "She graduated high school and got a scholarship to college and her mother said it's because she was able to see. I mean, she's not healed; she's got big honkin' glasses. But she was given the tool to get a good education and make something of herself.

"We talk about helping 75,000, or 300,000," says the man who started a cause that has done just that. "But really, at its core, there's the one kid, the one life that got changed because of a pair of glasses."