On World Sight Day, Helen Keller Intl began delivering services in schools in Saint Paul and Minneapolis to help improve the vision of vulnerable children. Recognizing the unmet needs for vision care among vulnerable, at-risk youth in the U.S., we are expanding our 24-year-old U.S. Vision program to reach children in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, starting in Saint Paul.
Worldwide, 1.2 billion people need glasses. “Impaired vision is a serious global health problem that hits as hard in the U.S. as it does in other countries,” said Helen Keller’s U.S. Vision Director, Meghan Lynch. “Across the nation, approximately 12 million adults and roughly 4 million children cannot see clearly due to uncorrected refractive error, which can be fixed with a simple pair of prescription glasses. This is a major yet under-recognized public health issue that reduces quality of life, educability, and employment options for millions of Americans.”
Many children living in poverty in the U.S. do not have the eyeglasses they need to see properly because they lack access to basic health care and vision care. As a result, they face unnecessary barriers to learning and to reaching their full potential. Saint Paul ranks 21 among the 25 cities in the U.S. with the highest rates of child poverty, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
Helping children learn without limits
The Phillips Eye Institute is currently providing vision screenings in the Twin Cities to schoolchildren in kindergarten through sixth grade and care coordination beginning in pre-kindergarten through the start of ninth grade. Helen Keller’s new program will meet the vision care needs of older schoolchildren in these urban areas.
Our new services in Saint Paul will launch at Harding Senior High School, in partnership with Saint Paul Public Schools. Our program will provide free in-school vision screenings, eye exams, prescription eyeglasses, and referrals for follow-up care to students who may have more serious conditions. Saint Paul is one of Minnesota’s largest public-school districts, serving a diverse population of more than 37,000 students. Services will begin in Minneapolis Public Schools in early 2019.
“We are profoundly grateful to school district officials in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, Essilor Vision Foundation—and many other active and engaged community and business leaders—who made it possible for us to bring this program to students in the Twin Cities,” said Lynch. “Together, we can ensure that all children in this city have the vision services they need to learn, work, and live without limits.”
A world worth fighting for: eye care everywhere
A grant from Eden Prairie-based Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies provided funding to expand our program to the Upper Midwest. Additional support from Essilor Vision Foundation, the nonprofit launched and supported by Essilor of America, provides prescription lenses free of charge and offers discounted manufacturing costs for the eyeglasses provided through Helen Keller’s program in Minnesota.
“Everyone deserves the chance to see the world more clearly,” said Andrea Haymore, Director of Partnerships with Essilor Vision Foundation. “We are proud to partner with and support Helen Keller with in-kind donations of lenses and lab services to achieve their mission and provide vision services across the country, including now in the Twin Cities.”
World Sight Day was launched by the World Health Organization in 1998 to draw attention to preventable blindness and visual impairment. In alignment with this year’s theme of “Eye Care Everywhere,” Helen Keller has charted a bold new vision for its U.S. ChildSight program and aims to recruit new community and corporate partners to bring good vision to underprivileged communities in the 25 U.S. cities with the highest rates of child poverty by 2025.
“Helen Keller believes in a world in which all children can see clearly and go after their dreams,” said Lynch. “That’s a world worth fighting for, and I know that with the support of our partners, we can make that happen.”
In addition to Minnesota, our program currently operates in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio and will soon be expanding to Wisconsin. Since the program began in New York City in 1994, we have screened nearly 2 million students and provided more than 300,000 pairs of prescription eyeglasses free of charge to vulnerable children.