They squint at the blackboard and hold books close to their faces. When teachers see children who have obvious vision issues, they refer them to the school nurse, who usually suggests seeing an optometrist to get glasses.
But what if the family has no funds for such an expense?
Enter Eye Care 4 Kids, which works to get children from low-income families vision care. The nonprofit’s executive director, Brad Parsons, said lack of vision care is dire for some families.
“We get parents who walk here because they can’t afford the bus,” Parsons said. “We discovered one child was legally blind. His parents said, ‘We just thought he was slow.’ ”
Eye Care 4 Kids offers free eye exams and glasses to any qualifying child enrolled in the Clark County School District. It started in Utah. The Las Vegas chapter began in December 2012 and was able to fast-track its creation by being under the Utah organization’s umbrella. Eye Care 4 Kids has provided humanitarian aid to more than 40,000 children and adults since 2001.
There are three sites in the Las Vegas Valley: Sawyer Middle School, 5450 Redwood St.; Taylor Elementary School, 144 Westminster Way in Henderson; and Brinley Middle School, 2480 Maverick St. View visited the Brinley site, which works out of a portable on school grounds 3½ days a week and one Saturday a month. Some clinics offer evening hours to accommodate shift workers.
Appointments are scheduled every 15 minutes, keeping optometrist Wenshan Liu busy. She administers eye exams and determines prescriptions. The child then selects frames from nearly 300 options, checking how they look in the large mirror on the wall.
Yulia Garcia, 15, got her first pair of glasses through Eye Care 4 Kids about two years ago. She is nearsighted.
“I was having trouble in school,” she said. “My teacher took me to the nurse. Now, I can see the stuff I want to see.”
Her sister, Alicia, 12, also gets glasses through the nonprofit. Yulia Garcia said the free exams and glasses mean her parents don’t have more bills to pay.
Yulissa Esperza, 9, is nearsighted and said she knew something was wrong. How did she cope before getting glasses?
“I’d ask my friend what was on the board,” she said. “To read something, I’d move my paper up to here (5 inches away).”
Her mother, Beatrice Esperza, said she and her husband would have had to save to pay for the exam, let alone lenses.
“It feels good to know there’s help,” she said.
The free services are funded from grants and donations from a variety of sources, including the Stephen A. Wynn Foundation, the Engelstad Family Foundation, the Elaine P. Wynn and Family Foundation, the Clark County School District, Nevada State Bank, the Public Education Foundation and Teacher EXCHANGE.
All of the medical equipment is new, and groups have stepped in to provide the portable space and refurbish it.
The glasses are made in Midvale, Utah, in about three weeks. That timeline will be shortened when electronic submission of notification is set up, possibly in May.
Development coordinator Katherine Bell said the group’s biggest hurdle is making families aware of the service.
“The school nurses are so busy,” she said. “If a child has always had a vision problem, they often don’t know how to articulate it. It’s fun to see them get their lenses. They’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can see so much better.’ ”
So far, Liu is the only one giving exams, while optician Irv Lockwood hands out glasses and makes adjustments. The nonprofit plans to add another optometrist soon and expand the program.
Children arrived smiling to get their new glasses. Lockwood cautioned them on how to care for their lenses and put them on, always with two hands.
“Vision care is currently viewed as a ‘preferred’ service, rather than an ‘essential’ service,” Bell said. “My hope is that the lawmakers, insurance groups and community as a whole will begin to understand that vision care is very much an essential service. How will children be able to learn not being able to see their work? How can adults gain employment if they’re unable to see? It perpetuates lower quality of life throughout our community.”
For more information, visit eyecare4kids.org.
Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2949.