Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A Beautiful Sight: Vision Mobile Helps School in Need

More than 200 kids at Pepin Academies were examined for vision problems and 55 received free new glasses last week

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Stephen, a 16-year-old student at Pepin Academies, had a difficult decision to make last Thursday.

A recent knee injury had him crutches, and he was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam that morning to determine the next course of action.  However, Stephen also knew he needed vision correction in order to help him at school, and a unique opportunity presented itself at the same time he was supposed to have his MRI.

When Stephen learned that he could be wearing new glasses calibrated exactly to his current needs by later that day – without ever leaving school – he was forced to make a decision.  Turns out it was a pretty simple choice.

Stephen's MRI appointment was abruptly rescheduled thanks to a visit to Pepin Academies from the Glazer Family Foundation's Vision Mobile on March 1.  On a sunny school-day morning, several hundred students were examined and 55 were found to need new glasses.  They were immediately fitted and provided with eyewear that will help them with their performance both in the classroom and in everyday life.  Stephen was among the group of children who received brand new pairs of glasses, and he couldn't wait to try them on.

"It feels good to get new glasses so I can see better," Stephen said. "It helps me see the board a little bit better because the light-colored markers the teachers use are hard to see because they sometimes fade into the board."

The Glazer Family Foundation Vision Mobile is an eye examination facility on wheels that travels to Title 1 schools to provide free comprehensive vision exams and prescription glasses to children. It was introduced by the Foundation in 2009 and is an extension of the "Vision Program," a health initiative to provide local school children with an opportunity to have vision problems identified.

Pepin Academies, on 3916 East Hillsborough Avenue, is a charter school in Tampa for 450 students with severe learning disabilities. Schools such as Pepin serve an important need in the community – there are about 10,000 kids with identified learning disabilities in the Tampa area alone.

The opportunity for a visit from the Vision Mobile arose during an awards presentation recognizing Pepin Academies as the recipient of a $5,000 grant to help with their free and reduced population lunch program. Crisha Scolaro, co-founder of Pepin Academies, said the school jumped at the chance to have the Vision Mobile come to its campus.

"This is the first time we have had it, so we feel very lucky," Scolaro said. "Thirty-two to 35 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch, so we know they could not afford glasses on their own.  They wouldn't have insurance policies or anything that would help them get glasses.

"The vision mobile tested over 200 of our students, and 55 students are receiving glasses, which is phenomenal, absolutely incredible.  Not only are the students excited about it, but we are over the top."

Diane McCurdy, the school nurse at Pepin Academies, has seen the excitement grow around the school because of the Vision Mobile. She is a strong believer that the Foundation's generosity will not only help the kids with their school work, but in all areas of their lives.

"We have one little girl who loves to read over in the elementary school, and she was so excited that she was going to be able to get glasses because she can't see the small print," McCurdy said. "We have our transitional kids, our 18-22 year olds, that are responsible for themselves and they have other financial problems.  To get a free pair of glasses so they can get a job and go to work is a huge thing."

Receiving a new pair of glasses was particularly significant for Stephen, who celebrated his birthday just two days earlier. Thanks to the Glazer Family Foundation, the Vision Mobile delivered the perfect gift.

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