Local optometrist and business owner Robert Fait is honored with the Burlington Rotary Club’s Humanitarian Award Monday at Veterans Terrace. The award includes a $1,000 donation to the Franciscan Missions. (Photo by Ed Nadolski)

Humanitarian Award winner improves lives in South America

By Ed Nadolski

Editor in Chief

All it took was a single visit to the poverty-stricken areas of rural Ecuador for Robert Fait to find a calling in the pleading eyes of the children and the eager smiles of their parents.

Now, some 18 years later – after helping build homes, schools, churches and medical clinics in the small South American Country – Fait has established a legacy of service worthy of honor.

That honor came Monday when Fait was presented the Humanitarian Award by the Burlington Rotary Club in a surprise ceremony at Veterans Terrace. As part of the honor, the club made a $1,000 donation to the Franciscan Missions in Fait’s honor.

“He got hooked on that first trip (to Ecuador) and has been with us on many more,” said Julie Hannah, communications director for the office of the General Secretariat of Franciscan Missions in Rochester.

According to the Rev. Sereno Baiardi, a Franciscan priest and director of the Rochester office, Fait has leveraged his business acumen and a genuine concern for the Ecuadorian people to make a tangible impact on their lives.

“When you talk to him about the real needs and the way to find the solution, he’s there for you – he helps you,” Baiardi said. “He opens the door and provides.”

Twenty years ago Fait, by his own admission, was too busy with his optometry practice and four children to dedicate much time or treasure to missionary work.

However, in 1993, Baiardi introduced a visiting Catholic Cardinal from Ecuador to Fait and asked him to help the Cardinal with some eye problems.

Fait examined the Cardinal and filled a rush order for eyeglasses, meeting the Cardinal at the airport with the completed glasses for his return to Ecuador.

The grateful Cardinal invited Fait to Ecuador – telling him it would be an eye-opening experience in its own right.

And while personal circumstances at the time prevented Fait from going to Ecuador that year, he eventually made the trip and – as Hannah said – he became “hooked.”

Through the success of his local vision practice and his contact lens distribution company, Fait has been able to visit the country twice a year for each of the past 18 years, spending 10-14 days in the country each visit. He has also taken his wife Judy and two of his sons along for the experience.

Fait travels with members of the Franciscan Missions ministry and other benefactors who come from around the country to witness and bless the fruits of their donations.

Initially, Fait said, he used his connections in the business, optometry and medical fields to provide equipment for the doctors in Ecuador to use.

“I got in it to be a facilitator to help them out with medical supplies,” Fait said. “That’s how it started. Then it evolved into churches, schools and medical clinics.”

According to Hannah, Fait saw firsthand the many needs in Ecuador and usually found ways to address them.

“Everybody (in Ecuador) has their stories and Bob is touched by their stories,” she said.

Over the years, Fait has donated funds to build houses, schools and medical clinics. Often during his twice-yearly visits he is able to participate in the blessing and dedication of those buildings.

It’s during those visits, Baiardi said, when Fait can be counted on once again to help. If a family that is moving into one of the newly built homes has little in the way of furniture, Baiardi usually asks for donations on the spot.

He’ll often turn to Fait who will then reach into his pocket and provide the money needed to purchase some simple furnishings.

“When I need something (for the poor), he is my banker,” Baiardi said of Fait.

While it is those simple gestures that help endear Fait to the Ecuadorians and the Franciscans, he has also made donations on a grand scale.

Among the most memorable are the donations he made to build two churches – one each dedicated to the memory of his father, Lawrence, and his mother, Marie.

“It’s very exciting and moving to have a little Catholic Church where there had not been one before,” Hannah said. “For generations to come, this is a gift that just keeps on giving.”

Through his involvement in the mission trips, Fait was invited to become of member of the board of directors for the Franciscan Missions and remains a valuable member of the decision-making team due to his experience in business, according to Baiardi.

Hannah said she appreciates the business side of Fait, but believes his greatest asset is the concern he shows for others.

“He has such a big heart – a generous heart,” she said. “That comes through always.”