By Helena Tavares Kennedy
You might need the aid of glasses or contacts or maybe you’ve had a laser vision correction procedure. Either way, if you are reading this article, you can see. Some local children, however, aren’t so lucky. Their vision issues are both undiagnosed and untreated.
While lackluster grades may provide a clue, parents might just think that their children are falling behind a bit, without realizing that the culprit is vision-related. Meanwhile, teachers may view these students as kids who space out or don’t pay attention. They may not realize these children cannot see clearly what is on the classroom blackboard.
Luckily, Vision with a Purpose, located in Manassas, works with schools and optometrists to get these kids the vision help they need.
Nicole Peppers, now residing in Greenville, S.C., founded the nonprofit organization in 2011 while living in Prince William. Her daughter was born with an eye disease called strabismus which required her to undergo several surgeries before the age of 2. This experience left Peppers more aware of children struggling with vision-related conditions.
“I noticed lots of children in our local community that couldn’t afford a trip to the doctor to get a vision screening or they couldn’t afford eyeglasses,” she said. “Some kids were sharing eyeglasses with siblings because the family couldn’t afford to buy more than one pair. I knew I had to do something to help them.”
Peppers formed Vision with a Purpose to provide free eyeglasses to eligible children during school vision screenings. Working with school administrators, nurses and local optometrists, the organization ensures that children who need eyeglasses but cannot afford them can get them free of cost.
“We focus on Title I schools [which]have higher levels of kids on free or reduced lunches, as those are the schools with the highest need right now,” said Peppers. “Vision issues are connected to other health issues like learning, so this is really making a huge difference in their lives.”
Sharing the Vision
When Vision with a Purpose conducted a screening at Mary Williams Elementary School in Dumfries, Peppers overheard comments, such as, “Wow, I’m seeing 3D,” from children after they put on glasses for the first time, she said. They had never seen so clearly before, she explained.
Community members play an important role in giving this gift of sight. The organization has placed more than 90 black collection boxes in schools throughout Prince William, where people can drop off used or unwanted eyeglasses. Virginia Community Bank in Dumfries donated the boxes, which bank employee Linda Lapur designed and delivered to schools, with help from several co-workers. Each box reads “A Gift of Sight” and is adorned with a big red bow.
As part of a partnership between Vision with a Purpose and the Prince William County Public Schools’ administrative office, about once a month school staff collect the donated eyeglasses from the boxes and mail them to the office, located in the Kelly Leadership Center on Bristow Road in Manassas. A volunteer from Vision with a Purpose picks them up there, Peppers said.
The glasses are cleaned up if they can be used again or recycled if they are in bad shape, she said. Once they have been refurbished, the eyeglasses are ready to be given to children on screening days. “We keep a detailed inventory of prescriptions so we know what we have in stock when someone needs a particular prescription. If we don’t have any in stock, our partners Dr. Chhitwal and Dr. Press will actually get a pair made for the child,” said Peppers.
Dr. Miles Press, an optometrist with offices in King George and Culpeper, is Vision with a Purpose’s vice president of medical affairs. Optometrist Dr. Ashish Chhitwal founded and works at
Visual Health Doctors of Optometry, a private optometric practice with multiple locations in Northern Virginia, including an office in Woodbridge.
Peppers added that Vision with a Purpose had more than 3,000 eyeglasses for its latest round of school vision screening visits and ordered only 20 pairs from the doctors, a testament to the generosity of the local community in donating glasses.
The Prince William organization is expanding its services to other areas with a high level of need, Peppers said. February last year “we spent five days handing out glasses to kids who needed them at various King George County schools, including King George elementary, middle and high school, Potomac Elementary and Sealeston Elementary,” Dr. Press said.
Dr. Press also puts to use donated adult eyeglasses that the organization cannot give to local children. In trips to Peru to conduct vision screenings in 2011 and again in 2012, he donated the eyeglasses to adults there who needed them, Peppers said. Vision with a Purpose is saving any donated adult eyeglasses it receives for Dr. Press’s next trip abroad to help adults in need see better.
How You Can Help
There is always a need for used or unwanted eyeglasses, which can be dropped off at any of the organization’s collection boxes in schools around the area, Peppers said. She also encourages community members to help support the organization with gifts of volunteer time or money. Visit www.visionwithapurpose.org for more information about how to get involved.
Helena Tavares Kennedy is a nonprofit marketing director and communications consultant who also enjoys freelance writing. Her email: [email protected]