Fifteen grants in the amount of $65,500 have been awarded from Optometry Cares ®—The AOA Foundation to doctors of optometry and community organizations seeking to raise awareness and access to eye care services for underserved children.
An estimated 32,500 children in 11 states from California to New York will benefit from the Healthy Eyes Healthy Children Community Grants (HEHC) program. HEHC, in its second year, is funded by Essilor Vision Foundation, which also supports the program with in-kind frames and lenses, plus laboratory services.
Under the program, Optometry Cares awards grants up to $5,000 each to doctors with grassroots projects that align with HEHC's goal: spreading awareness and increasing vision services to children with uncorrected refractive errors.
"Our hope is to facilitate ongoing collaborations teaming optometrists with community resources to reach out and meet the vision and eye health needs of children under 18 years of age who are not currently receiving the care they need," says Carol Marusich, O.D., Optometry Cares board member and HEHC committee co-chair with Carol Record, O.D.
"Projects which address community education, awareness of the importance of vision, and access to care for underserved children in these hometown communities will impact student success now," says Dr. Marusich who practices in Oregon. "This is an opportunity for optometrists to lead the way in helping their communities."
"With the second cycle of HEHC grants awarded, trends have emerged regarding the barriers to underserved children needing eye examinations and glasses," Dr. Record says. The barriers to providing care to these children?
- Financial hurdle to purchasing frames and lenses.
- Lack of transportation to examination sites.
- The need for examination equipment to maximize the number of children examined.
- Lack of education on the essentialness of eye care and vision health in school achievement.
"There is a need to educate legislators, school administrators, school nurses and parents on the impact vision has on school achievement," Dr. Record says. "Many children who fail screenings never have their eyes examined. Unfortunately too many children are never screened or examined at all."
Here's a listing of the recipients and brief descriptions of their projects:
Vision Center at Oyler School: The Vision Center at Oyler School in Cincinnati, Ohio, currently provides comprehensive eye examinations, medical eye exams and optical services to students whose health needs are underserved. The grant helps to provide student transportation from school to the city-operated Vision Center. Among its community partners are the Ohio Optometric Association and The Ohio State University College of Optometry.
See Clearly: Florida Underserved Children Vision Campaign: Nova Southeastern University seeks to improve access to visual health care to underserved children and develop a sustained network for the coordination of care among community partners for advanced eye care needs. This project is in partnership with Kids In Distress (KID, Inc.).
See Clearly Now: A collaborative effort between Ed White Elementary and the University of Houston College of Optometry, the project will provide eye exams and glasses for children from lower-income households who attend the elementary school.
Children's Vision Education Project: Mississippi Optometric Association and Mississippi Vision Foundation plan to raise awareness of the necessity and availability of eye exams for children, aged infant to third grade. The project also aims to increase the number of pediatric eye exams in Mississippi and to help increase passing rates on reading assessment tests.
Toledo-Lucas County Health Department Mobile Vision Program: The Ohio Optometric Association is supporting efforts by the Mobile Vision Program, a current outreach program of the Toledo Lucas County Health Department to public school students. The program aims to create awareness and teach the importance of routine vision care, as well as promote preventive versus reactive eye care.
Western U Optometry Children's Vision Project: Western University of Health Sciences College of Optometry, in partnership with the Pomona Unified School District, plans to embody a wellness approach to child development by providing waiting room resources for parents and children, in addition to providing vision care to preschool-aged children in Pomona, California and its surrounding communities.
New York State School Vision Health Month: School Vision Health Month is a collaborative initiative of the New York State Optometric Association, New York State Education Department, VSP Global and the New York State Society of Opticians. The goal of the project is to provide no-cost comprehensive eye exams and glasses to school-age children in underserved areas of the state, as well as provide education and resources to promote healthy eye care and the critical role that vision plays in children's physical, social and cognitive development.
Northside Independent School District Student Eye Care and School Nurse Education: A partnership between University of the Incarnate Word's Eye Institute and Northside Edgewood Independent School District, the project intends to provide eye and vision care to low-income, underserved students in the school district and to increase the awareness of school nurses for vision problems in children.
Reaching Underserved Students in Partnership with Friends for Sight, the Utah Optometric Association, and Weber School District: The project will expand access to eye examination and provide necessary eyeglasses to underserved students in Weber School District by providing annual SightFest events, which target low-income schools in areas where access to vision care is challenging.
Eye See Kids: The project of ABC Mobile Vision and Team Wellness Mental Health Center is designed to provide eye exams and contemporary eyewear to underserved children in targeted Michigan counties at schools, health fairs, back-to-school rallies, churches, daycare centers, and conferences.
In-School Eye Exam (iSee) Program: The iSee program provides comprehensive eye exams to students through Ohio after school nurses identify the need for follow-up examinations. The Ohio Optometric Foundation and school districts collaborate on providing eye exams and eyewear to students.
Kern Vision 20/20: The program focuses on the disproportionate, unmet health-related needs of low-income children at three of Advanced Center for Eyecare's (ACE) school-based vision centers in the Bakersfield (California) City School District in Kern County by providing free eye care and free eyeglasses to students.
Vision for the Future: The goal of the program is to increase awareness of the importance of early vision care, as well as access to eye care, for Head Start preschool children in the state of Indiana. Vision for the Future is a partnership between Indiana University School of Optometry and local Head Start centers.
Livingston County Vision Initiative: The program's goal is to provide comprehensive exams and vision correction for children in Livingston County, a rural area in Illinois with high levels of poverty. Partners include the Livingston County Special Services Unit and Livingston County Public Schools.
Closing the Gap: The Arkansas Optometric Association, in conjunction with Vision Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Education, aims to increase by 50% the number of children who fail to show up for follow-up comprehensive eye exams after failing preliminary vision screenings.
Grantees for 2018 were notified in August. The next application cycle is expected to be in the summer of 2019.
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The next generation is ready for more—more access, more information and more people with more experiences to inform and guide the health care field. With over 20 Opportunities in Optometry grants awarded in 2023, this year’s recipients have identified more opportunities for growth in eye care.