About half Helen

Meet our team and learn the
story behind the name.

The Blog

Read the latest updates from half Helen!

Our Programs

Learn more about all the projects and
programs our team is working on.

Meet the half Helen Team!

Chelsea Elliott

Chelsea Elliott

Fonder & Executive Director

Meghan Jones

Meghan Jones

Director of Development

Carissa Stengel

Carissa Stengel

Special Projects Coordinator

Allison Stewart

Allison Stewart

Program Manager

Frank H. (Dick) Moeller

Frank H. (Dick) Moeller

Leadership Austin Fellow

Jean Mengoli, OD

Jean Mengoli, OD

Clinic Doctor

Becoming “half Helen”

After a failed eye screening revealed that she was blind in her left eye, Chelsea Elliot spent the next few days making trips to eye doctors in an attempt to determine the cause behind her vision loss. Several visits later, a retina specialist named Jose “Pepe” Martinez made the diagnosis: Coats’ disease. This rare, monocular ailment causes blood vessels in the back of the eye to constrict and rupture. As the disease progresses, leakage causes the retina to swell and eventually detach, resulting in permanent blindness.

Two years later, Chelsea failed a required hearing test at her elementary school and discovered she was deaf in her right ear. Unconnected to Coats’ disease, the hearing loss resulted from the absence of three small bones in her middle ear that likely dissolved by infections she had as an infant. Chelsea would suffer another setback as a teenager when a cataract formed on her lens, and her blind eye became noticeably smaller than her other eye. After consulting with doctors, the decision to remove the eye was made. Six weeks after recovering from her surgery, Chelsea was fitted for a prosthetic eye.

Creating half Helen

Shortly after graduating from St. Edward’s University in 2013, Chelsea learned about the Spot camera. This revolutionary new tool takes 23 measurements of the eye within seconds. Unlike the standard eye chart, which can only measure an individual’s distance acuity, the Spot camera is able to identify six of the most common vision impairments in infants as young as six months old. At the same time, the American Academy of Pediatrics began to recommend that children as young as three have vision screenings. Chelsea realized that if the camera and these new recommendations had been in place when she was a child, her doctors could have spotted her disease sooner and possibly saved her eye.

Motivated by her own loss, Chelsea turned her personal experience into an opportunity to help others. Using her graduation money, she set out to start half Helen Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides preventive vision and hearing screenings. With the help of the West Austin Lions Club and other donors, Chelsea purchased half Helen’s first Spot camera and two audiometers for screenings. Chelsea began her work in Hawaii after discovering that, due to budget cuts, the state had stopped conducting mandatory school vision and hearing tests in 1995. After contacting the Maui Lions Club and one local school, Chelsea flew out to present her idea. When she returned to Texas a week later, she devised a plan to screen each student in every public school on Maui and its neighboring islands, Lanai and Molokai.

As of 2021, half Helen had screened over 60,000 children in Hawaii and Texas! If children need additional services after being screened, hH works to ensure they receive a full eye exam and corrective wear. When she’s not screening kids, Chelsea is advocating for legislative change in screening practices. During the 85th legislative session, Chelsea worked collaboratively with Lions Clubs to advocate for HB 3157. The legislation passed and became law on June 1, 2018. HB 3157 permits schools to use photoscreening technology for all ages in schools. Previously, photoscreening was permitted only for children ages 4-5 or  children receiving special education services. Tirelessly pursuing her goal, Chelsea is determined to ensure that children everywhere have access to high-quality preventive screenings and a comprehensive eye examination annually.

 

Our Values

Dignity

Everyone, regardless of background or circumstance, has inherent value and deserves to be treated with significance and respect.

Excellence

We utilize advanced technology, licensed optometrists, and certified staff to provide high quality, personalized eye care for ALL patients.

Ingenuity

Creative solutions transform problems into opportunities. We innovate to maximize our resources and provide the best possible eye care experience.

Impact

Clear eyesight should be a basic human right. half Helen has the passion and commitment to eradicate vision impairment.

Seth Rau

Seth Rau

Chairperson

Senior Policy Manager Empower Schools

A message from the half Helen Board of Directors.

My name is Seth Rau, and I am proud to serve as the new board chair of the halfHelen Foundation. As someone who grew up with a vision impairment, I was incredibly privileged to grow up in a home where there was no doubt that my family would do whatever it takes to make sure I had the proper eye care. Sadly, that is not the case for many people in our community.
I started off my professional career as a 5th grade teacher in a low-income neighborhood in Las Vegas. I remember having to rearrange desks in my classroom so that students with vision impairments could sit near the front of the room to have a chance at seeing the whiteboard. Sadly, there was no organization to which I could turn to provide my students with the access to the eye care that they needed to have a chance at seeing their world clearly. If an organization like halfHelen had existed then, I have no doubt that some of my students would have had a far superior academic and life experience. 
Since leaving the classroom, I have dedicated my career towards closing the achievement gap in the education space, so that every kid can have the opportunity to determine their own future. I have helped write many education policies in states across the country, including here in Texas. While these policies are well-intended, if kids and their families do not have access to quality vision care, many of them well-intended efforts to improve education, will ultimately fail. I am excited to lead the halfHelen board, and take our services to new places, including adult care, where we can help adults see their world clearly as well. We have plenty of work ahead to ensure that our fellow Central Texans have access to quality eye care, and I hope you will join us in this important mission.

 

Dr. Eric Weaver

Dr. Eric Weaver

Executive Director, Accountable Care Learning Collaborative

Jakub Felkl, Ph.D.

Jakub Felkl, Ph.D.

Director of Product Development, Seismos

Nancy Beesley

Nancy Beesley

President, HCB Health

Megan Odell

Megan Odell

Director of Community Outreach, Austin Retina Associates

Daniel J. Brinchman, OD

Daniel J. Brinchman, OD

Modern Vision Group & MedHey Practice Growth Partners

Stephanie Collins

Stephanie Collins

Chief Operating Officer, Austin Retina Associates

Our Programs:

From state-mandated screenings to app development and full vision clinics, click on the images to learn more about everything half Helen does.

Our Sponsors

Austin Community Foundation

Michael and Susan Dell Foundation

ECG Foundation

Impact Austin

Kendra Scott

Lola Wright Foundation

The Harry E. and Eda L. Montandon Charitable Trust

Moody Foundation