John Valerio Jr. has raised up to $7,000 so far in his fight against eye diseases. The eighth-grader, who attends Christian Brothers Academy, began his philanthropic journey in the fourth grade, soon after his father was diagnosed with a serious eye condition that could render him blind within five years. Looking ahead, with a little nudge from his mother, Valerio focused his efforts on how he could help save his father's sight.
"My family was having a garage sale," Valerio said, explaining how it all began. "When I was little I used to have a little stand out front to sell soda and ice pops. My mom said I had to raise money for a charity."
An AARP magazine arrived in the mail soon after with an article on Second Sight, an organization affiliated with the Doheny Eye Institute in California that makes strides in research and treatments of eye diseases.
"I decided this would be a great thing," Valerio said. "My dad might be able to get it someday, and he could see again." Valerio was talking about an invention called the "bionic eye," a retinal implant that helps people blinded by certain conditions regain at least a portion of their sight. While advancements have been made, the implant is still in the development stages.
Eventually, Flower Eyes was born, an organization founded by Valerio, dedicated to raising money for research. The $7,000 he's raised so far goes toward research at the Doheny Eye Institute, which has been ranked among the top 10 ophthalmology programs in the country.
"There's no cure for it," said Valerio's father, John Sr., about his eye disease. He was diagnosed in 2003. "Now I'm down to reading with a magnifying glass and glasses."
John Valerio Sr. said his vision worsens each year, but is grateful his sight has surpassed his doctor's five-year prediction. His son remains vigilant. The eighth-grader has held and continues to hold fundraising activities, including product sales, silent auctions and parties. He even abandoned the idea of celebrating his own birthday with a party, choosing instead to throw yet another fundraiser.