Teenager's vision helps the less fortunate to see

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

The epiphany struck during the plane ride home from the Caribbean to Columbus. Two years ago, Ethan Sobol was returning with his father, an ophthalmologist; his older brother; and two friends from a trip to help with the eyesight of poverty-stricken residents of the resort island of St. Vincent.

"Someone asked me, "Are you with an organization?" he recalled. "And it kind of just happened. I thought: "We can do this. We can do this really big.'"

The result is Sight for Sore Eyes, a budding nonprofit group that seeks to provide eye care and eyeglasses to people in developing nations. Through the group, which started with the St. Vincent efforts, Sobol also hopes to reach out to the African nation of Ghana, where he spent two months during the summer on a mission with the American Jewish World Service.

As a senior at Columbus Torah Academy, the 18-year-old Bexley resident is planning his third such trip to St. Vincent a weeklong stint in August and his fourth overall.

He first traveled there in 2004 as an eighth-grader. "I went and saw all this stuff that was very shocking and overwhelming," he said. "What is striking is there are parts of the island that are vacation homes and resorts, and then you drive around a little and you see what the place is really like."

Before his next visit, Sobol will clean and measure the donated eyeglasses he has collected with help largely from the Bexley Lions Club.

Then, in St. Vincent, he will help his father, a retinal surgeon, prepare patients for surgery. Because he is trained in the fundamentals of prescribing eyeglasses, Ethan will conduct eye exams and fit patients with glasses. "He's not an expert," Dr. Warren Sobol said, "but he knows the basics."

For five days, 12 to 14 hours a day, Ethan will peer into the eyes of hundreds of islanders. He looks forward to the experience, which he'll share with friends Asher Kay and David Schmelzer, and brother Keenan, 14.

Sight for Sore Eyes, Dr. Sobol said, has blossomed into something more than he expected. "I'm proud of him Ñ that he wants to do something to help people and make the world a better place.

I've watched him mature through this." Such hard work doesn't surprise Marcia Hershfield, principal of Torah Academy who described Ethan as self-motivated and goal-oriented.

"He has always been active in school activities, student council, sports, traveling with his dad on these missions," she said. "He has his own internal drive." His initiative sets him apart from his peers, said Rabbi Zvi Kahn, headmaster of the academy.

On top of his charity work, Ethan enjoys making documentaries. (He has produced one about the 2006 trip to St. Vincent.) And, last year, he took the journey to Ghana.

"Many students are quick to respond to something we bring attention to," Kahn said. "Ethan seeks out these opportunities outside the school setting." In the next five years, Ethan said, he envisions an expansion of Sight for Sore Eyes to the point that he accompanies other students throughout the world.

"There are so many places," he said, "that could use this even more than where we go." For more information To learn more about his nonprofit organization, visit www.sightforsoreeyes.us.