Missionaries help organization provide eyeglasses for thousands of school kids

HOUSTON, Texas — Seventh graders Maria Pena, Lanea Autry and Regan Barrett, from Leaman Junior High in the Lamar Independent School District, giggled nervously as they waited their turn to be tested for eye glasses in the Houston Health Foundation’s See-to-Succeed program. The girls agreed, it was hard to see the board and hard to take notes and to do work in the classroom. “I failed the eye test at the nurse’s office, so I got to come,” Lanea said. Any student identified by a school nurse or teacher is eligible.

Pat Segu, O.D. Clinical Associate Professor with the University of Houston College of Optometry and clinical director of See-to-Succeed, shared that they are in the seventh year of this safety net program, providing free eye exams and glasses to students. “We can bridge that gap for kids that never get to see an eye doctor. We can now see over 400 children per day, for six weeks, totaling over 10,000 children per year. It takes all of us working together to make a difference for the kids in our community,” Segu said. Children from school districts all over the area participate.

More than 40 volunteers from the University of Houston, San Jacinto College, Texas Women’s University, the Lion’s Club, missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and other volunteers from the community are needed to run the comprehensive eye testing sessions each day.

According to the Kid’s Vision for Life See to Succeed program, 80 percent of what children learn comes through their eyes. Poor vision can affect a child’s emotional, neurological and physical development. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the average lifetime cost of vision impairment is about $566,000 per person. It is important to catch vision problems early on and put preventive measures in place that will allow children the opportunity to see clearly.

Maria, Lanea and Regan followed the 4-step process which included vision screening for color blindness, depth perception and visual acuity, Slit Lamp, checking pressure in the eyes, Auto Refractor where the prescription is determined, and finally Optical where they picked out and were fitted for frames. “I couldn’t see. I did bad on the tests. I’m OK with getting new glasses so I can see better,” Maria said.

In the Slit Lamp area Elder Douglas Phan, an LDS missionary serving in Houston from a small island in Vietnam, appreciated first-hand what the program does. “When I lived in Vietnam as a child we never had the opportunity to check our eyes. This is my fifth time to help here — it is so great for them, I feel so happy for them,” Elder Phan said. Missionaries typically spend 10-12 hours per week volunteering in various capacities around the city.

“We are in our third year of involvement with the See-to-Succeed program. The city has come to really rely on and value missionary support. We are able to respond quickly to their needs,” said President Aaron Hall of the Texas Houston South Mission, one of three missions in the Houston area. “The missionaries have a desire to help and are anxious to continue in service efforts. These efforts help us look outward and bless the lives of others.”

Cydney Cameron, volunteer and intern coordinator with the City of Houston Health Department, was grateful for all the volunteer support, including that of the missionaries. “Each week until they get here I have gaps, and when they come we are able to do the project successfully because of their support. The world would be a better place if every young adult would do missionary work like y’all do for two years,” Cameron said.

Seven weeks later, glasses were delivered to Leaman Junior High. Frank Gazmen, a volunteer optometrist was on hand to make sure the glasses were a fit. “Having the kids be able to see and to learn is so important. They need quality glasses that they pick out. If they don’t like them they won’t wear them,” he said.

When fitted with the new glasses, Regan exclaimed, ”I can see things far away now. With these glasses I can read the board perfectly fine!” Maria and Lanea were equally thrilled. They giggled as they peered at the mirror and posed for a photo commemorating the occasion.

“This is what it’s all about. When I see the light on their faces, it gets me right here,” Guzman said as he put his hand on his heart.

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