This blog was submitted by Impact America- South Carolina
Creating Vision for Children to See their Educational Path
Take a moment and imagine that you are part of a family named the “Triplets,” and that you are the parent of – well – triplets. They are three years old, born just over a year after your four-year old son. They all require childcare so that both parents can work to support the family.
This means getting four children up, dressed, fed, and off to preschool while also attempting to get yourself ready to go to work. You must get lunches packed, teeth brushed, hair combed, coats zipped, and children loaded into car seats.
And you have not even backed out of the driveway yet.
Others might have the same reaction that I do: “I can’t even!” It is truly beyond my comprehension to think of managing a schedule for a family like the “Triplets,” let alone affording it. It is easy to see how visits to the eye doctor might not top the priority list, and even easier to understand the tougher question. How can we afford those visits, even if time allows?
Life is not likely to slow down at all for the Triplets when the children reach school age. South Carolina does not require vision screenings in all schools, so the Triplets’ triplets may have a strike against them before their educational journey truly begins. It is entirely possible that the children might struggle and fall behind from the beginning because they cannot see.
It is not at all unusual for Impact America volunteers to encounter families like this. In fact, these families are the reason Impact America exists.
In a day and age when health and educational readiness creates plenty of obstacles, poor vision does not need to be one of them. Impact is committed to helping children achieve full educational readiness by removing as many obstacles as possible from their pathway to learning. Making sure that they get vision care is at the top of that list.
Impact implements a program called FocusFirst to offer free high-tech vision screenings for families across Spartanburg County and throughout the state of South Carolina. Without this service, the Triplets might never know that they were at risk for vision problems. Through this service, the family can get essential services, often for little or no cost if they cannot afford it or do not have insurance.
Based in Birmingham, Alabama, Impact America is a non-profit that opened a regional office in Greenville in 2015. We partner with organizations such as the Mary Black Foundation to make sure that preschool children receive vision care early in life. To the best of our knowledge, we offer more vision screenings to this age group than any other organization in South Carolina.
The Impact model is tailor-made to perform these screenings. We partner with AmeriCorps to create an efficient, effective atmosphere of service for recent college who commit to a year service. These highly trained volunteers use a device called a Spot Camera to screen children before they reach school age.
By utilizing the camera, Corps members can screen children as young as six months. They can also use the camera to gather data from children who might struggle with traditional screening methods, such as those with special needs or attention difficulties. Knowing how to work with this device means that Impact can screen more children in a shorter period of time.
Through the fall of 2019, Impact America Carolinas screened 12,583 children in North and South Carolina, including almost 1100 in Spartanburg County.
We are working with partners like Head Start and the Foundation to make sure we are seeking out the greatest areas of need. While we do our best to screen at any preschool, our goal is to reach children like those in the Triplet family, who are less likely to receive early care and even less likely to afford the necessary follow up.
Discovering a vision problem is one thing, but the ability to address that problem is an entirely different matter. Impact’s approach is truly effective because of our partnership with Sight Savers America.
Corps members gather, record, and report screening data from the camera readings. Sight Savers then receives reports on any children who might have a vision issue. The organization contacts the families of children who need further care, which often includes some type of assistance with getting the necessary treatment.
What makes the FocusFirst unique is that it both identifies and addresses the vision challenges that often face underserved communities. Our Corps members willingly and readily travel to any area, including rural communities where people might have to travel for miles to even reach an eye care specialist. By getting this service to the areas that need it most, we are tearing down another barrier that might hinder our children from learning.
It is discouraging to discover a family like the Triplets, especially if all of the children in the family have some type of vision problem. But it is incredibly uplifting to refer them, and return to their preschool for a follow-up, only to discover that all the children have new glasses. And it is truly gratifying when this follow-up screening shows that these steps have corrected the problem!
Quality education is an ongoing concern in the state of South Carolina. We know that so many children face a winding path towards their learning goals. At Impact America, we are fully committed to making sure children start school with the ability to clearly see the twists, turns, and barriers that path may hold for them.
Every wall that we tear down or bolder that we move for a child makes their journey that much more enriching. We cannot simply stand by and talk about the problems that our children face. We must identify as many challenges as we can and empower our children to meet them. For Impact America, that means making sure that every preschooler that we can reach has the chance for excellent vision before they write their first letter or add their first number.
This is the work and mission of Impact America. As we prepare a generation for change, we are empowering children of all ages to change their generation. This is the heart and soul of who we are, and we are grateful to the Mary Black foundation for raising the bar in caring for the children of the Carolinas.