Nevada State Bank recently donated $25,000 to Eye Care 4 Kids, a non-profit group that provided free eyeglasses to more than 1,500 low-income southern Nevada school children last school year. Joseph Carbone, a pediatric optician, founded Eye Care 4 Kids in 2001 to provide badly needed vision care services to low income and underserved families in Utah. Eye Care 4 Kids entered into an agreement with the Clark County School District to come to southern Nevada in 2012.
In Las Vegas, Eye Care 4 Kids opened an eye care clinic at Brinley Middle School in early 2013, and now operates clinics at two other schools — Grant Sawyer Middle School and Robert Taylor Elementary School — in addition to a mobile eye clinic that travels to other locations across southern Nevada. The eye care van visits public schools, Boys and Girls Club locations and Child Haven.
In February 2014, Brad Parsons, a successful attorney for 40 years, decided to leave his legal practice and accept the position of executive director of Eye Care 4 Kids in southern Nevada. He explained that providing something as simple as a pair of glasses can make a huge difference in a child’s life. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure that a child can see,” he said. “If they can’t see, they can’t perform academically, and if they can’t perform academically, they’re destined to a life of poverty.”
How many children in Clark County need the services that Eye Care 4 Kids provides? According to Parsons, “56 percent of the 320,000 students in the Clark County School District receive free or reduced lunches because of their families’ low income. National estimates are that one quarter to one third of school-age children need vision care, so that means about 65,000 local school children need glasses but probably can’t afford them.”
He shared that his organization has treated hundreds of students who had never had vision care before, including nine who were diagnosed as being legally blind. One student had failed 7th grade twice and was acting out in class to disguise the fact that she couldn’t see well enough to do her work. Parsons explained that this is a common occurrence among students who are struggling in school because of vision problems.
Every child seen by Eye Care 4 Kids has been pre-qualified by the school district as low-income. Students are referred by school nurses to one of the clinics, where they have their vision checked by a licensed professional. They then return to receive their glasses, and often must come back for further care or for eyeglass repairs. Thanks to the generosity of local sponsors like Nevada State Bank, all of these services are provided at no cost to the student’s family. Children with more extensive vision issues are referred to a local ophthalmologist who volunteers his services.
From July 2013 through June 2014, the non-profit group conducted 4,000 appointments and gave out 1,500 pairs of free glasses to needy children. They were able to begin operating with a complete full-time staff in September 2013 and are working to expand that into two full-time staff members, but recruiting qualified eye care professionals, especially those who speak Spanish, has proved challenging. As with many non-profits, funding is also a limiting factor. Parsons explained that each set of lenses costs at least $35.00. That’s just the cost of the lenses – not the frames, the exam and fitting, and of course the group’s overhead expenses, which he estimates run about $800,000 a year.
More than 85 percent of the students served by Eye Care 4 Kids are Hispanic, and many of them are undocumented. “It’s been challenging to convince parents that we really do provide glasses for free, and also that we don’t require a Social Security number or other proof of citizenship,” said Parsons. “We don’t care about their immigration status. We just want to make sure they can see.”
If you know a child in Clark County who needs vision care and might qualify for services from Eye Care 4 Kids, contact the student’s school nurse for a referral to the program. For further information about the group, or to donate, visit www.eyecare4kids.org.
The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.
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