EB checks in with 2 professionals to hear their incredibly inspiring stories of working with Essilor Vision Foundation—and helping children in need
as children head back to school, many of them will face an unnecessary barrier to learning: the unmet need for vision correction.
While many states require simple vision screenings (often done by a school nurse), there is a large gap between the need for and access to proper vision care.
“In my experience, 80% of children who fail a school screening never visit an eye doctor,” says John Larcabal, O.D., of Norwalk Family Optometry and Brea Optometry, both in Northern California.
That’s where organizations like Essilor Vision Foundation (EVF) come in. EVF is dedicated to eliminating the barriers of awareness, access, and affordability when it comes to vision care. Through its network of industry partnerships and an army of volunteers, EVF has helped distribute more than 750,000 glasses to people in need since 2007.
The majority of the recipients are children, as EVF’s Kids Vision for Life program provides free vision services—including eyewear—for low-income children through community- and school-based screenings.
But what does that work really mean to people on the front lines, the ones volunteering for and benefiting from these programs?
Here, EB talks with two volunteers to find out the programs’ impact—on the recipients as well as the volunteers.
1 in 4
children have a vision problem that affects their ability to learn (but many don’t get the vision correction they need)
source: Essilor Vision Foundation
SANDEE KUIPERS, RN, BSN
School nurse, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, Texas
Kuipers retired from a nursing career in ICU and surgical recovery, where she worked with pediatric patients. Two years ago, she took a job opportunity as a school nurse in this large school district that encompasses parts of Dallas and the surrounding area. Her elementary school is in a very low-income area.
Her introduction to charitable vision programs came two years ago when EVF brought eyecare volunteers in to do vision screenings and provide free eyeglasses.
Confidence Boost. The teachers in her school have been amazed at the results. “[The students’] grades go up. Not only can they see better, but they have better self-esteem. They learn to read so much better and faster. It is a life-changing event for these children. For every student that came in to pick up their glasses, these volunteers would sit with them and make sure the glasses fit just right, and they’d tell them how great they looked. Those children walked out of there happy and would run up to me saying ‘Look, Nurse Sandy, I can see now. Look how pretty I am!’”
Personal Takeaway. “To me, EVF is like turning a light on for these children in a dark room. My life has been changed by seeing how these donations and volunteers have impacted these children.” She adds that she has been inspired to do more herself, and is considering becoming a foster grandparent to children in need.
JOHN LARCABAL, O.D.
Norwalk Family Optometry and Brea Optometry in Northern California
Dr. Larcabal has been volunteering with EVF for five years, though he’s been volunteering for school vision work for nearly 20 years. He (and often his staff) volunteers at various school vision programs, providing screenings and refractions and fitting children with eyewear.
Sights Seen. Dr. Larcabal says he always encounters at least one amazing story of a child who had been living (and trying to learn) with a significant vision problem. “I’ve seen a 6.00D hyperope who’s never had glasses before,” he says. “I’ve seen countless instances of kids who are like a -4.00 who can’t see the chalkboard. When they finally get their glasses, it’s just an amazing thing to watch.”
Personal Takeaway. “I get incredible satisfaction from working with these programs,” he says. “It’s very fulfilling, professionally and personally.” Dr. Larcabal adds that, though he and his staff don’t work with these programs for the referrals, it does create a bit of a trickle-down boost to his businesses. “It creates a lot of goodwill in the community,” he notes. “People support businesses that they know are out there supporting the community.”
A Word of Advice. Every eyecare professional is busy, but Dr. Larcabal says volunteering for EVF doesn’t have to take a lot of time away from the office. “Start small, start slow,” he says. “Do one event, for a couple of hours.” —Susan Tarrant
Buoyed by the success of programs like EVF’s Kids Vision for Life, there’s an initiative called Kids: See Success afoot to require comprehensive eye exams for children before they enter kindergarten. It’s being supported by Essilor’s Vision Impact Institute in partnership with Optometry Giving Sight and other organizations. And it’s starting to get some traction.
Right now, a bill is in the works in New Jersey, and it is expected to be heard by a State Senate committee this fall.
“This bill…will have a direct impact on our children’s future,” says Kristan Gross, global executive director of the Vision Impact Institute. “This collaboration is a true testament to what can happen when we focus on the needs of our youngest citizens and set them up for success.”
To get involved: efusa.com/get-involved/eye-doctors .