On Friday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Glazer Family Foundation celebrated a milestone in supporting the health and safety of Tampa Bay's youth through the Glazer Family Foundation Vision Program.
Buccaneers All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy – a spokesperson for the initiative – along with Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders and mascot Captain Fear, team staff and local school representatives, presented the program's 5,000th pair of free prescription eyeglasses at Forest Lakes Elementary School.
"I really like them," said third grader Gabrielle Nelson, one of 29 students to receive new glasses on Friday. "I can see much clearer with them and much farther, so I really like them."
McCoy – who has proudly worn glasses since he was a child – addressed a packed assembly on the importance of good eyesight, driving home the message that students should be excited to show off their eyewear. That excitement hit even greater levels when McCoy announced that the 29 students sporting the new glasses would also be receiving tickets to see the Buccaneers play a game this fall at Raymond James Stadium, and that one special student – first grader Gabriel Miranda – would receive an autographed helmet as the recipient of that special 5,000th pair of glasses.
"I feel so happy," said Miranda's mother. "I think he's going to improve in school because he's a very good student, but sometimes I think he gets so distracted because of his vision difficulty. This is a big step in Gabriel's life. It's going to help him a lot, especially in school, so I just have to say thank you so much to everybody involved. I don't have the words to express how I feel, I'm just so thankful."
The Glazer Family Foundation Vision Program helps improve the eyesight of children in need by providing free eye screenings and prescription glasses to students throughout Tampa Bay. In December 2009, the program was enhanced with the introduction of the Glazer Family Foundation Vision Mobile, an eye examination facility on wheels that visits local schools to offer comprehensive vision care in a child-friendly, interactive environment. The Vision Mobile includes a doctor's examination room and the necessary tools to produce prescription eyeglasses on site – the majority within the same day of the examination – as well as kid-friendly features including authentic Tampa Bay Buccaneers player and cheerleader uniforms for students to try on, in addition to interior images that mimic the Buccaneers' locker room and Raymond James Stadium
"We'd like to thank the Glazer Family Foundation for coming out here with the Vision Mobile and the work that they've been doing since 2009," said Ward Kennedy, Area 3 Superintendent of Pinellas County Schools. "It's immeasurable, the help that they've been able to provide for the school system. We're extremely grateful for what they've done."
The Glazer Family Foundation Vision Mobile, which can be spotted at each Tampa Bay Buccaneers home game, is supporting 60 Title I schools throughout Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties this school year. Since 2009, the Vision Program has carried out vision screenings for over 10,000 local students, nearly half of which have now received free prescription glasses. The program's dedication to improved vision services has also been enhanced through a new partnership with the Essilor Vision Foundation, a national nonprofit that is committed to eliminating poor vision and its lifelong consequences. Essilor Vision Foundation brings its expertise in vision care and products by providing on-site staff who examine the students and offer a wide variety of frame inventory aboard the Vision Mobile.
"If you have a problem with your vision, it can be an issue in life," said McCoy. "But if you address the issue and get glasses, it can help you go a long way. It helped me do all my school work, I needed it to get my license, it helped me in college, and it definitely helps me now. It just makes things a lot easier, and it helps kids learn a lot faster when you can see."
The state of Florida mandates that children have their vision tested throughout their elementary education. As a result, the Glazer Family Foundation adopted the Vision Program in 2006 to provide vision screening equipment to Hillsborough and Pinellas County public schools to test the visual acuity of students and detect potential problems that could hinder students' learning experiences. Over the next three years, the Glazer Family Foundation expanded the program by donating similar equipment to the surrounding counties: Pasco and Sarasota (2007), Orange and Osceola (2008), and Manatee and Polk (2009).
"It takes a community effort, and the Glazer Family Foundation extending this from Hillsborough into Pinellas and surrounding counties, I think it's a fantastic thing," said Kennedy. "For Gerald to take his time to come out here and get in front of the students and do this, it's absolutely terrific."