Paul Lewis of Hoffman Estates describes his interest in EYEsee, the nonprofit organization dedicated to providing eyeglasses to people in Third World countries, as "passionate."
The high achieving senior at St. Viator High School listed a host of activities on his college applications, including serving as president of his senior class. But the one that captured the interest of his Harvard University admissions interviewer was his role with EYEsee.
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It may be what separated him from other applicants. Lewis found out last month that he was admitted to Harvard's class of 2018.
"I'm so excited," Lewis said, "but I still have to get through finals."
Just last week, EYEsee officials announced they collected more than 6,500 pairs of eyeglasses during their 2013 campaign. Their total is more than 35,000 since a group of students began EYEsee just over five years ago.
EYEsee partners with humanitarian organizations to distribute the glasses to missions in Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Philippines, Uganda and Nigeria.
Lewis says they will launch their 2014 collection next week.
Janice Guzon of Hoffman Estates, a 2010 St. Viator graduate and current senior at University of Chicago, started EYEsee five years ago, by collecting used eyeglasses at local churches and schools. With the help of classmates like Lewis, she has watched it grow.
"The success of our latest campaigns would not have been possible without Paul's leadership," Guzon said. "He built EYEsee's network of optical clinics in the Chicago suburbs from scratch. This was a significant milestone for EYEsee."
Lewis came up with the idea of broadening their net to include optometrist offices, and consequently he regularly visits clinics throughout the Northwest suburbs, picking up glasses where he has left collection boxes.
"If clinics agree to host the campaign," Lewis says, "customers can drop off their old pair as they get new ones. It's pretty simple."
After contacting 100 clinics, Lewis recruited 16 to participate, in Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect, Elk Grove Village, Des Plaines and Palatine, to Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates, Carol Stream and Streamwood.
Those clinics alone collected nearly 2,000 glasses this year, after Lewis gathered just 200 the first year he started.
His guidance counselor, Br. Rob Robertson, says Lewis's commitment to the program came through during his college admission process.
"There are lots of students who are academically talented," Robertson says, "but these kinds of selective schools are looking for student leaders who have taken a project and run with it. They want the whole package, of a student who will serve their community in the future."
Expect Lewis to do just that.
His parents, Slater and Angella, came to the U.S> from Jamaica, looking for more opportunity. His father now works in IT for a Chicago-based private equity firm, while his mother is a nurse for the village of Schaumburg.
Lewis, however, has his own dreams of serving the community in the future, as a neurosurgeon.