When it comes to the health, happiness and well-being of children in West Central Florida, the Glazer Family Foundation's vision has been clear since it was first established in 1999.
And thanks to one of the Foundation's most prominent initiatives, the vision of those children is becoming clearer every day, too.
The Glazer Family Foundation's "Vision Program," first established in 2006, took its commitment to another level on Thursday when the Vision Mobile was unveiled by Foundation Co-President Darcie Glazer Kassewitz at a press conference at One Buccaneer Place. A few hours earlier, the Vision Mobile had made its first appearance to the nearby Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary School, where 14 students had their eyes examined. Thirteen of those 14 were found to need glasses, underlining the importance of the program.
Thursday's school visit was just the start for the Vision Mobile. The Foundation, which selected Florida's Vision Quest to help carry out its goal of providing free and comprehensive vision exams and glasses to children in need, expects to reach 1,500 disadvantaged students with the Vision Mobile over the next year. As the Vision Mobile itself says, the Vision Program is "Seeing the Future One Child at a Time."
"We are so excited about our new Vision Mobile," said Glazer Kassewitz. "It's just going to be a great journey for all these kids. It's going to go to many, many Title 1 schools and we hope to reach at least 1,500 kids this year."
Fittingly, the Vision Mobile is a treat for young eyes. The outside is wrapped in a vibrant and colorful theme, with smiling cartoon kids showing off their new glasses and urging others to get exams. The inside is even more striking, wallpapered with various Buccaneer themes. For instance, the back room where the children receive their initial screening, is decorated and wallpapered to look like the Buccaneers locker room. Visiting kids sit amid lockers for Josh Freeman, Roy Miller and others and can even try on a helmet and a pair of shoulder pads. Several young girls exclaimed happily upon seeing cheerleader pom pons while getting their screening.
The best description of the Vision Mobile's interior, however is this: comfortable. Seeing a doctor of any kind can be intimidating to young children, but the Vision Mobile is designed to put the children at ease while they wait for their exams.
The Vision Mobile is also an exciting addition to the Foundation's already successful Vision Program. Since it was established by Tampa Bay Buccaneers Owner Malcolm Glazer in 2006 – prompted by Mr. Glazer's own experiences with vision screening as a youth – the program has annually donated screening equipment to two county school systems within the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' market. Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties were served first in 2006, followed by Pasco and Sarasota in 2007, Orange and Osceola in 2008 and Manatee and Polk this year. The vision screening equipment tests students' visual acuity and detects potential problems that can hinder students' learning experiences.
The Vision Mobile will now build on the success of the program's first four years by traveling throughout those eight counties and providing the next level of screening, treatment and referrals to students from Title 1 schools. In particular, those students who may have had a vision problem detected by the donated screening equipment will be given additional exams aboard the Vision Mobile and potentially given either glasses or a referral to a more specialized ophthalmologist.
Certified doctors will provide comprehensive vision exams and prescription glasses to children at no charge. It is the Foundation's goal to not only provide these services to children who cannot see clearly, but to those who would not otherwise have access to the exams or be able to afford new glasses.
"In 2006 we started donating vision equipment to Title 1 schools, and that was the first step," said Glazer Kassewitz. "We wanted to come full-circle in the area of vision screening and really give these kids the glasses that they need. The Glazer Family Foundation Vision Mobile provides glasses for these kids instantly. They get screened, tested and fit for glasses all in the same visit."
The students and administrators at Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary certainly found the Vision Mobile to be both fun and beneficial.
"The Vision Mobile helps many of our families that might not be able to transport their children to the doctor or just have the time to go out and give them the follow-ups they need," said Glenda Rodriguez, the school's principal, and an educator who has spent her career working in high-poverty schools. "We do vision screenings here at the school, then we send a letter home to the parents telling them that their children need to get a vision exam and possibly glasses. Without those follow-up exams, many times schools can't even move forward, so when we're trying to evaluate students to find out why their struggling at school we can't get past that first step. Many times it is just a simple eye exam that's needed."
Additional exams were performed on students with the assembled media from Thursday's press conference looking on at One Buccaneer Place. All of the children who received vision screenings on Thursday were also given tickets and parking passes in order for their family to attend the Buccaneers' season finale against the Atlanta Falcons on January 3.
"It's such a great opportunity to really be in the backyard of the Buccaneers' headquarters, but it's just wonderful that somebody is looking into the community to help out the students," said Rodriguez. "Our school being a high-poverty school, the kids here really benefit from their generosity."
The Glazer Family Foundation is dedicated to assisting charitable and educational causes in the West Central Florida region. The Foundation aids established not-for-profit organizations that work with youth and families to help identify and create programs which support positive social and economic development within our communities. The Glazers, who own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, established the Foundation in 1999. Since that time, the Glazer Family Foundation has given millions of dollars in programs, grants, tickets and merchandise to the Tampa Bay area. Most recently, the Foundation donated $5 million toward the construction of a new children's museum in downtown Tampa, which will open in 2010 and be named the Glazer Children's Museum. Visit GlazerFamilyFoundation.org for more information.
In addition, video coverage of Thursday's Vision Mobile unveiling will be posted on Buccaneers.com shortly.