After a long hiatus due to COVID, Tony and the rest of the Eye Care Center team are thrilled to be welcoming patients back into the building, safely.
Tony knows he's exactly where he needs to be. "It's so important that we keep our doors open to help our patients and the community," he shares. "Some of our patients have nowhere else to go. Keeping our doors open is giving them the tools and knowledge they need to stay healthy."
Between Tony's sincere smile and generous spirit, you might find it hard to picture him behind the counter at the RMV. But that's just where he was close to 2 years ago, before he joined Lowell CHC as an Optical Apprentice.
"I've always loved to help people. Ever since I was a little kid. My mom tells me she had to keep an eye on me because I was always giving things away," he recalls with a chuckle.
Born and raised in Lowell, and the son of Cambodian refugees, Tony always imagined a career serving others. "I knew I wanted to heal people," he says.
Although a career in health care was always in his heart, sitting in a classroom or behind a desk just didn't feel right. Tony was energized by engaging with people, and working with his hands. He found success in retail and hospitality, always bringing his trademark smile.
Tony initially applied to work in reception at the Health Center, but he caught the eye of Julie Le, Eye Care Center Director. She immediately recognized his incredible customer service and problem-solving skills. Sensing (rightly so) that he was up for a bigger challenge, she steered him toward the Optical Apprentice job, where he would become an important part of our busy Optical Shop. It turns out Tony also has a flair for fashion, and helping patients select the best looks in eyewear.
"I never would have thought this was something I could do, that someone could train me for. But, it's the best thing I've ever done. It's opened a whole new path for me!"
Tony loves the fast pace in the Eye Care Center and getting to do a little bit of everything. It keeps his hands, and his heart, busy.
"Everything is interconnected here. That's what I love here at the Health Center. We're able to care for our patients in a very personal way, to connect the dots."
Nothing is more meaningful to Tony than the ability to offer patients medical interpretation, no matter what language they speak, thanks to our trained interpreters.
That's because, even as a child, Tony was the primary translator for his Khmer-speaking parents. It was a role he accepted with pride, but it also put him in the middle of complex situations he was too young to fully understand.
Pre-COVID, Tony convinced his mother to visit the Health Center for a long-overdue eye exam. And, for the first time ever, he did not need to be by her side during the appointment. He knew she would be in good hands.
"As a kid, I was always scared to go the doctor. To me, it always meant bad news. Here, I love how we're so culturally open, we are here to help. There's nothing to be scared of."
Thank you, Tony, for sharing your heart with our patients and our Health Center! We couldn't imagine our Eye Care Center without you.