A group of students will have an easier time seeing the blackboard when they go back to school thanks to a partnership between Cobb Libraries, regional organizations and businesses and the national non-profit Vision to Learn.
That group provides free vision screenings, eye exams and eyeglasses for children ages 5 to 18. They brought their van equipped with optometrist’s equipment to the South Cobb Regional Library in Mableton Wednesday as part of a series of visits to local libraries.
Youth services librarian Dedra Roman said appointments for the exams filled up quickly, and they are now totally booked.
“That first day, May 31, when we first did it, there were a lot of people that could not come in,” she said. “They heard about it and they just showed up. They didn’t have a reservation, but they were desperate to get glasses … We did not know there was such a need.”
Cobb Libraries spokesman Tom Brooks said he hopes more than 100 children will be seen by the optometrist service this summer. He is also hopeful more dates for visits could be added in the future.
Roman said those whose children have seen the group’s doctor have been extremely grateful.
“The reaction has been amazing,” she said. “They’ve been overjoyed. They’ve been hugging us staff members thinking (we did it). I tell them it’s Vision to Learn, it’s the Atlanta Hawks (a major sponsor), it’s all these organizations, it’s not us. They come in very thankful about the program. I’ve seen some emotional parents.”
One thankful dad waiting in the library’s lobby was Richard Jensen of Austell.
Jensen is an electrician by trade, but a recent injury has put him out of work.
“I’m not working right now because of a bad back,” he said. “Financially, it’s kind of tough right now, but we’re getting around it … Stuff like this is great. It helps us out, and I’m sure it helps out a lot of other families who might not be able to afford the services at the time.”
Jensen was at the library with his daughter Rainah, 8, a student at Hendricks Elementary. Jensen said he heard about the free eye exams through the school. He and his wife decided to take Rainah because they and most of the other members of the family all need glasses.
“We just want to know,” he said. “We just want to be cautious and get an exam, see what’s going on.”
Before long, Rainah’s name was called, and she skipped out of the library and hopped into the van, whose paint job prominently featured Harry the Hawk of the Atlanta Hawks.
While he waited outside for the exam to finish up, Jensen said he was grateful to the library and Vision to Learn for carrying out what he called a vital task in the community.
“That’s the way I grew up in the Virgin Islands,” he said. “When my neighbor was building a house, everybody helped out. They put out a table of food and drinks, and we’d eat and work. When we do free work in the community, then it’s like a circle, it comes back around.”
After a little while, Rainah slid open the door of the van and jumped out into the sun. She said the doctor had her put a mask over her face and read letters through different lenses.
“It was easy,” she said.
According to Vision to Learn, most of the children who visit end up needing glasses. In those cases, they pick out frames from a variety of styles and come back to get their finished specs after a few weeks.
But Rainah got a clean bill of eye health, so she and her dad went back home.
Still, she said she thinks Vision to Learn is doing an important job for her fellow kids.
“They need to see, and if you can’t see, you can’t learn and you can’t read,” she said. “Like, they can’t see and you can’t learn how to write the letter R or A.”
Libraries spokesman Brooks said Vision to Learn came to Georgia for the first time last year. He said they have partnered locally with Learn4Life, a collaboration between four regional groups with the aim of helping metro Atlanta students. Those groups are the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, United Way of Greater Atlanta, the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Metro Atlanta Chamber.