Charity that gives out eye glasses gets new mobile clinic

When you're a student with a vision problem, not being able to see well can make school work even more challenging. A local charity dedicated to removing that stress and providing free glasses to children is back on the road. When an accident put their mobile clinic out of commission they feared hundreds of kids wouldn't get the help they need. Until they got a little help from their friends.

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One Thursday morning at Lawson Elementary school, students were skipping class for a very good reason. Eye Care Charity of Mid-America provides free eye exams and glasses to children throughout the St. Louis area who can't afford them. Michelle Spray is the group's optometrist.

"It's essential that children have good vision to perform well in the classroom setting, both distance and near vision is integral for all of the activities they do," said Spray.

In its first three years, the charity visited more than 300 schools and put glasses on more than 6,000 kids.

"In 20 years of practice, it's the most rewarding and fulfilling thing I've done with my optometric education," said Spray.

When an accident last November put their mobile clinic out of commission, they feared their mission was sidelined for good. Boyd Buchek is the operation manager.

"Frustrating, very frustrating, we had a lot of schools calling, a lot of kids that needed to be seen," said Buchek. "There was probably about 30 schools that we couldn't get to."

That is when another charity called Beyond Housing stepped in to help. Kate McKearn is the charity's executive director.

"Thankfully Beyond Housing came in and offered us space for us to use at Rosie Shields Manor, completely free of charge," said McKearn. "So we were able to open a fixed vision clinic."

By February they were back in business.

"It was absolutely amazing," said McKearn. "We are beyond thankful for their support, without them hundreds of kids would have gone without eye exams and glasses that they needed."

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They put a new mobile clinic on the road in March and will keep the clinic at Rosie Shields Manor.

"We got pretty much everyone caught up, all the schools, all the kids seen and we're getting ready to ramp up for next year," said Buchek.

They have plans to add another mobile clinic and another fixed location later this year.

"There's so many kids that we see and there's so many kids that we actually don't see, that need to be seen so that will give us the opportunity to see all of those kids," said Buchek.

Surveys are sent to teachers after each school visit. Teachers report that 90 percent of the students who receives glasses show improvements in self-esteem, behavior and academics.

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