When I was in the 6th grade, I noticed that it was becoming increasingly difficult to see the board at school. Because I was shy, I didn’t tell my teacher about it and I wouldn’t ask questions during class. Mid year, my teacher rearranged the room so that the trouble makers were up front and the well-behaved kids were in the back. The little bit of the board I could still see was now completely obsolete from my position in the last row. My school work suffered because I couldn’t fully participate in class and I wouldn’t bring it up because I didn’t want the extra attention.
Fortunately, my parents were quick to get glasses for me when I finally mentioned my difficulty seeing the board. With my new glasses, I walked outside and remember thinking “Wow – the trees have individual leaves!” There are many kids in the Memphis area who don’t have the option to see an eye doctor as easily as I did. Consequently, their education and self-confidence suffers because of it. That’s where SAVE’s Mobile Vision Unit rolls in.
The School Advocates for Vision and Education (SAVE) has a custom-made RV that provides on-site eye screenings at schools throughout Shelby County. Schnika Brown said that the bus is named after their mascot – a dog with glasses named Seymore (very clever, guys!).
The bus is packed to the gills with equipment for eye exams. There are two exam rooms and even a display case for children’s glasses. Despite all the equipment, it feels spacious and fun – it’s brightly decorated and they play educational movies for the kids as they wait for their appointments with the eye doctor.
News Channel 3 is running a segment called Bright Spot and they’ll be featuring Mission Memphis: 30 Days of Volunteering. Markova Reed came to do a story on my volunteer work and she talked about volunteerism in the Memphis area. To round out the story, she dug into her purse and pulled out her own glasses. “Alright I’m going to wear my glasses on the air!” she told the kids.
I met a very shy, soft-spoken eight-year-old girl who told me she was excited to get glasses. When I sat down beside her and asked why, she said that she’s been wearing glasses since she was five years old, but that she had accidentally fall asleep while wearing them and they broke. She seemed pretty sheepish about it and I told her that I had done the exact same thing! I described how my glasses split in half right down the middle and that I’ve been holding them together with glue and tape like Harry Potter. She gave me a big smile after that!
I asked Dr. Amar Sayani about the importance of pediatric vision screenings and he was clearly enthusiastic about the topic! He explained that most parents believe that their children’s regular check up includes a sufficient eye exam; however, these exams are only meant to check for extreme problems and often over look the most common issue in children: amblyopia. He said it’s critical to make sure that children get eye exams early in life and it’s best to visit a pediatric optometrist, who will have the right equipment and expertise to diagnose and treat children.
I talked with Emily right after she saw Dr. Sayani and she described the eye exam and how strange it was to have her eyes dilated! Shortly after this picture was taken, Schnika gave her some sunglasses to wear outside while we escorted her on the short walk from Seymore the bus back to the school building.
I also had the opportunity to talk with some of the teachers at guidance counselors at the school. One of the teachers, Jessica Buddy described how glasses can impact the students: “They feel good about themselves and they feel a sense of confidence when they can see and learn like everyone else because they can actually see what’s on the board. It changes their performance – they can do a lot more just because they can see.” That comment from Jessica is what jogged my memory about my experience in 6th grade. Their guidance counselor, Sandra McDurmon added “they’re so excited when they get their glasses – they want to pick up stuff and read it!” which is exactly what I noticed on the bus. Lauren Mitchell elaborated: “It really makes them feel more confident and makes them want to participate. Sometimes you might think they don’t know an answer, but it’s really that they just can’t see the board and a lot of times they’re not vocal enough to say anything.” That’s the group I feel into – I was too quiet to say anything so I would avoid participating all together. I asked whether Sandra and Lauren thought that students could go for years without being able to see the board if it weren’t for the mobile vision unit and they both said “Absolutely!”
I talked with SAVE’s Director Sharon Kauerz and asked her what she hopes their volunteers will take away from the experience and she replied, “I would like them to understand that we can have the greatest schools, the best teachers, the most money thrown at education…but, none of that matters one bit if the child cannot see. Every child should have a comprehensive eye exam before they enter school. They don’t know they can’t see. And, if the child cannot see they will not be successful in school OR life!”
During my time with SAVE, I walked the kids to and from the bus Seymore and talked with them while they waited for their appointments. I did some paperwork for Schnika and restocked the glasses on the display case. If you have a few hours to give and you like working with kids, this would be a great project for you!
When I asked Sharon about why she finds this work rewarding, she said, “It’s amazing to have a child put on his first pair of glasses and hear him say ‘I can see the leaves!'” I can definitely relate!
How to Help
Volunteer! SAVE is looking for volunteers to escort the kids to and from the bus, help with paperwork and other simple tasks throughout the day. No knowledge of optometry required! They are especially in need of volunteers on the days when both exam rooms are running because they’ll have twice as many kids to examine. Contact Sharon Kauerz at 901-277-3835 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit their website for more information.
Donate! You’ll be able to see your investment put to good use (I couldn’t help myself).
Follow them on Facebook
Give something from their wish list:
- Credit cards to use for gas for the mobile vision unit (credit cards, gift cards)
- Office supplies
- Educational DVD’s for viewing in the “waiting room”