THE NEEDIEST CASES FUND
Improving children’s vision and schoolwork with screenings, exams and even new eyeglasses.
Unlike a lot of kids, Damian Dominguez, 11, doesn’t mind that he has to wear glasses. “I like to wear them, because it makes everything look good,” he says. But like a lot of kids, he’s not always careful with them. A few years ago, after Damian had lost or broken his last three pairs, his mom finally decided to spend the money on a flexible pair with a band that went around his neck, hoping he’d be able to hang on to them.
Damian did end up hanging on to those glasses. In fact, he hung on to them for way too long. Normally, Damian would go in for annual vision exams to get an updated prescription. But when the pandemic began, his family didn’t feel comfortable traveling from their home in Manhattan to his eye doctor in the Bronx. Also, money was tight — all five family members wear glasses, so costs add up fast. Damian ended up going almost three years without an eye exam or a new pair of glasses.
That may not sound like a huge deal. But getting a yearly eye exam is really important, says Dr. On Lam, an optometrist with Helen Keller International, an organization focused on vision health. Wearing the wrong glasses — or not having glasses at all when you need them — can strain your eyes, and that can lead to headaches and, for kids, doing poorly in school.
Since 2007, Helen Keller International has partnered with Children’s Aid, an organization supported by The Neediest Cases Fund, to help get free vision screenings, eye exams and glasses to kids who need them. Last summer, eye doctors from Helen Keller visited 12 community schools in low-income New York City neighborhoods. By the end of the summer, 1,332 students had had vision screenings, and 402 received new glasses.
That includes Damian, who attended a summer program at a Children’s Aid community school where he’s in the sixth grade this year. He was finally able to retire his old glasses and get a free new pair. “Sometimes,” he says, “I even forget to take them off when I sleep.” That’s one way not to lose them.
This article was originally published in The New York Times for Kids. Find the section in the paper Sunday, Dec. 26, and on the last Sunday of every month.