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Free eye exams, glasses for kids coming to Baltimore County libraries before school starts

Nonprofit Vision To Learn is spending a day at each of eight Baltimore County libraries this month in an effort to outfit low-income children with glasses for the coming school year.

The organization’s mobile eye exam unit will stop at libraries near low-income communities, according to a library press release. Parents can visit their local branch to register their child and set up an appointment.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for children to get free eye exams and glasses that will help them learn to read,” said Marisa Conner, head of youth and family engagement for the library system. “Kids can’t learn to read if they can’t see property, and many families’ health plans don’t cover glasses.”

“Vision care is very important to everybody’s day-to-day life,” said Wade Brown, regional director of East Coast operations for Vision To Learn.

The mobile unit will be at the following library branches between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.:

  • Lansdowne on Wednesday, Aug. 15
  • Woodlawn on Friday, Aug. 17
  • White Marsh on Monday, Aug. 20
  • Pikesville on Tuesday, Aug. 21
  • Loch Raven on Wednesday, Aug. 22
  • North Point on Thursday, Aug. 23
  • Arbutus on Friday, Aug. 24
  • Cockeysville on Monday, Aug. 27

Brown said Vision To Learn does not require families to submit information about income or insurance, but it does require that parents sign a release allowing them to examine their children.

On average, he said, the mobile unit can see about 25 students each day.

Many low-income children do not have access to full vision screenings or glasses, either because parents cannot afford them or because they are not aware their children need them, Brown said.

“Vision is not something that parents lock into,” he said. “Unless the child has some sort of serious problem with their vision, parents don’t know. It doesn’t stand out like a speech impediment or a limp.”

Not only is vision care important in everyday life, he said, but can help improve grades. The organization is currently collaborating with Baltimore City and Johns Hopkins University on a study examining the effect vision care has on student success, Brown said. Though results are not yet available, he said, “The impact we’re seeing is great.”

The goal of the library program is to get students equipped with glasses for the coming school year, Brown said.

Conner said the organization’s mission fits perfectly with that of the library system’s.

“The library is a community hub,” Conner said. “We support education from birth through adulthood … so it’s only natural that [families] would look to us, that we’re a great place for them to find out about these services.”

Vision To Learn operates in 13 states across the country. The donation-based nonprofit spends about $400,000 per year on vision services for children in the Baltimore area, Brown said. Last year, he said, it examined more than 17,000 children, mostly in Baltimore City, and gave more than 2,300 a pair of free glasses.

Though Vision To Learn has provided services in Baltimore County shelters, this month’s program is its first with Baltimore County libraries.

But with locations like White Marsh already reporting that every 15-minute appointment slot is full, Conner said the library is already looking ahead to implementing the program next year, too.

“We’re getting an overwhelming response to this service, and that tells me the need is there,” she said.

asolomon@baltsun.com

twitter.com/libsolomon

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