In Focus

August 01, 2016

Final Entry: In Focus

This year’s CalCPA Public Service Award winner, John Jones, CPA, has led missions with the Sunrise Rotary Club and St. Mark Lutheran Church to provide eyeglasses and vision correction to villagers in remote parts of the world. For more than 21 years, he has made eye care trips to Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, Guatemala, Samoa and Vietnam. We spoke with Jones, managing partner of Linkenheimer LLP CPAs & Advisors in Santa Rosa, to learn more about his adventures in giving.

How did you get involved with these missions?
It started in 1994 with Santa Rosa Sunrise Rotary. I’ve been a Rotarian since 1979. In 1994, our club president asked if I could come up with an international hands-on service project for our members. My wife and I had recently been to Cancun to celebrate our anniversary. As part of that trip we went into the backcountry and visited Mayan villages. I was impressed with how content and happy the locals were, and told my wife I wanted to come back and figure out a way to help them. After our president reached out to me, I connected with the two Rotary Clubs in Cancun and our first eye care mission came into being in January 1995.

What are some of the places you’ve traveled for this work?
Southern Mexico, Haiti, Guatemala, Samoa, Nicaragua (more than a dozen times) and Vietnam. Our Rotary Club concluded after our Vietnam mission that we should work in a country where we were needed, appreciated by the government and maybe a little closer to home. Nicaragua fit the requirements.

How do the logistics of the operation work when you are there?
Planning is done by myself and our in-country coordinator, Rafael. We start with determining the timing for mission, then which villages we will assist. I then determine our eyeglass needs and place the order with Rafael to buy them in Managua so we avoid customs fees and any potential hassles carrying them into the country. Rafael will put the word out to the communities what days we will be there. This is handled via the local health centers, churches and buying ad time on the local radio station. Rafael and I make arrangements for transportation and Rafael handles the purchase of our food and water.

What’s the most interesting place you have been?
Probably Ho Chi Minh City, which was a total cultural change for us. Plus 3 million scooters in the city required “training” on our part to learn how to survive crossing the streets with all the traffic.

What’s the most remote place you have been?
That would likely be the eco lodge that we use in Nicaragua. It takes all day to get there from the capital city of Managua, requiring a flight across the lake in a single engine Cessna Caravan, landing on a dirt runway, then a long boat ride to the eco lodge, where we sleep under mosquito nets with no hot water and frequent tropical rainstorms to complicate our driving into the villages to do our eye care work.

Has any of the travel been particularly harrowing?
In Haiti we hired an off duty police officer to ride shotgun with us as we drove thru the city of Port au Prince. I had been told of a number of armed robberies of vehicles that were stopped in the congested traffic of the Haitian capital. No problems for us though with our armed guard. In Nicaragua it is rain and mud, which makes travel in the backcountry a bit too thrilling.

How many people would you say you have helped over the course of these trips?
Since 2007, in Nicaragua, it’s about 19,000. For the missions leading up to 2007, add 5,000.

Tell us about your efforts to set up a surgery center in Nicaragua.
Our Rotary Club and church had orchestrated and funded cataract surgeries for a number of the patients we had seen in earlier missions in Nicaragua. However, those needing surgery needed to travel many hours to a small hospital at the mouth of the Rio San Juan in San Carlos. We work in an area mid-way to the Caribbean down this river. The population is about 30,000 and they have no access to operating rooms or advanced medical diagnostics. Many of the locals needing cataract surgeries refused to travel to San Carlos. They rarely leave their village, much less travel up the river to an operating room they have never heard of. Our Rotary Club then decided instead of forcing travel upon the villagers, we would bring the surgical capacity to them. Santa Rosa Sunrise Rotary and friends are committed to building the center and paying for the doctors to properly staff it for the first 18 months.

Why do you find it so important to do this kind of work?
We are so blessed here in the states. I find it easy, fun and rewarding to help those in Nicaragua. They are humble, stoic and appreciative. The ultimate service is to care for someone who can do absolutely nothing for you in return. Helping your fellow man … it is the Golden Rule via the Bible and Matthew 7.

What advice would you give other CPAs who would like to get more involved in volunteer work?
Don’t wait for the “right time” to volunteer. Life is busy and we can always find reasons not to serve. The best thing is to jump in now and volunteer with whatever organization you trust and can be compassionate for.
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