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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Prevent Blindness' Jeff Todd discusses organization, LGBT activism
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2018-04-18

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For the past 15 years, Jeff Todd has worked as the director of public health and chief operating officer of Prevent Blindness ( the nation's oldest volunteer eye health and safety organization ) and, recently, the board of directors named him president and CEO. With this appointment, Todd, who identifies as gay, becomes the organization's first openly LGBT leader.

"As I look to the future of Prevent Blindness, my interest lies in continuing to support both increasing access to eye care for those who are at highest risk and with greatest need, while also ensuring that we continue to be a go-to source for basic eye health information for the general consumer," said Todd. "Prevent Blindness has been a powerful patient advocate for sight since 1908 and I am honored to be able to lead this organization into its next chapter."

"Through his tireless efforts to develop and strengthen vision programs, create new strategies and focus on helping both adults and children obtain the access to quality vision care services we all deserve, Jeff has demonstrated his ability to lead Prevent Blindness and maintain the organization as a trusted advocate for all Americans," said Prevent Blindness Board of Directors Chair Torrey DeKeyser.

"We focus on improving the nation's vision and eye health by educating the American public on the importance of taking care of their eyes and vision, promoting advances in public health systems that support eye health needs and advocating for public policy that emphasizes early detection and access to appropriate eye care," said Todd. "We believe all children should be afforded the benefits of sight as they grow and learn, all adults should be educated about proper eye health care and have access to that same care including attention to issues surrounding the aging eye and no one should needlessly lose their sight due to unsafe practices."

When asked what accomplishments he is most proud of during his time at Prevent Blindness, Todd noted his work to establish the organization's National Center for Children's Vision and Eye Health. He explained that too many children begin their schools years without proper eye care and often get mislabeled with behavioral problems.

"We owe it to our kids to make sure they are equipped to start off their education without preventable challenges," said Todd. "This is a public health problem that can be addressed, but there has not been sufficient coordination. Several years ago, our advocacy efforts led to the development of this center with the support of limited federal funds. As a result we are now providing technical assistance and training across the country that is having a great impact."

Over the years, Todd also launched the Prevent Blindness Focus on Eyes Health National Summit and oversaw the annual Eyes on Capitol Hill patient fly-in to advocate eye health with lawmakers across the country.

Public health and community engagement have been the focus of Todd's work since he was in college. He was raised in the small college town of Hanover, Indiana. Todd's father was a circuit court judge and his mother ran a nursing home; his twin brother is a high school principal and former teacher and his sister is a nurse. He received his bachelors degree in business from Indiana University-Bloomington, his master's degree in communications from Butler University and his law degree from Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis.

Todd started his career as a fellow in the Indiana governor's office ( under Evan Bayh ), where he got an inside look into public service via his work with state agencies including the Department of Personnel, Department of Commerce, secretary of state's office and the Criminal Justice Institute.

From there, Todd worked on the Governor's Commission for a Drug-Free Indiana as associate director for field operations and later became the Center for Youth as Resources' ( Washington, D.C. ) deputy executive director and National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center ( Bethesda, Maryland ) director before moving to Chicago to work for Prevent Blindness.

Todd is also the chair of Vision 2020 USA, a subset of Vision 2020: The Right to Sight ( a joint program of the World Health Organization and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness ), a global initiative that works to eliminate avoidable blindness. He is also a Jonas Children's Vision Care at Columbia University Medical Center advisory board member and past chair of the American Public Health Association Vision Care Section.

In addition to these leadership roles, Todd has been a tireless LGBT activist his entire adult life. This began in law school where he co-founded the school's still active Lambda Law Society.

"Being a part of a community—any community, for me, involves contributing to it in personally meaningful ways," said Todd. "While in Indiana, I was also a volunteer at an LGBT youth-service organization, and was engaged in an LGBT political action committee. In Washington, DC, I provided pro-bono legal assistance to the Whitman-Walker Clinic."

For the past eight years, Todd has been a Howard Brown Health board member.

"I joined largely due to my appreciation for the organization's work with the Broadway Youth Center, but quickly became captured by the organization's overall mission of eliminating disparities in health care for our community all across the state and beyond," said Todd. "In my time on the board, we have increased our revenue exponentially and added numerous sites allowing us to increase access to LGBT-affirming care. I am proud to have been affiliated with this growth and am beyond impressed with the organization's current direction and leadership."

When Todd is not working or volunteering, he can be found traveling the globe and checking out what Chicago has to offer, including the bike trails in warmer months.

"Loss of sight is often cited as the number one health-related fear, and yet taking care of our eye health is so often overlooked until it is too late," said Todd. "We think we only need to address eye health when we need new glasses, but many eye-related health issues begin without immediate symptoms. I encourage everyone who has not gotten an eye exam recently to schedule one. If you have financial restrictions, give us a call at 800-331-2020 and we will do our best to help you out."

See www.preventblindness.org/ for more information .


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