Gift of Vision: Community Collaboration helps students with vision

Latest News


10 Dec, 2019

544 students in the Youngstown and Liberty School Districts will be receiving the Gift of Sight this holiday season. During the week of December 9th, five school sites will be hosting a team of 12 eye doctors who will provide eye exams. Children who need glasses will then receive 2 pairs of glasses one for home and one for school.

DentaQuest’s EyeQuest vision group presented a check for $10,000 to the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley for the program.

“DentaQuest’s EyeQuest vision group is committed to ensuring access to quality eye care,” adds Mandy Gilbertson, Network and Operations Manager. “That is critically important for all ages – especially for young children in the classroom. It is a privilege for us to support the Youngstown community and ensure that children get the necessary vision exams to monitor eye health and glasses to support their learning.”

This community-wide program is possible due to an incredible level of collaboration among various community organizations, eye doctors, foundations and businesses. In 2016, Classic Optical, Essilor Vision Foundation, Sight for All United, and the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley partnered to provide vision services to 100 children in the Youngstown City School District and Youngstown Community School.

“We are thankful to be a part of this program from the beginning,” said Rachael Smith, Director of Youngstown Community School. “Our students have seen great improvement in the classroom thanks to the access to the doctors and eyeglasses. Youngstown Community School was the pilot for United Way’s Success After 6 Initiative, and these wraparound services are vital to making our school a better place to learn.”

With all 9 Youngstown City School Elementary Schools, Liberty Blott Guy PK-6 Building, and Youngstown Community School participating, the number of students to receive services increases each year thanks to the dedication of the school’s parent advocates, nurses, and Success After 6 Coordinators. The number of students to be served this year increased 150 from the 2018-2019 school year.

“We are grateful to be a part of the vision program again this year,” said CEO Justin Jennings of the Youngstown City School District. “Obviously, a scholar’s inability to see clearly is an impediment to learning so this program is a godsend to those who need it. We’re thankful that the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Classic Optical, Essilor Vision Foundation, Sight for All United and the many doctors, partners and volunteers continue to offer this service to the scholars of the Youngstown City School District.”

In September, United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley led 200 volunteers who conducted vision screenings for 2,500 students kindergarten through 5th grade in the three school districts. This partnership is part of United Way’s Success After 6 initiative, which provides essential wrap around services to students and families in the schools, including an afterschool program that focuses on academics and enrichment opportunities.

“Our goal with our Success After 6 initiative is to break down barriers to success for our students and their families. We cannot do this alone, so this collaboration is so important to our mission,” said Bob Hannon, President of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. “We are thankful for all the volunteers that helped us this fall for the vision screenings including the YSU Nursing students, Employees of Vallourec, Lions Club Members, Women United Members, Goodwill, and volunteers from the community. This takes an army of volunteers, and we are grateful for everyone who is a part of this program.”

Children who did not pass the screenings conducted by volunteers will receive a full eye exam lead by Sight for All United the week of December 9th. The doctors volunteering this year include: Dr. John Conrad, Dr. Nick Lawrence, Dr. Guy Barrett, Dr. Chad Shultz, Dr. Pete Sforza, Dr. Mike Woloschak, Dr. Lindsey Foster, Dr. Chris Shoemaker, Dr. Frank D’Apolito, Dr. Brandon Maceyko, Dr. Ryan Maceyko, Dr. Sergul Erzurum.

Sight for All United, a 501c3 organization created locally to help our community receive vision services, provided guidance for implementation of the school vision program, recruited the eye doctors from their membership of Doctors for Sight, and distributed and fitted the glasses at the school for the children.

“Vision screenings happen at every school in Ohio because it is a requirement. Unfortunately, that does not mean a child will get an eye exam. A recent study found 50 percent of students who fail their screenings never visit an eye care provider, which means those children are going to school every day unable to see,” said Dr. Sergul Erzurum, Co-Founder and President of Sight for All United, Pediatric Ophthalmologist and Professor of Surgery, Northeast Ohio Medical University. “The wonderful part about our program is that when a vision problem is identified, our doctors come into the schools to provide the exam and each child is provided 2 pairs of glasses, one for home and one for school. We guarantee that a child will have the vision resources they need to perform their best in school.“

Essilor Vision Foundation is providing the lenses for the glasses.

“Vision is the most overlooked factor impacting a child’s success in school and in life. Essilor Vision Foundation is proud to provide eyeglass lenses to the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley to support their efforts to help more children see the world clearly,” Becky Palm, President, Essilor Vision Foundation. “With clear vision, there truly are no limits to what a child can achieve.”

Classic Optical will provide the frames and manufacture all of the glasses. The distribution and fitting of the glasses will occur in the schools after the holidays through volunteer opticians’ efforts.

“Classic Optical has a history of giving back to the community. We’re proud to be an integral part of innovative partnerships like this one that help break down the barriers to vision health by providing access to eyeglasses at no cost to children in schools to help them reach their full potential,” said Dawn Friedkin, President of Classic Optical Laboratories, Inc.

Students who received glasses during previous years saw higher attendance, lower disciplinary rates and a greater improvement in fall to spring standardized Language Arts and Math scores.