Vision To Learn launches first step toward free vision care for GRPS students

Just weeks ago, on January 24, Aberdeen K-8 School became the first of Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) to collaborate with nonprofit Vision To Learn, who provides students with vision screening tests and proper eyewear. Nationwide, 2 million school children lack the eye care needed to succeed in school. At GRPS, 3,000 of these children will be gifted glasses at no charge

Vision To Learn’s National Director, Damian Carroll, says his best days on the job are seeing students react to putting on their new pair of glasses and being able to see correctly for the first time.

“A frequent reaction the kids get is that they can actually see the leaves on the trees for the first time,” Carroll says. “A lot of our kids are surprised to find out that a big tree is not like a big pea pod, or a big blob, but that when they get their glasses on, they can see all the individual leaves on the tree from a distance. That just delights them.”

Since 2012, Vision To Learn has been visiting school districts via mobile eye clinics to give students free eye exams and glasses, improving their experience in the classroom. The nonprofit is based out of Los Angeles, California, but began expanding their services across the country in 2014. Since then, they have extended their services to full-time programs in 12 different states.

Coincidentally, Vision To Learn founder Austin Beutner grew up in Grand Rapids and has long dreamt of bringing the program to his hometown community, where he sees a high demand for their services. Generally, the organization visits schools that have a higher percentage of kids who qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program.

Carroll says there are many contributing factors in students’ lack access to vision care.

“Sometimes parents need to take a day or two off of work for the eye exam, and then to get the glasses fit,” he says. “There could be transportation issues, lack of access to optometrists who accept medication, and then there’s just the basic awareness issue –– sometimes parents don’t know that the child needs an eye exam, or are unaware of how to go about getting these eye exams.

So what our program was designed to do, and has been very successful in doing, is bridging the gap so that we can get signed consent forms from the parent. They don’t need to bring the child to the exam –– we bring the exam to the child.”

In addition to Grand Rapids, Michigan has programs operating in Detroit, Flint, and the the South Redford area. Carroll says their team looks forward to expanding their program to other schools in Kent County over the next few years, and hope to bring a clinic to Lansing.

“We think we’re not too far away from being within a few years of solving this problem for kids throughout Michigan,” says Carroll. “Wouldn’t that be exciting, to say every kid in Michigan who needs a pair of glasses for school, has that pair of glasses?”

Photos courtesy of Vision To Learn. 
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