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The eyes have it!

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Looking for work: Renee Kelly, who is believed to be the first Bermudian to qualify as an optician, is now seeking a job in the industry (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

At 18 Renee Kelly put college plans on hold to have her first child.

And then two more children came along.

For a long time, supporting her family as a single mother was her top priority.

Last year, she decided it was finally her turn.

With the help of her employers, Bermuda International Eye Institute, the office assistant enrolled in an online course with the University of Florida.

Her goal was to become a certified optician, qualified to craft and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses.

She always knew she wanted to do more with her life. “I was very nervous about going back to school at 40. I hadn’t been in school in over 20 years. The hard part was learning the optics. That was where I was at my weak point,” she said. “There was also a lot of maths involved, and maths has changed a lot since I’ve been in school.”

In November, two days after a gruelling three-hour final exam, she learnt she’d passed.

Now, she just needs a place to put her new skills to work.

“I want to one day have someone walking around with my glasses on their face that I made for them,” she said. “While studying, I did think it would be easy to find a job as an optician. Dr [Leonard] Teye-Botchway had opened an optical shop with a partner, Eyeq. I was hoping I could find work there, but when I finished my certification they had already hired an optician there. So, I’ve been looking around for something. There hasn’t been any interest yet. It is disappointing, but what can I do? I have to be patient.”

Seven years ago, she never would have imagined herself with the certification.

Back then, she was helping lay floors for a local company.

“I enjoyed [it], but it was a lot of lifting and heavy equipment,” she said. “There was a lot of strain on my body, so I had to think of something else.”

A client suggested she apply for the position of office co-ordinator at the Bermuda International Eye Institute.

“I was hoping I would get the job,” she said. “The position went to another lady but Dr Teye-Botchway must have seen something in me. He created a position of administrative assistant to the manager. Later, I moved to the desk.

“I started helping someone in the office with a low vision clinic we had. He left eventually and I took it over. I really liked doing that.”

Particularly rewarding was the work she did with patients whose vision was obscured by black spots brought on by macular degeneration.

“Eventually, they go blind,” she said. “One of the patients was in her 80s. She had never seen her great-grandchild’s face. I had done a low-vision course [and] they said with macular degeneration patients, if you have them tilt their head a certain way they will be able to see because the spots will move.

“I tried it with her and she was able to see me and her son. I said go home and try it and see your great-grandchild. She did it and was able to see his little face. I loved that. She was overjoyed.”

The experience led her to think about doing more to aid vision, but she didn’t know exactly what.

Then, last year, the company encouraged employees to think about their long-term career goals. Ms Kelly honed in on becoming an optician.

“I did some research on different courses to see where I wanted to go,” she said. “I loved the retail side of things and fitting people for glasses.

“I brought it up with Dr Teye-Botchway and he was really excited. He said it could lead to me becoming an ophthalmologist.”

She wasn’t sure she wanted “to go that far”, but was impressed that becoming an optician could take her somewhere. Bermuda International Eye Institute paid for the course.

“I was over the moon,” Ms Kelly said of her exam success. “So were my children David, Davinae and Dalila. It felt surreal that I’d done it.

“I was watching this YouTube video of a visually impaired baby who had never seen his mom’s face. They put the glasses on him, he was able to see her and had this big smile. I want to do that.

“I want to help children and adults with vision problems.”

She’s also wants to act as an example to her children, particularly to her daughter, Davinae, who is a young mother.

“I want them to know that it’s never too late to go back to school,” she said. “They can accomplish their dreams.”

Renee Kelly (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Renee Kelly (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)