Why We Give – Eye Care Charity of Mid-America
Why We Give – Grantee Profiles

Because giving is at the very heart of Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund, we feel it is important to share stories about those who are most impacted by the generosity of our members.

This week, we highlight the Eye Care Charity of Mid-America, a nonprofit that works works to eliminate children’s vision problems in our St. Louis communities. We hope you are inspired by these real life impact stories.

No one knows for certain how long Malik had been without his glasses.

It may have been six months, or it may have been years.
As a middle schooler, Malik wasn’t yet old enough to recall exactly how long he’d been without them – or exactly what had happened to them.
Maybe they’d been lost; maybe they’d been broken.
When Malik climbed aboard the mobile vision clinic of the Eye Care Charity of Mid-America, there was one thing the nonprofit’s staff did know for certain.
Malik desperately needed glasses.
“He has a high stigmatism,” said Boyd Buchek, operations manager for the Eye Care Charity of Mid-America, a 2017 SOS grantee. “Everything he looks at is bent to one side or the other.”

When Malik, a student at Kipp Triumph Academy, completed the eye exam and received his new pair of glasses from the charity, he was amazed.

“When he put the glasses on everything was straight,” Buchek said. “He couldn’t believe he could see that well. He didn’t think he could not see before. He had been without his glasses for a long time. He was quite happy.”
The Eye Care Charity staff who operate the mobile vision clinic see many children like Malik, kids who didn’t even know they couldn’t see until they put on their new, free pair of glasses.
“When they put their glasses on, they can see the leaves on the trees and they say, ‘oh my gosh, I can see everything,'” Buchek said. “We get that pretty consistently.”

Sometimes the most amazing impact can be seen when the students return to class.

“They’ve finally realized, ‘this wasn’t my fault all along, it’s not that I couldn’t do math or read, I just couldn’t see the board,'”said Kate McKearn, executive director of the Eye Care Charity of Mid- America. “Sometimes for the ‘problem students,’ the ones acting out in class, when they get this simple thing it truly changes their lives and it’s just really remarkable.”
The charity asks teachers to turn in surveys measuring the impact the glasses have had on the students.
“Over 85% wear their glasses all the time and all report a dramatic improvement in self-esteem, class participation and academic performance,” McKearn said.
And if a kid like Malik breaks or loses his glasses again? He simply tells the school nurse. The Eye Care Charity will get him another pair. Free.

The Eye Care Charity of America was founded in 2004 as part of the Clarkson Eyecare Foundation.

The organization, which has since become independent of Clarkson, is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life by providing vision improvement and access to a bright future.
Originally, the Eye Care Charity operated fixed eye care clinics and funded mission trips and surgeries. But since 2013, they’ve been focusing on mobile vision clinics and services to children.
When their mobile vision clinic was totaled in a vehicular accident in November, the staff was momentarily unable to provide their on-the-road services.
Then, through a private donation, the charity was able to fund the purchase of used vehicle this spring, and got back on the road in March.
The staff immediately set to work making up for lost time.
In just four months, they took their “new” mobile vision clinic to 55 schools, providing 1,058 eye exams and dispensing 1,054 pairs of glasses.
This mobile vision clinic is equipped with an exam lane, a dispensary for eye glasses, a pre-test area and a lab.

“The lab is what makes us really unique,” McKearn said. “The lab allows us to cut the lenses right there on the spot. We use this mobile vision clinic to travel to schools and community centers throughout the St. Louis area. We provide this service completely free of charge to kids in need, which we quantify as qualifying for free or reduced lunch.”

When the mobile vision clinic arrives at a school, the students come on board and enter the pre-test area. Then the students do the eye exam, pick out their glasses and have their glasses made. The whole process takes about 20 minutes.
“They don’t miss as much school,” McKearn said. “We are also doing this to break down those barriers of time, access and expense that leave a child really vulnerable to undiagnosed and unaddressed vision problems.”

The Eye Care Charity recognizes that many parents can’t take time off of work to take a child to a vision appointment, or sometimes there are issues with transportation or cost.

“Sometimes the eye exam is what gets put on the back burner,” McKearn said. “It’s really a simple thing – a pair of glasses. But it makes a tremendous difference in the life of a child. Ninety percent of children who need glasses don’t have them.
Starting next month, the nonprofit will add a full-time optometrist to their staff. Previously, they were operating with just a part-time optometrist.
The addition will allow them to send the mobile vision clinic out five days a week instead of just two or three, McKearn said.
“Typically we see 2,000 students in a school year, and we anticipate we’ll see double that this year,” McKearn said.

In mid-October, they’ll also add a second vehicle that will have two exam lanes, a dispensary, a pretest and a lab on board, so they’ll have two mobile vision clinics out on the road.

“Both of these mobile vision clinics were donated to the charity by private funders,” McKearn said.
The grant money from SOS will be used to target the Ferguson-Florissant neighborhood, where they hope to provide exams to more than 200 students.

“It will cover a portion of the cost of the mobile vision clinic traveling to that school,” McKearn said. “The cost of the optometrist, our operations manager who drives the vehicle and makes the glasses on board and can fit them, and our optician. In addition, we have the cost of transportation. All of our frames and lenses are generously donated from different companies.”

Since 2013, the Eye Care Charity mobile vision clinic has visited 378 schools and conducted 7,938 eye exams. They’ve dispensed 7,345 pairs of glasses.
Narrative developed and written for Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund by Bethany Prange of 618 Creative. Photos provided by the Eye Care Charity of Mid-America.