When the Glazer Family Foundation was first established in 1999, it set out to promote the well-being of children and families in the Tampa Bay area and surrounding counties. For years one of the Foundation’s core initiatives has been addressing the eyesight of children through a forward-thinking program known as the Vision Mobile.
The Vision Mobile travels around the Tampa Bay area with certified doctors on board, providing comprehensive vision exams and prescription glasses to children at no charge. It is the Foundation's goal to provide these services not only to children who need vision correction, but to those who would not otherwise have access to the exams or be able to afford new glasses.
The Vision Mobile recently spent a week on the road, stopping at 10 Title I schools in Polk County to give vision screenings to more than 900 children.
“We love these types of projects because you can really impact kids’ lives,” said CEO and Founder of Florida’s Vision Quest, Nancy Jeppesen. “Some of the kids’ vision was so bad, the screening tool wasn’t able to pick up anything, so they are in desperate need of an exam and probably glasses.”
Florida’s Vision Quest, a non-profit entity, has helped carry out the Foundation’s goal of providing free comprehensive vision exams and glasses to Florida's most needy and vulnerable children. Jeppesen believes many of the struggles that students face in the classroom are caused by poor vision.
“Often when kids are doing poorly in school it is because they can’t see,” she said. “There are many warning signs that a child may have poor vision, and if we can come in and help parents and teachers check for that, it’s a great thing for everybody.”
Jeppesen emphasized that the Vision Mobile is a one-of-a-kind program and that they are the only ones who provide this type of service.
“The reason we love doing this program is because of the great improvement academically the students often make once they get the vision screenings and prescription glasses,” she said.
One of the ten schools at which the Vision Mobile stopped was Oscar J. Pope Elementary in Lakeland, where a group of third-grade students from schools around the county were attending summer reading camp to help improve their FCAT scores.
“Vision issues have all kinds of ramifications for students’ learning abilities,” said Jan Grimes, director of the summer reading camp. “We host 10 other feeder schools that are a part of this summer reading program and there are many reasons a student may not be screened or be able to get an exam, so having a program that comes right to us to serve this many students is amazing.”
Grimes’ hope is that all of the children in her program who need glasses (20 out of the 93 students screened) see a dramatic improvement in their academic performance after receiving them.
“We have a goal that 100 percent of these students improve on their FCAT scores significantly,” she said. “As someone who wears glasses and has children wearing glasses, I know how important they are for young eyes and what an impact being able to see properly can have on a students’ grades and study habits.”
Grimes points out that there is also a need for more education for parents and teachers who might be unaware a child is experiencing vision problems. The Vision Mobile is able to locate some of these students who can benefit significantly from eyeglasses.
“I think this is a life-changing and life-altering program,” she said. “Especially for some for the children who are just finding out that they need glasses and had no idea how much this was hurting them in the classroom.”
The Vision Mobile proves popular among the students at every stop it makes because the interior is a fun and non-threatening environment.
“The big bus was cool and it had Buccaneers stuff in it,” said one student. “I learned more about my eyes too. It was fun.”
Of the 900-plus children screened during the week, 198 students (approximately 22%) were found to be in need of corrective eyeglasses.
“The idea behind the vision mobile is to get to the kids and avoid some of the issues that families might have with scheduling an eye exam, such as transportation or insurance,” Jeppesen said.
This summer marks the second year the Vision Mobile has made stops in Polk County to reach the students in the summer reading programs. Jeppesen is optimistic that the impact they have had on the area will transform it into an annual stop.
“We can really expect to make a difference and it is fun to see a child who does better in school, or improves their reading level,” Jeppesen said. “I am proud that we can offer programs for students working in the classroom during the summer.”
Miray Holmes, director of community relations for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Glazer Family Foundation, is thrilled that the Vision Mobile has been able to reach so many young students, especially in the summer months when school is typically not in session.
“The Glazer Family Foundation is dedicated to supporting youth not only in Tampa Bay but throughout Central Florida,” said Holmes. “Having the Vision Mobile is very special for these kids. It provides a much needed service in a fun, engaging environment. But most importantly, it lets these children know that someone cares about them.”